"Did you catch it early?"
"The good news is melanoma is very treatable if you catch it early!"
Here's the problem...melanoma is a tricky beast. Somehow it has convinced the American public that it's really not a big deal. No worries, we'll just catch it early. Why would we catch it late if we can catch it early instead? Easy breezy. Nothing to worry about here!
It's true, melanoma is pretty "treatable" if you catch it when it's tiny, but I'm not exactly sure how that's done. My own melanoma was tiny by any reasonable standard. Smaller than a pencil eraser, for sure. Yeah, it was a dark color, but lots of moles are dark colors. It was small. There is no chance that anybody without melanoma experience would have thought that spot was dangerous in the way it turned out to be. We're looking for big "scary" moles that say "Hey! You should get me checked out! Now!", but the reality is that melanoma really speaks to you in the back of your mind. "Nah, that's just a little spot. Don't overreact. Doctors' visits are expensive. Why are you making such a big deal?" and all the while it's digging deeper and deeper into your flesh, in a place you can't see. It's a pretty nasty little beast, actually. Tricky.
Also, it's not so easy to find out if you "caught it early". Sure, some melanomas are what's called "in situ", which means they are just sitting nicely on top of your skin, but you've gotta be pretty quick to catch one of those before it takes root. If your melanoma has taken root at all, you're going to need surgery, and it's not going to be pretty. Yes, if you're in this boat, melanoma might not kill you...but it's going to take a chunk of your flesh, leaving you with a pretty messy scar.
In my case, it APPEARS that we've "caught it early". The doctors hold out very strong hope that this beast hasn't invaded my lymph nodes or other organs, but we won't know until they've had a look-see at those nodes. So, here's what "catching it early" means in my own individual case:
1. A probable 8 inch incision that by all accounts will look like a shark bite, stretching from my thigh to below my knee. This is where the doctor will scoop out the spot where the melanoma used to be, and will cut out an additional 2cm of flesh in all directions, making sure (or trying to make sure) that the remaining flesh is free of cancer. Goodbye bathing suits! Goodbye shorts! Goodbye cute skirts! Well, if I'm being honest, I've never been a fan of bathing suits and the sun, but goodbye (and good riddance!) anyway, bathing suits!
2. A 4-6 inch incision in my groin where the good doctor will remove one or more nodes to determine if they've been invaded by melanoma. If not, good! If so, that will mean we didn't "catch it early" and I'll enter an entirely different ballgame. Still, you can't tell just by looking at the tiny mole on my thigh...you have to dig deep to find out.
3. A skin graft donor site. If the doctors can't close that 8 inch incision, they're going to need a skin graft, and the skin graft will have to come from somewhere. Maybe my thigh, or my hip...I won't know until June 7th when I meet the plastic surgery and he can decide for himself.
In my case, "catching it early" means two, maybe three surgical sites and a potentially hellish recovery. I'm ready for what's ahead, but it won't be a walk in the park, and it doesn't seem reasonable for the removal of what really was a tiny little spot.
Don't underestimate this beast!
What can you do?
-You can see your dermatologist. You can point out any spots you think look a little weird, and you can let that dermatologist have a look at your skin and see if there are any spots the two of you should keep an eye on together.
-Use your sunscreen! I have research that I still need to do about sunscreen, but I can tell you that before this melanoma scare, I wasn't using enough of it. It takes a whole shot glass full of sunscreen to do the job. At least!
Here's a video that might help convince you about the dangers of melanoma. It made me cry, but I guess that may be a reflection of what I'm going through right now. I chose the one with French subtitles, because I'm a French teacher and I think the subtitles make it better...but that's how I am.