“Statistic.” On the surface it’s a fairly cold word. Bland data. Heartless. Void of feeling. Just a number. About a month ago, during a doctor appointment, I became a statistic. Like a light bulb that shatters from a surge of electricity when you flip the switch, I realized that all those statistics actually represent people and suddenly, way out of left field, I was one of them.
What had begun as a routine follow-up visit at the dermatologist ended up something way beyond routine. The doc was checking to see how the medicine she prescribed for some dry skin on my face was working. She was really pleased to see it had cleared up. Upbeat and chipper, she asked if there was anything else, I needed. I asked if she would mind taking a look at a mole on my back that my wife had encouraged me to get checked. The previous upbeat tempo of the earlier conversation came to an abrupt halt as if a thief had just walked into the room.
After lifting my shirt, I heard nothing. Silence. That nothingness was the thief that had crept into the examining room just a second or two earlier, stealing all the air out of the room. I couldn’t breathe. When my lungs finally expanded, I realized the doc was asking if anyone in my family had skin cancer. I said, “Not that I know of,” but soon realized that no sound was coming out of my mouth. I eventually managed to eek out an audible, response. She asked how long I'd had the mole. I told her that I had noticed it about six months ago and at the time had my family doc look at it. He thought it was okay, but said to keep an eye on it.
The mole was in the center I my back; I actually couldn’t see it. So, like so many things….out of sight, out of mind. I had forgotten about it. But earlier in the week, my wife saw me changing shirts and said, “You really need to get that checked again.” I told this to the doc and she said, “Your wife probably just saved your life.” She had me roll over, injected the area in question with something to numb the skin and proceeded to scooped out a pretty good chunk of me to send off to the lab. She wouldn’t, couldn’t, confirm anything, but said that I’d get the results back next week from the lab.
Luckily, I didn't have to wait that long. The doc called me personally the next day. The news hit me like a brick. Melanoma. The rarest and most aggressive type of skin cancer. Numb, I asked her what the next steps were. She explained that she’d make an appointment for me with a surgeon at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Hospital in Winston Salem. They would more than likely do a more invasive removal of the skin from around the area the mole was located and possibly inject radioactive dye into the area to see if it drained to a lymph node. If it did, a biopsy would be done of the lymph node. If cancer was found in that lymph node, then the surrounding lymph nodes would be removed and probably other types of more rigorous treatments would be implemented. The phone call ended with, “Your wife really did just save your life.”
Stunned….a statistic….a number, but determined I waited for the consultation with the doc at the Cancer Center at Wake Forest Baptist Hospital.
After a long 4 weeks, the consultation finally took place today. Well, I thought it was going to be a consultation. Turned out the doctor at the cancer center wanted to do the procedure today. A little shocked and overwhelmed, I headed to the operating room with my wife. I was a trooper and with my wife's support I did well during the surgery.
With a rather large hunk of me missing, I’m now the proud owner of a 5” incision down the center of my back. I’ll know in about a week if the tests come back negative. As I tell my runners when in training… "Trust. Believe. CONQUER!” That’s exactly how I plan to tackle this unexpected life-bump in the road.
About a year ago, I posted on the blog an article I’d written title “Runners!Block That Sun!" never knowing I’d be writing about me. Please read that article and re-read it if you’ve already read it. Runners do tend to have a higher incidence of skin cancer. I’m proof of that. Also, check your body thoroughly (everywhere) for moles. Have your doc check them out. If you don’t have a spouse or significant other, get a running buddy to check your back. Like I said, I can’t see the spot where mine was located. Don’t let modesty keep you from finding a questionable mole. If you’re a runner, it’s probably a good idea to have your doc check your moles at least once a year. And heed the words of wisdom my doc gave me as I left the hospital today, “You now love sun block. You will wear sun block every day. Sun Block is your best friend.”