EDMONTON — The spot. Every day, it would stare back at me in the mirror’s reflection. It had always been there, I thought. With time, it became a part of me, but in the fall of 2020, skin cancer and I parted ways.
As journalists, we research the statistics, inform our audience about the risks and often provide critical awareness about a variety of topics. I know what skin cancer is. I steer clear of the sun’s most harmful rays. I wear sunscreen. I never use tanning beds. I did my part, I thought, but somehow, it still wasn’t enough.
My cancer was Melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer. It can be fatal.
“Melanoma causes 90 per cent of the skin cancer deaths in people under 50 years of age, so definitely in our younger population, it can play a role in their health,” warns my dermatologist, Dr. Russell Wong.
However, if detected early enough, there’s an 85 per cent survival rate. Fortunately, my Melanoma was relatively superficial. We caught it at Stage 1. I have my sister-in-law and husband to thank for that. The only reason I got things checked out was because they noticed “the spot” on my left collarbone was changing.
“There’s an ugly duckling sign that some people talk about. If there’s a mole or spot that doesn’t look like any of your other spots, that’s something that should be checked out,” says Dr. Wong of Rejuvenation Dermatology, directing us to something called the A,B,C,D,Es of Melanoma.
A = asymmetry – one half of the mole doesn’t look like the other
B = border – the edges of the mole are jagged
C = colour — multiple different colours
D = diameter – anything greater than 6mm (size of a pencil eraser)
E = evolution – growing or changing
If any of these concern you, Dr. Wong says it is crucial you contact your doctor right away. With one in every three cancers diagnosed in Canada being skin cancer, this is the majority of his practice.
“The studies right now show that worldwide skin cancer rates are going up. I think this is multi-factorial. We have better technology now, we have better record keeping, better tools to diagnose skin cancer,” says Dr. Wong. “In my practice, we have a huge skin cancer population that takes up a significant part of my day.”
I first saw Dr. Wong in October for a biopsy. Two weeks later, on Oct. 13, I got the diagnosis. I didn’t have much time to absorb the news as I was back in the office the next day for surgery.
It didn’t take long, just over an hour to remove my cancer. Today, I’m cured, but far from out of the woods. Because I’ve had cancer and I’m fair skinned, I’m at a much higher risk for it to return.
“After a diagnosis of skin cancer we follow up with our patients every three to six months to reassess the area and make sure there’s no reoccurrence and then make sure there’s no new spots coming up.” says Dr. Wong.
This will be my reality, for the rest of my life but I know how lucky I am. My journey didn’t involve chemotherapy or radiation; in fact, I was back at work the day after my surgery.
So as summer approaches, please get your share of vitamin D responsibly, wear a broad spectrum sunscreen to block the UVA/UVB rays, avoid the sun between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. and wear a hat, protective clothing and sunglasses.
Skin cancer is preventable.
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