Tuesday, January 11, 2011

My Visit to the Dermatologist

Me, Rehoboth Beach 1965

Yesterday I went to the VA in Wilmington, Delaware for an emergency appointment with my dermatologist.  I had just seen them this past September.  At that time they removed a small keratosis spot on my left cheek.  Keratosis is a pre cancerous skin condition.  If you don't remove them, they could turn cancerous.  I've had this condition since 1987 when I noticed a painful spot on my face when I shaved.  Over the years I regularly visit a dermatologist to be checked for the return of these spots.  Occasionally they return.  The dermatologist removes them by burning off the scabby keratosis spot with dry ice.  Afterward my face looks like I was beat up but eventually it heals and I'm back to normal.

Shortly after my visit to the VA last September I had another painful scabby spot show up on my left shoulder, right by my shirt line.  I tried to ignore it, hoping it would go away.  But it didn't.  So I called the VA Friday hoping that I would have to wait two months for an appointment.  I was in luck, they had a cancellation for Monday so I went up with Significant Other who also, coincidentally had a scheduled appointment with the dermatologist.  

We were both sliced and diced.  I had the spot burned off of my shoulder.  I also had a spot taken off of my right shoulder blade.  That wasn't cancerous but "just" a barnacle.  When you're old like me I guess you get "barnacles" just like a ship.  Then the doctor noticed a spot on the base of my spine.  It wasn't cancerous either but would I like it removed?  Sure. What the heck?  So she dug and dug at it, while the intern looked on.  After a few minutes of painful digging she said she got most of it, would I like to to "dig" some more? Uh......no.  I'll live with it.  No more digging into my flesh as long as it wasn't cancerous.  

Then she found a suspicious spot on my right ear.  I noticed it too.  It looked like clotted blood but it wasn't painful so I ignored it.....of course.  She said she would like to send it in for a biopsy.  Uh huh.  Biopsy isn't a word one want to hear when one is in the dermatologist's office.  She said she would "slice it off" after she gave my ear a needle (first time my ear ever had a needle) and "send it in."  She said the ear "heals very quickly" so that was a "good thing."  Uh huh.  So I get the needle in my ear and it is just as you would imagine, a sharp prick to the ear (another First.)  She "slices" off then offending parasite on my ear and then looks for a bandage to stop the bleeding.  In all my 69 years I never had one of my ears bleed.  I did yesterday.  There is always a first for everything.  

She couldn't find a small bandage so she put a too big bandage on my ear and told me they would be "contacting me."  She said if the biopsy turned out positive then they would "have to have a conversation with me."  Okay.  That sounds ominous.  Lots of key words and phrases to perk up my ears.

Coincidentally earlier this week Significant Other showed me an article in the local paper about how well the VA Hospice Care Unit function.  The cover story was on a 64 year old veteran who had terminal skin cancer.  A big bandage was on his face where his nose should have been  His daughter was in the picture with him.  This picture came to my mind yesterday.  Then I thought of all those years I used to lay on the beach getting a tan.

I'm here to tell everyone right now.  Those tans weren't worth it.   All the warnings about skin cancer?  They were true.  I know.  I'm dealing with it now and it is damn scary.


  1. Ron,

    Don't get too worked up until you get some answers back. Sounds like these keratosis spots don't usually lead to the more serious forms of skin cancer and the type that commonly develops is pretty treatable.

    may she will just have to lob off some ear lobe. Now you know your ears have always been a bit uneven. Maybe she will be able to even them up.

    Not trying to make light of your situation, but you know, don't worry about something until you have something to worry about.

    Briefly replied to your emails. I'm sure we can talk further when we come down there in a couple weeks. By then you may know what the verdict is on your ear.


  2. I'm always concerned Lar when I hear the big 'C" word.

    We'll talk more when you're down in a couple of weeks.


  3. I enjoy reading about your day-to-day life! This is my first comment here, although I've been a lurker for a while. Forgive my very long comment, but skin cancer is a big topic for me!

    At 19, I had a metastatic malignant melanoma removed from my forehead. (I'm now 48) This wasn't sun exposure related; melanomas often occur in places where 'the sun don't shine.'

    Within 2 months, I had a "massive involvement" (doc's words) which has spread to all my lymph nodes and ducts one one side of my neck, down to my shoulder. Grim!!

    Many surgeries later, over 3 months of radiation treatments and many dozens of checkups and tests and 28 years later, I'm still cancer free! My claim to fame: I am the longest-surviving advanced melanoma patient in the history of the Mayo Clinic, MN... because no one had survived such as advanced, distantly spread metastasis before me.

    I hope your test results continue to be 'negative.' It pays to be vigilant!! By the way, why don't you check out my new blog?

  4. I am getting old enough to see all the brown spots of my father 'come out' on me; finding one that is malignant will be challenging - like finding a new star in the night sky.

  5. Alan,

    Many thanks for your timely comment. I am deathly afraid of skin cancer. I have seen the results. I was especially spooked when I read an article earlier this week about a vet (only 64) who had terminal skin cancer. He had lost his nose.
    I read with great interest you experience. My congratulations to you in surviving malignant melanoma skin cancer. What an awful experience for you to go through at such a young age. I hope you remain cancer free.
    Thanks for the link to your blog. I will check it out.

  6. Spo,
    Believe me, finding a brown spot on your skin that is malignant will be challenging but NOT like "finding a new star in the sky." When you see a photo of a guy who lost part of his face to skin cancer, it scares the crap out of you. I better make sure I have a sufficient supply of meeds to take care of "things." I hope I never go there though.

  7. My cancer-specialist dermatologist at the Mayo once told me his motto is, "When in doubt, take it out." He said that no matter now well-trained and experienced a doctor is, no one can just look at a brown spot visually and tell if its malignant.

    My own melanoma was very small and innocent looking - yet it had already spread through all layers of skin and into the fatty tissue below.

  8. Alan,
    I always knew where I had my keratosis spots because they hurt. The spot the doctor took off of the top of my ear didn't hurt and was, like yours, very small an innocent looking. She wasn't too concerned with the keratosis spots but was with the little red bump she took off of the top of my ear.
    Your experience with cancer at such a young age must of been very traumatic for you. One thing though is that an experience like that make you appreciate life and not take anything for granted.

  9. Keratosis is something expected at your age, I think.

  10. That's right Tai, one of the "benefits" of to be expected at my age after a lifetime of lying on the beach seeking that ever elusive tan. Now I'm paying the price.

  11. Ron, it was very difficult emotionally at the time and physically for many years afterwards as my radiation burns subsided and zig-zag scars from shoulder to above my ear healed. Now, I consider myself lucky to have had cancer. Having cancer was the best thing that ever happened to me. I still think of that experience every single day.

    I have a serenity and calmness unlike anyone I know. That trite saying "Don't sweat the small stuff" has real meaning as I know that it is ALL small stuff... the only thing that truly matters is your health. This attitude affects my reactions towards everything I do in life, for the better. I also learned many lessons spending hundreds of hours sitting in cancer clinic waiting rooms, seeing (and occasionally chatting with) fellow cancer patients who ranged in age from newborn, toddler, teenager, middle-aged and the elderly.... an incredible amount of life-lessons to be learned for a 19 year old!

    A year ago, a therapist told me (I was seeing him regarding my marital problems) that having cancer at 19 would have had a profound positive effect on shaping my character, values and attitudes for the rest of my life. A 19 year old is still somewhat malleable in that regard. Also, a young person will benefit from that life lesson for many, many decades to come. I've always known this, but it was great for a professional to articulate it so well.

    The child cancer patient may be too immature to appreciate the nuances of it all. Older cancer patients may become bitter, or if they get the life lesson, they may have only a few years to benefit from it.

    Having said all that, please be extremely vigilant about seeing your doctor about your spots...I certainly am, as are my children.

  12. Alan,
    Thank you for sharing your story with me. Actually, you were lucky that you had cancer and survived because you are one of those rare people who have a deep appreciation of life and all its subtleties. I had a similar experience when I was 17 years old and almost died from a hospital staph infection that went undiagnosed. After six months in and out of the hospital, in which I wasn't expected to survive (which I found out several years later), I did survive and have truly appreciated the gift of life of every year I have lived since then. Just today I was thinking that my grandfather died when he was 54 years old after a life of hard work and little pleasure. I have 15 years on him already and I don't plan on going anywhere anytime soon. Thanks again for sharing with me.


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