OK, so I thought I was putting the cancer thing behind me, at least for a little while.
However, my body had a different idea. At my first visit with my new dermatologist, Dr. Pedram Gerami, who is at Northwestern University, we did the all-over, naked-body check.
There was this one spot that was bothering me the most. It was a tiny patch of skin on my chin that had recently grown a little darker. There was no mole, no raised anything, but this inner voice kept saying, get that checked.
Dr. Gerami did a biopsy on three areas, including my chin and sure enough, the patch of skin on my face is very-early-stage melanoma. This bout is completely unrelated to the first go-round, except for how I got it from too much sun exposure as a child and a teenager. It doesn't alter my risk for cancer spreading to any other areas, but does send up a red flag about being even more aggressive when taking future biopsies.
It also means I'll get to stand naked in front of Dr. Gerami every three months for years to come. It's amazing that I can still chat or ask questions during the mole hunt, but I made myself a promise that embarrassment would not be the reason something went unnoticed.
Thank goodness I moved to Chicago and found Northwestern Hospital where there is cutting-edge research going on to find the first drug protocol for melanoma and to more accurately diagnose the tumors.
"One of the big problems in the care of patients with atypical pigmented lesions is that, while the great majority of pigmented lesions can be clearly identified under the microscope as benign nevi or malignant melanoma, there is a subgroup of lesions that can show conflicting histological features, making it difficult for even the most experienced dermatopathologist to determine if the lesion is benign or malignant," said Dr. Gerami.
This is a big problem when the difference is between something that is totally benign, which requires no therapy, or a potentially lethal malignant melanoma that will require aggressive surgical, and possibly medical, intervention.
"In my lab at Northwestern University, we helped develop a test that can look at the DNA in a tumor to determine if it is benign or malignant. This test is known as fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) for melanoma and allows us to determine if there are extra copies of portions of the DNA that control tumor growth or loss of portions of DNA that inhibit tumor growth. If significant DNA alterations are identified by FISH, that can help us definitively diagnose a tumor as melanoma without hesitation or doubt, allowing these patients to get the aggressive therapy they require," he said.
They have studied more than 1,000 specimens at Northwestern using this method and are among the most experienced in the world.
This is great news considering that malignant melanoma is second only to leukemia at stealing the lives of working-age people, and doesn't discriminate when it comes to striking someone in their twenties, or like me, in their fifties. It's also sobering to note that there is no drug protocol just yet for this particular type of cancer.
Every time you see a pink ribbon, let it also remind you that melanoma is back where breast cancer was in the 1980's.
So, in another week, I head back to Northwestern and have this removed as well and continue to look for the blessings in everything. One obvious one is that I'm grateful I listened to my intuition and grateful that Dr. Gerami took me seriously. I've also put myself back on all of those prayer lists. It's an interesting season for me.
In the meantime, consider donating to www.melanoma.org, which provides grant money for research, and go get checked all over.
Martha's column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc., newspaper syndicate. E-mail her at: Martha@caglecartoons.com, or visit www.martharandolphcarr.com.