Stage 0

Time for Science Corner, kids!

Today, we're going to talk about melanoma. Specifically, melanoma in situ - which, if you're going to have melanoma, is totally the kind you want.

That's what the dermatologist NP told me when she called to give me the lab results on the weird mole near my elbow, anyway. (She spent one-third of the call telling me what I have and two-thirds of the call telling me not to freak out.)

Melanoma is skin cancer. Melanoma in situ, also known as melanoma stage 0, is not. Not yet, anyway. (Or, as another doctor I spoke to put it, it's "not quite cancer." I found the addition of the quite a little disheartening.) It's just a group of irregular cells with a suspicious tendency to become cancerous.

Look, ma, it doesn't say "cancer" anywhere! (Source: cancer.gov.)

If you know me, you know how strange it is that I should have a skin disorder associated with spending too much time in the sun. I'm no sun worshipper; I wear SPF 15 lotion almost every day and supplement with SPF 30 sport spray if I know I'm going to be outside for any significant amount of time. But in college, I wasn't as careful, and I got some nasty burns before I wised up. Looks like that might have come back to bite me.

(The doctors basically said, "Eh, you have the complexion for it," as though skin cancer was all but inevitable for me. I might need to start looking into big floppy hats.)

The treatment for melanoma in situ is simple - cut out all the irregular cells before they have the chance to go rogue. So that's why I went back to the dermatologist yesterday - to let them carve out a few more square inches of my skin.

The original mole was probably half an inch in diameter.

The diamond shape is so the scar will come in as a nice straight line and not a big puckered circle. The incision went all the way down to the fatty layer of my skin. I didn't watch during the procedure, but after it was done, I asked if I could see the skin that had been cut away. There it was, floating in a sample cup and looking like a science experiment rather than something that had been a part of me three minutes ago.

So now I have a bunch of stitches and a right arm that hurts like the dickens. Good thing I'm left-handed.


They said they'd call me and let me know whether they got all the irregular cells, and I also get to have a whole new super-fun relationship with UC Dermatology where I go back to be monitored every few months for the next couple years. Yay, new friends!

So, the moral of the story is: Listen to your mother (who had been bugging me to go to the dermatologist for months), get those moles checked out, and invent a time machine so you can go back and spray down your 19-year-old self with SPF 30.


Amber (Samblanet) Potter said...

Kelly, I am so glad you went to the dermatologist and they were able to remove the cells before they turned cancerous. My mom is a fair-skinned, freckle-faced redhead who wears SPF 50 whenever she knows she's going to be in the sun. Many years ago she was diagnosed with melanoma via a mole on her back. She's never been "tan" and as far as I know has never been inside a tanning booth, yet, there it was. They were able to remove it, and she has been cancer-free ever since.

However, I now make sure to keep an eye on moles and visit the derm once a year! And I also am the goofball wearing SPF 50...with a cover-up...and a hat...but so be it! Pale girls unite!

Kelly said...

Thanks for sharing, Amber! I'm glad your mom is all right and that you are now taking care of yourself.

I can't decide whether it's good or bad that my lifestyle played no real part in this. But it is undeniably good that it's something I can take care of with relatively minor fuss.