Let's Talk Skin Cancer

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Last May during my 6 month dermatologist appointment (I go every six months because I have lots of freckles and moles and I’m prone to skin cancer), my dermatologist found two moles that had changed since my previous appointment and looked a little abnormal. The shape was not a perfect circle or oval, but instead more of a “splotch”. He decided the best bet was to take a biopsy of the two moles (one was on my abdomen and one on my right breast) by scraping the top layer off and sending it to be tested. The doctor numbed both sites and used a knife to scrape the moles off and sent them to a lab at UCLA. 

About 10 days later, I received  call from the doctor saying the biopsy results for the spot on my breast came back abnormal, that it could possibly be skin cancer and they needed to essentially dig deeper to find out what the cells underneath might tell them. My dermatologist recommended an oncologist (a doctor who deals with prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer) at UCLA for the surgical procedure. Unfortunately at the time my insurance didn’t cover this doctor or the alternative doctor that was recommended to me. Without insurance the surgery was going to cost over $10,000 and I couldn’t really afford that at the time. 

From there I saw a few options:

  1. I could ask my parents to help me out and I know they would have offered without hesitation, but my dermatologist told me that while he wouldn’t want me to wait a year to have the surgery, waiting a few months wouldn’t be life threatening. 
  2. I could find a different doctor that was covered by my HMO health insurance plan. I didn’t really want to do this because I trust my dermatologist, and because this seemed like a semi serious issue, it was important to me that I went to one of the doctors he recommended. 
  3. I could wait several months for open enrollment to come around and enroll for a new insurance plan that was more expensive monthly but covers more procedures and doctors. 

After weighing my options, I decided to wait, enroll in a PPO insurance plan that covered more doctors (including the practice where my oncologist was) and then have the surgery. It felt like a long time to wait, and for about 8 months I’ve had the thought in the back of my mind that there’s a possibility I could be facing something pretty scary. However, I tried not to worry about it, since I know worrying gets me no where. 

After enrolling in my new health insurance plan in January, I immediately made the appointment and went to see the oncologist. He was exactly what I would want out of a doctor - knowledgable and understanding but also witty and sarcastic. We made a plan of attack and scheduled the surgery. Two weeks ago I went to the surgical center at UCLA, checked in, had my blood pressure and heart rate checked and entered the operation room. The nurses were amazing, the doctor numbed me and we chatted about surfing, the beach and family during the small surgery (definitely helped me relax). I got a little nauseous a few times, but overall I was totally fine. He put dissolvable stitches in and told me I’d have results within a week. I planned to go back to work, but I was a little light headed so I went home and watched a movie, ordered food from Postmates and relaxed the rest of the day. 

I finally got my test results back a few days ago and thankfully everything came back clear! I’ll most likely have a small scar from the incision, but other than that everything is fine. 

The two takeaways from this experience are to

A) Wear sunscreen! The beach is my happy place, so I totally understand wanting to bask in the sun. And I'm not saying you have to wear gloves and long sleeves in the Summer, but studies have shown that a daily application of SPF 16 and above (even on gloomy days) can reduce melanoma by about 50 percent. 

B) Get a full body scan at the dermatologist at least every year to make sure you don’t have any abnormal spots that need to be checked out.