The Spot on My Face
January 26, 2012
So, I have a new spot on my face. Yes, I already have plenty of wrinkles and spots—mostly “age spots”, but this one is different. Located above my left eyebrow, I first thought it was just a patch of dry skin. I gave the spot extra attention, first trying to super moisturize the area, then treating it with antibiotic cream. All of it was to no avail. The spot remains.
While I have not an iota of medical training, my guess is the “spot” is either precancerous, or possibly some basal cells gone awry. I’d say I’m paying now for my “sun ignorant” youth as well as my foolhardy adulthood, in terms of skin protection. Virtually every time I see my dermatologist for my annual check, there’s a new spot that has surfaced requiring treatment. Each time a spot has been treated, it hasn’t resurfaced or developed further. I feel very fortunate.
Given the difficulties of getting in to see a dermatologist in our fair City, combined with the fact I had an annual appointment scheduled already, I chose to wait for my spot to be checked then. Of course, as happens frequently when you make appointments a year in advance, I recently found my appointment now conflicts with some special travel plans. So, imagine my dismay when I called to reschedule my appointment and was told the next available time was five months away! I won’t and cannot wait that long.
I persisted with the scheduler, insisting that I needed to be seen sooner. Fortunately, my dermatologist found a way to work me in just a few days within my original appointment date. This is a great relief to me as while I am fairly confident the spot is nothing terribly serious, anyone who has had someone close to them affected by skin cancer is somewhat hypersensitive to anything happening to their own skin. My daughters and I are on hyper alert and doing our best to manage our own risks for skin cancer as we had our harsh lesson when my husband Mark died with Stage IV melanoma.
My dermatologist is aware of our family history. Perhaps that’s how I was able to get an appointment much sooner. I’m also guessing doctors always keep a little “flex” in their schedules to accommodate special cases. Whatever the reason, and perhaps it was a bit of both—my persistence + my doctor’s knowledge of my family + some scheduling flexibility, I have my appointment in just a few weeks and will hopefully get some mental relief on the diagnosis, and of course, treatment.
Since my husband’s death, I’ve become involved with Melanoma Know More, a local organization that strives to reduce the impact of melanoma through awareness, education, support of medical research, and assistance to persons affected by melanoma. One of their main activities is conducting free skin cancer screening clinics. Trained medical personnel operate the clinics and if any suspicious spots are detected, individuals are referred to a physician for further diagnosis and treatment. I am also told any referrals made receive timely follow up appointments. Had I not been able to get my appointment re-scheduled, I would have definitely considered signing up for one of the clinic screenings as much as for the mental and emotional relief I need, treatment for the spot, notwithstanding.
MKM’s program is a wonderful way for anyone to get an initial skin screen. Last year they held ten clinics throughout Cincinnati. This year plans are underway to offer 12 clinics to reach even more people.
The next clinic is scheduled for February 11-see details below. Now there’s no reason for anyone to go without a skin cancer screening.
MKM Free Skin Cancer Screening
February 11, 10 a.m. to noon
TriHealth-Bethesda North Hospital
Medical Office Building, Lower Level
10506 Montgomery Road, Cincinnati, Ohio 45242
For an appointment, call 513-862-4242.
For more information about skin cancer, check out these links:
Until next time,
Why October is Melanoma Awareness Month for Me
November 21, 2011
After a lengthy hiatus, I’ve returned to the world of blogging! Family health concerns caused me to focus elsewhere for several months. On those occasions when I might have found time to blog, it just wasn’t where my mind chose to go. Fortunately the family matters have settled down, with one of them being the birth of my third grandchild, Claire!
Rather than write about my more recent family health concerns, I want to share events from October 2010. This was when my rather sudden and totally unexpected entry into the world of melanoma occurred. And a rough, scary ride it was. I still find myself in disbelief about what that month had in store for us. My husband Mark, went to the hospital on October 9, 2010 and he died a mere 12 days later. His initial diagnosis was two brain bleeds of unknown cause. As the days and tests wore on, we ultimately learned they were only one of many sites where Stage IV melanoma was making itself known. Mark had no significant symptoms—he was not in any pain and surprisingly, had none of the tell tale skin surface signs of melanoma. He had always been diligent about skin care since he’d had some basal cell carcinomas over the years. He saw a dermatologist twice a year and never had any melanomas been detected on these examinations.
We were bewildered at how this could sneak up on us and be at such a critical stage before detection. At Mark’s request, we had one day of feeling sorry for ourselves, and then it was on to fighting the disease. The situation was dire from the get go, but we wanted to do everything possible to prolong life as well as give him some quality of life for the time left. We moved quickly into treatment, starting with radiation to manage the brain involvement. Once that was done, we’d move onto chemo to treat the rest of the body. The fight ended abruptly on October 21, a mere six days into treatment.
Friends and family were shaken by what happened and how it ended so swiftly. It prompted many to improve their skin care protection and importantly, set up appointments for dermatological exams. I’m pleased to say of those who had some questionable spots detected, all ended up being benign. I am hopeful more diligent care will keep it that way as there is a better chance of finding problems early if regular professional skin checks are scheduled and preventive measures of managing sun exposure are taken seriously. And, it seems these new habits are sticking, as I’m getting reports from many about having scheduled their one year exams in 2011-12.
Not surprisingly, my mind frequently replayed October 2010 events throughout October 2011. I know every October henceforward will always carry poignant reminders of my entry into the world of melanoma. So, while May is designated as the official skin cancer and melanoma awareness month, it will always be October for me and my family.
We are well into autumn now, and while the UV risks diminish at this time of year and are at their lowest in the winter, skin protection can and should be a year round practice. Many skin moisturizers include some SPF ingredients in their formulations, making it easy to provide some protection through daily skin care routines.
Let’s make every month skin cancer/melanoma awareness month—take protective skin protection measures year round.
Until next time,
Beach Time-Use Your Head
Last month I had a wonderful trip to Myrtle Beach with my two daughters, my two sons in law and my two grandchildren. Every day was warm and sunny—we had lots of beach time, which meant lots of skin exposure to the rays for the first time this year. The good news is we all used sunscreen and there wasn’t a single sunburn among us–hooray-especially for my precious young grandchildren! Their Mothers are determined to manage the risk factors for melanoma, given their family history includes a maternal grandparent who recently died with Stage IV melanoma and with my grandson also having a paternal grandparent who had melanoma (cured!).
Use of sunscreens was a significant reason for beach time without sunburn, and worthy of a future discussion here, but not all sun protection comes in a bottle. It’s smart to “use your head” when you’re out in the sun by wearing a hat. Up to 80 percent of skin cancers occur on the head and neck, so a wide-brimmed hat is a great way to shade your face, ears, scalp, and neck from the sun’s rays. In anticipation of our beach vacation, my youngest daughter gave both her sister and me the gift of selecting our own sun hat. My daughters have a bit of a fashion diva in them, so I knew we’d spend a fair amount of time finding just the “right one”. Fortunately, there are lots of great hats out there. I’m not sure if it’s due to the hat craze stemming from those seen on the heads of attendees at Will and Kate’s royal wedding or if it’s due to someone understanding fashion can combine with protection. It was fun and confusing to see all the choices available.
I’ve listed some of the websites we checked out in our search for the “perfect UPF chapeau”. I share these as a jump start on searching, not as any kind of plug for one site or brand over another. All sites listed offer hats with UPF 50+ for men and women. I’d welcome learning where you found your favorite hat or head covering.
http://iplaybabywear.com/index.php/sun-protection-hats.html/ (infants and toddlers)
My daughters and I chose hats with brims over four-inches wide for the most protection. If you choose a baseball cap, also use a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 to protect your exposed ears and neck. In our case, we applied sunscreen along with our hats! You might also notice my grandchildren are both hatless in the one photo. Well, it’s pretty hard to keep hats on very young children, but my daughters didn’t take any chances—both of those little heads had sunscreen applied there as well!
As for my sons-in-law, they did wear hats “most of the time”, or applied sunscreen as one of them sports a hairless style. We’ll need to keep working on their headgear, but they’re coming along with their skin protection awareness—knowing my daughters, they have no choice in the matterJ
One other element of sun protection we used during our beach time was a shade canopy—you can just see a corner of it in one of the photos. A great site offering a wide variety of choices is http://www.shadeusa.com/. It set up and broke down very easily and was compact when packed in its tote.
Hoping to hear from you about your favorite head covers—would enjoy seeing pictures of you using them too.
Until next time,
Summer Sports and Showing Some Skin
We’re well into summer now, so I hope everyone is managing their sun time as best as possible, wearing protective clothing, hats, eye gear and of course, sunscreen.
Thoughts about managing sun exposure sprang to mind when I drove by a beach volleyball court last weekend. It was a hot sunny day already at 10:30 in the morning and the courts were full of people in traditional beach volleyball gear—not much!
I can’t think of another sport that exposes more skin than this one. So, do beach volleyball players take care of their skin or, do they just “stick their heads in the sand”, so to speak, and think skin cancer and melanoma is just the price you “might” have to pay? Maybe the consequences are the last thing on their mind, at least now.
I did a bit of research and found a 2010 Volleyball Life article listed using sunscreen as one the top Five Crucial Sand Volleyball Tips. To see this mentioned as a priority, is good news, especially in combination with what I read from a couple of high profile players.
Holly McPeak is a volleyball hall of famer and former Olympic player. An article quoted her as saying:
“Wearing sunscreen is the most important thing I do on a daily basis. I reapply at least three times a day and wear UVA-protective sunglasses, a visor and sun-protective hair oil.”
World class player Jeff Nygaard, is a cancer survivor having had both basal cell and melanoma. Here’s what he said in an interview with the Sun Saftey Alliance:
Ever since my diagnosis, I now wear nothing but long sleeve, 50 SPF shirts to play in competitions as well as practices sessions. In fact, for the majority of outdoor exposure time I will always be wearing a hat and long sleeve shirt. I also will reapply sunscreen every two hours regardless of whether I am sweating or active or not. And when I am not playing, I am in the shade somewhere focusing on diminishing my sun exposure.
I hope this is reflective of an increasingly common practice among volleyball players rather than by a wise few! We’ll have a chance to see in September as the US Open will be atHahannaBeachagain inCincinnati.
When it comes to making personal sunscreen purchases, a trip down a store aisle can be overwhelming. Too many choices and what does all the label information really mean? I’m no expert here, but I found a Consumer Research piece which provides a good overview of available products along with pointers for understanding all the information you may need to make your sunscreen purchase. Check it out:
As an aside, I was pleased to see my current choice of sunscreen, Neutrogena’s Ultra Sheer, Dry Touch Sunblock was listed among the best! I really like it for not only its excellent protection, but because it has a less greasy feel than most others I’ve tried.
Be it as a spectator or active sports participant in baseball, tennis, soccer, swimming, or any of the many other summer outdoor activities, take time for sunscreen along with whatever else is part of your regimen. Remember, it takes only one blistering sunburn, especially at a young age, to more than double your chance of developing a melanoma later in life (from a Mayo Clinic study).
Let me hear from you about your favorite sunscreen products and other items used to protect yourself from the sun.
Until next time,
By way of introduction, my name is Linda Ulrey and I am a Melanoma Know More volunteer. I’m new to MKM, but also to the whole world of melanoma. You see my husband Mark had Stage IV melanoma, but he’d only been ill for 12 days when he died October 21, 2010. Prior to that I’d been the average person who I’m guessing knows little about this cancer except that it’s a bad one to have. And, quite honestly, I still know very little. That’s why when MKM asked me to start a blog, I thought this would be a good way to educate myself more and perhaps help some others along the way by discussing hopefully relevant topics, sharing stories and other good pieces of information.
Some perfect volunteer opportunities popped up shortly after Susan Ingmire got me connected to MKM. By the way, Susan is a top notch, compassionate person helping MKM with its focus and direction and a wonderful advocate to boot. To help get the word out about May being Melanoma Awareness Month, I drafted a talkpiece. It appeared as a guest blog on MKM’s Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/?ref=home#!/notes/melanoma-know-more/guest-blog-by-linda-ulrey/224090434274881. Then I, along with fellow volunteer Lisa Russell and Dr. Leming were interviewed by the Enquirer for a Memorial Day article on the dangers of sunshine. The timing was spot on as this holiday weekend is the harbinger of summer and outdoor activities when our skin (and more of it) has even more exposure to the sun. http://news.cincinnati.com/article/20110529/LIFE07/105290304/Skin-cancer-dark-side-sun-exposure?odyssey=tab%7Ctopnews%7Ctext%7CNews
As mentioned, I really know very little about melanoma and I’d like your help in learning more. I want to learn more and understand this disease better. Some of this may be motivated by trying to understand why my husband died so swiftly with this disease but also I want and need to hear the good news stories that others can and are beating this.
So, those of you who have been and are on this journey, what resources—books, websites, articles, etc. have you found helpful in learning about this disease? Most of my research to date has been on the internet and by reading brochures given to me. Here are a few internet resources I’ve found helpful:
There are many more resources out there, but I’d like to hear about your favorites– where do you go for information? Also, I’d love to hear your own stories and ideas for future blog topics.
Until next time—