Melanoma survivor vents about her "procedures" and discusses digital mole mapping.
Barbara Tako is a breast cancer survivor (2010), melanoma survivor (2014) and author of Cancer Survivorship Coping Tools–We'll Get You Through This. She is a cancer coping advocate, speaker and published writer for television, radio and other venues across the country. She lives, survives, and thrives in Minnesota with her husband, children and dog. See more at www.cancersurvivorshipcopingtools.com,or www.clutterclearingchoices.com.
"So the one on your leg was benign, but the one on your arm is melanoma. I’m sorry. Let’s schedule you to have a larger excision on your shoulder to take care of that.”
That was about how the conversation went when my melanoma was found over a year ago. As the media is always fond of reminding the populace: Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer
. Yikes! That said, I knew from my breast cancer experience to ask the caller specifically what the name of my melanoma was, what stage or grade it was and about the treatment plan.
Have you ever noticed that the caller from the doctor’s office always gives the good news first and if the doctor calls, rather than a staff member, it isn’t
going to be good news. Now what they call "larger excisions," I have come to think of as "dog bites" because they leave dog bite-sized indentations on my body.
I am now checked every three months — a full-body check where the doctor looks at every square inch of my body using a special light. I am also instructed to monitor my own very numerous moles and freckles in-between the three-month checkups and, of course, to stay out of the sun and/or wear sunscreen or cover up. Yes, I now am now the proud owner and wearer of a long-sleeved and long-legged two-piece swimsuit!
Usually, during the three-month doctor visits, one or more suspicious moles are lightly shaved off for biopsies — moles that the doctor finds and other moles that I have concerns about as well. The excision areas often get infected for a bit, though I try to take care of them (when I can reach them, that is). Usually the lab report for the mole shavings comes back benign or slightly dysplastic, moderately dysplastic or severely dysplastic. When they are severely dysplastic or have other scary words attached to the lab report, I get to have another dog bite.
I have had three dog bites since my melanoma a little over a year ago — besides the melanoma, I have one on my back, one on a thigh and one on a calf. I have another one coming up next month on the opposite thigh. Oh good, now my legs will match.
The excision will hurt after the numbing agent wears off. It will be bumpy and indented. Depending on where it is located, I will need to be careful not to use muscles in the area that might make the incision open. The procedure will leave another three-inch scar on my body.
Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful. My melanoma was caught early. So far, despite too many biopsies to count, we haven’t found another one. It’s just that sometimes I get tired of being cut up. More red blotches, funny bumps and scars. Piece by piece. It can be a little depressing, though ultimately it is good news that I am being closely watched and that these problem moles are being promptly and thoroughly addressed.
There is new technology that could reduce the removal of all these little pieces of me. It is called digital mole mapping. It sounds like they digitally photograph your body and then the computer compares newer photos to older photos to detect any changes or new moles that show up. I don’t really know the details. So far, my insurance has refused to approve it. I will appeal. Meanwhile, cutting me piece by piece is the only treatment option. It would be better to have options. I would like more options. Melanoma survivors need and deserve more treatment options and monitoring options too. Right?