Summer is fast approaching and nothing represents summertime more than soaking up the rays by the beach or pool. When you are lounging and basking in the warmth, do you wear your sunscreen, hat, and sunglasses?
I will be honest and say my answer in the past was a big fat, “NO!” I wanted that beautiful, golden tan for the summer. Growing up, I would slather with baby oil or even go to the tanning beds. It was the cool thing to do. Now, fast forward to 2021 and let me tell you a story…
For those of you that do not know, I am a mother to one awesome boy named Will. My son entered this world with freckles, moles, warts, and other weird skin marks. He started seeing a dermatologist when he was around 2 or 3 years old. The reason I took him at such a young age was because I had a coworker battling Stage IV Melanoma. She had discovered a mole between her toes and had it checked out. Her biopsy results were devasting and she was adamant that her friends and family check themselves thoroughly. I went home and checked Will from head to toe only to discover that he in fact had moles on his scalp and on his big toe. This started his yearly dermatology appointments. His appointments usually resulted in some type of mole removal and biopsy. That was the case in December of 2020. Will had 7 moles removed in August and were sent for biopsy. One of the moles removed was from the back of his leg and this was one he had since birth. The biopsy results came back with 2 normal and 5 atypical moles. One of the normal ones was the one from the back of his leg. A few weeks to months went by and I noticed that the mole had “grown” back really quick. I made a recheck appointment and Will was seen in August of 2021. The mole was initially thought to look “okay” but I think God intervened and the dermatologist changed her mind and removed it for the second time. The biopsy came back with “Malignant Melanoma, Superficial Spreading Type.”
As a parent, this was the scariest phone call I have ever received. Honestly, I never heard what the doctor said after I heard “melanoma” and I actually had to call them back for them to repeat the treatment plan to me. Will was scheduled for surgery immediately with an oncology surgeon that specialized in breast cancer and melanoma. We caught his melanoma very early, but Will still required over 28 stitches because the surgeon wanted to make sure he had clear margins. He did not require chemotherapy or a PET scan at this time because we caught it so early. He is being followed every 3 months either by his dermatologist or by the oncology surgeon. The surgeon is monitoring his lymph nodes for any changes and the dermatologist is monitoring any changes in his current moles. He did have 4 more moles removed in November, but the biopsy results did not indicate melanoma. He had a wonderful checkup in January and is scheduled for his lymph node check in March 2022.
I am telling you about Will’s story to bring awareness. If you were like me, I thought only senior adults dealt with skin cancer. Granted, melanoma in children and teens is rare, but obviously not unheard of. Will’s oncology surgeon told us that Will was his second youngest patient. He had a 12-year-old patient one time. Will is going to have to monitor his skin for the rest of his life. I actually took pictures of Will’s moles and I made him a “mole book” so he will always have a reference. I take it to every dermatology appointment so the doctor and I can compare pictures and notes. If he has one removed, I mark it on the picture. I also request a copy of his biopsy report to put in his book. I am not taking this diagnosis lightly. According to the American Cancer Society, skin cancer is by far the most common of all cancers with Melanoma accounting for only about 1% of skin cancers, but it causes a large majority of skin cancer deaths.
Let me give you a few risk factors, from the American Cancer Society, regarding Melanoma (https://www.cancer.org/cancer/melanoma-skin-cancer/causes-risks-prevention/risk-factors.html):
1. Ultraviolent (UV) light exposure (sunlight, sun lamps, tanning beds)
2. Moles-having many moles, atypical moles, dysplastic nevus syndrome, and/or congenital melanocytic nevi
3. Fair skin, freckling, and light hair
4. Family history of melanoma
5. Personal history of melanoma and/or other skin cancers
6. Weakened immune system
7. Being older
8. Being male
9. Xeroderma pigmentosum
I found some valuable resource websites and they were as follows:
American Academy of Dermatology
Screen Cancer at www.screencancer.com
Melanoma Research Foundation at www.melanoma.org
American Cancer Society at www.cancer.org/cancer/melanoma-skin-cancer/about/key-statistics.html
I also found some interesting articles:
“15 Strategies that Help Prevent Skin Cancer, According to Dermatologists”
“Foods and Nutrients that Fight Skin Cancer”
Let’s ask that question again, “do you wear sunglasses, sunscreen, and a hat while in the sun?” My answer is “Yes, you better believe I do!” I implore you to check yourselves and your kids for moles. If you have any on your head, toes, and fingers, please get them checked immediately. If you have a weird looking one, even if you were born with it, go get it evaluated. Will, Barry, and I say, “Get naked and know your moles!”