May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month
Guest Blog By: Siren Williams, Ex-Competitive Surfer and Singer-Songwriter
The Dark Freckle
"I'm sure I have skin cancer somewhere", I'd say. "The sun will be the death of me", I'd joke. I knew there was truth in what I was saying, I just didn't realize it would happen as quickly as it did, and I always felt like it was safe to procrastinate on getting looked over by a dermatologist because we all know the signs of melanoma, right? I couldn't have been more wrong.
It all started with having an impacted wisdom tooth removed and a round of antibiotics. A week later, I'd developed a rare bacterium, re-did the surgery, and did another round of antibiotics. These two rounds of antibiotics started the spiral that eventually led to a year of what was likely an autoimmune problem, combined with simply recovering from multiple rounds of antibiotics, which inevitably led to the discovery of a melanoma on my right arm.
After the oral surgeries, I loaded up on probiotics hoping to cure the slump I was in after nuking my body, but I started to show signs of an autoimmune problem. I broke out into blisters and staph infections all over my body, which took three more rounds of antibiotics to remedy, while also being referred to a dermatologist to see if they could give some insight into what might be happening, while my blood tests were showing a potential for an autoimmune disease.
Being a new patient with the dermatologist, a place I obviously didn't go, it took several months to get an appointment. Of course, once I got in, the blisters and staph were long gone, but the dermatologist wanted to look me over anyway since I spend so much time in the sun. "I don't like that one", she said, looking at the dark freckle on my arm. It had always been there, just lighter. One day I looked down and it was darker, and I told myself to have it looked at, but it would be over a year later before it was actually seen. She removed several spots around my body for biopsy and I waited a couple of weeks for the lab results.
I got the call from the dermatologist’s office one afternoon saying they had the results. I was immediately nervous because the next words out of this guy’s mouth were, "We've scheduled your surgery for tomorrow at 10am to remove a melanoma."
It was real. It was happening. I had no choice, no option, no way to back-peddle and put on sunscreen...
The surgery was absolutely horrible. They simply numb the area, then make a 4" slice in your arm while you're going into shock and trying not to look, then they remove a huge chunk of your arm, bandage you up, and send you home overnight to wait for the lab results. The lab determines whether or not they were effective in removing all of it, or if they need to remove more. The next day we waited anxiously all morning for a call saying we could come in the afternoon to get stitched up and that they had successfully removed all of the cancer. This melanoma was still "in situ", which means it hadn't yet spread past the skin. This means that I caught it just in time, as melanoma can progress past this point and become deadly in just a few weeks.
Since then, I've gone back for routine check-ups, we've done multiple biopsies, and have removed a few other pre-melanomas. I learned that I am prone to a specific type of mole (even though each one has looked completely different) called dysplastic nevus, which can turn to melanoma, and in my case, it does it often. Some were freckles that I'd had forever that just turned a darker brown, while others were flesh colored moles that I noticed were suddenly a little larger. They vary greatly, and I felt really misguided by the traditional thought that melanoma is a "mole" that starts to change colors or turns black. None of mine have fallen under the description I felt I was so commonly given to look for.
The scars from the surgeries are just battle wounds, but I still loaded up on scar creams and products to help them heal and become more subtle. The scar on my arm was 4" long and deep purple-red for months, and the Forces of Nature Scar Treatment assisted in lightening that scar. My arm is somewhat deformed since they removed so much skin and then stretched it tight to stitch it back, but that's something I can live with!
From this entire experience, I've learned a few things that made me realize just how lucky I am, as well as some general information that every person with skin needs to know.
First, it's important to note that melanoma isn't always that classic internet photo of a wonky mole with brown and black spots. It can literally be a dark freckle or a flesh-colored mole, and it may have other faces I've not yet seen. It's important to take some mental notes or even photos of your current moles and larger, stand-alone freckles to monitor them in case they do change colors or grow. You should also check your fingernails for dark stripes which could be cancer and have your eye doctor check your eyes for melanoma.
Skin cancers can also take off when you go through a period of having a weakened immune system, and in my case, this made sense. I also learned that you don't actually need to be a sun worshiper to get skin cancer! Anyone can get it, even in areas that don't see the sun. Genetics can play a huge part in cancers in general, and this is where I get flashbacks of my grandpa burning them off of his arms with cigarettes when I was a kid.
The most important thing that everyone should know is that melanoma can become life threatening in as little as six weeks. You cannot procrastinate, and you may not even realize you have it. If I hadn't had that wisdom tooth removed, it's very likely that I wouldn't be here writing this article today.
Wear sunscreen, utilize the shade, and GET CHECKED!
You can learn more about Siren Williams by visiting her instagram here.