I've never been a big sun person. I mean, I love the beach and all, but I've never been one to bake myself brown with hours comatose on a towel, or with the use of *shudder* tanning oil.
Despite this, I've always been a bit anxious about skin cancer. I think this comes partly from a fairly (I think) healthy hypochondria. I'm sure it also has something to do with cancer not being a friend of my family.
A little while ago I noticed what I thought was a mole behaving badly. Well, not badly so much as oddly. It looked a bit unusual and seemed to hang around for quite a while (over a month).
Preferring to be on the safer side of sorry, I took myself along to my GP and asked her to have a look at the spot. She took one look and said "no, that ones fine". Phew, thought I. "But while I'm here I'll just have a look around".
So she poked and prodded and look at a few bits and pieces until she got to a spot right in the middle of my back.
"This one though...this one might be worth getting looked at".
Needless to say, this was not quite the reponse I was looking for. She explained that I had what's called a dysplastic mole on my back. Quite small, but a bit funny looking. A plastic surgeon was called and I was booked in to go and see the man (as opposed to The Man).
A couple of weeks later I went to see him, heart in mouth, expecting to be told that I had three weeks to live. He asked me stuff (as doctors do) and then had a look himself. He asked me some more stuff and then told me that there were two options. It looked a bit funny to him, but he didn't think it was melanoma (actual skin cancer). He said that we could do it the easy way (cutting it out asap and being rid of the thing), or he could measure it and I could return in 6 months to see if it had changed.
The second one sounded a little dicey to me, so I went for option A. He concurred.
I was back there in another couple of weeks for the 'procedure'. I wandered in and waited for a bit until I was called. His operating room was quite small - just a bed thing, a light and a few bits and pieces. Up I got, shirt off and he dosed me up with some local anaesthetic: "this is the worst bit". Then he did that thing that doctors do when anaesthetic's involved. "Can you feel this?", sharp stabbing pain, "ow!", "good" (bastard).
Despite the fact that he'd just stuck me with something that hurt, he then proceded to 'do stuff'. I couldn't tell what it was, but it sounded to me like there was snipping involved - I figured he was preparing scapels and needles and other sharp, unpleasant items. A minute (at the most) later, he said "right, all done". All done? WTF?
I don't know if he was just messing with me or what, but the anaesthetic had worked a treat. In barely two minutes from start to finish he had hacked a bit of my back out and stitched up the two centimentre incision with five stitches - and I didn't even think he'd started!
So for the last two weeks I've been getting about with stitches in the middle of my back. I've never had stitches before - it was surprisingly unpainful.
The spare bit of me was sent off to a Pathologist and I was booked in to have the stitches removed and to get back my results. That was last Friday.
Getting the stitches removed was considerably more painful than the initial procedure, but it was good to be rid of them.
And my results? Again, not quite what I'd hoped.
The doctor said that there was evidence of dysplasia. This essentially means that the cells were very (unusually) active. While it was not melanoma, dysplasia can often turn into cancerous cells. I asked him more about it. He told me that the difference between dysplasia and melanoma is what you see under a microscope and that's it's often very difficult to tell dysplasia from very early melanoma.
Ultimately, the verdict is that while no further treatment is required, I need to be particularly aware of the sun from now on and that if I see anything that looks remotely dodgey, I should have it looked at immediately and removed if there is any doubt.
Which is all a very long way around to saying that you should check out your skin. All of you. You need to look for unusual moles or freckles - particularly ones with dark centres - it's the dark centres that are the problem ones. Here are some examples of actual melanoma
(these are not pretty, but you should look at them - you all need to know!), and these are "dysplastic nevi"
(moles that are predisposed to melanoma), the ones that you should watch like a hawk or get checked out. You also need to have someone check your back - that's where most of them occur and where mine was so I didn't even know it was there. You should be doing this at least once every couple of months - particularly if you're a sun person (I'm looking at you Mingrid).
Seriously peoples, a melanoma the size of just 10mm can be fatal if not picked up early enough. The good news is that if it's found early and dealt with the chances of successful treatment are very good.
Do it today. Really.