Sunday, May 15, 2011

ABCDE

Bonnie Branson Illustration
May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month.  How do I know and why should you care?  Because I am a survivor of dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans (DFSP), the “most benign of all the skin cancers,” according to my dermatologist as he gave me the news. 

ABCDE refers to the warning signs of skin cancer, particularly melanoma:

Elevation - The mole should not be raised or have an uneven surface.

Unfortunately I had none of these warning signs.  I had a thickening of a patch of skin on my left hip.  It felt like scar tissue although I’d never had an injury there.  My dermatologist thought it was nothing to be concerned about.  “Watch it.  If it grows, we’ll biopsy it.” 

A year later, this mysterious patch had doubled in size, so it was now about an inch in diameter, but still skin colored.  The biopsy came back positive for DFSP, a relatively rare form of skin cancer which my nearly-retired dermatologist had only seen a 12 times in his career.  The only cure involves cutting out the cancer, but taking a wide enough margin that all the “runners” are also excised.  I ended up with a surgical wound 13 x 15 x 7 cm (5 x 7 x 3 in).  That’s length, width, and depth – I often joke that the doctor exacted his pound of flesh.

Remarkably, this was done as outpatient surgery and I was bedridden for three weeks (with surgery after 12 days to close the incision properly). I’ll spare you the gory details of vacuum pacs and skin grafts and dressing changes.  The original surgery was January 4, 2002, and I wasn’t out of bandages until mid March of that year.  My lasting legacy is medically termed a “contour deformity” but I lovingly refer to it as my “alligator bite.” It makes for a much more interesting story. 

And the moral of this story is, if you ever have anything on your skin that you know doesn’t belong there, get it checked out as soon as possible.  Prevention and early detection are the key to avoiding a potentially disfiguring and even deadly disease.  I was lucky - and don't think I don't count my blessings every day!

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