HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns
January 15, 2007, Herald Journal

Skin cancer at any age

By JENNIFER GALLUS

Skin cancer doesn’t happen to only those who worship the sun, it can happen to anyone, at any age.

I can vouch for that. I’m in my early 30s, and was diagnosed with basil cell skin cancer last winter.

For many reasons, it’s the “best” form of skin cancer a person can hope for when diagnosed, I was told.

It does not spread, it doesn’t go very deep into the skin, and it won’t come back if the doctors get all of it.

In my case, it was a spot the size of a pea on my left temple. It was only slightly raised and not colored.

The scary part was I had it for a long time, like 15 years, and thought it was just a cluster of acne that wouldn’t go away.

I had picked at it and was generally annoyed with this area, but no one seemed to notice it.

The only reason I finally inquired about it was because I had my first ever dermatologist appointment for my extremely dry skin.

I happened to show the area to the doctor. She thought it was a mole, but took a sample of it to make sure.

A week later they called and told me that it was skin cancer. I couldn’t believe it!

I was advised to have it removed at the dermatologist’s office using a procedure where they would take layers out at a time. You’d sit in the waiting room for an hour while they froze it and looked at it microscopically to see if they got it all.

If they didn’t get it all, they’d scrape out more layers, freeze it again, look at it again, and so forth.

This could take a good part of the day I was told.

Then, if they were to get a little too deep for comfort during this procedure, I would be sent home with gauze on my face and referred to a plastic surgeon to finish it.

Well, this didn’t sound very appealing to me. After thinking it over and talking with several family members and friends, it made more sense to go straight to the plastic surgeon.

It was a great choice. The procedure was pretty simple.

However, after the first bit had been removed and sent to the lab, the doctor was so confident he got it all that he stitched me up.

As we were waiting for the lab results to make sure he got it all, the doctor and I passed the time by talking about my ducks.

He was very metropolitan (his office was in Edina), and was genuinely interested and entertained with my duck operation.

Sure enough, the lab called and told him to take some more out. So out came the stitches, more was taken out, then I got stitched up for the second time.

Other than that, it wasn’t a huge deal, and things went great.

The skin cancer is not expected to ever return in that spot, and if it did, they say it wouldn’t be a big deal.

Now I have whole-body skin check-ups every six months. Not only do I get to drop the robe at the yearly-female type exam, I get to do it two more times per year.

It could be worse, and every healthy day that goes by is a great day.

I do have some possible reasons as to why my fair-colored skin may have acquired skin cancer.

First, when I was a kid, my parents did not believe in sunblock. I do believe it was around back then.

We were on the lake all the time. I vividly remember skin blisters on my face and shoulders regularly in the summer.

A smelly white cream was the lotion of choice my parents kept in stock for after-sunburn care. Prevention was nonexistent.

Second, I did visit tanning booths from time to time in high school, college, and a few years ago. People choose to ignore the fact the tanning booths really are harmful to your skin.

I can honestly say I will not visit one again, even though I can see the appeal.

I was lucky, I got the mildest form of skin cancer. Other types of skin cancer can be very dangerous.

So please, put sunblock on you and your kids or grandkids, and watch those moles. If a light-complexioned girl like me can get skin cancer, anyone can.

Kid-isms

My five-year-old nephew, Vlady, was recently at the science museum. When he saw the mummies he asked a museum worker, “So when do you let the mummies out so they can scare people?”

The worker told him they do no such thing. To which Vlady seriously argued that yes they did! “They walk around like this (as he held his arms out in front of him), and scare people, I’ve seen them,” he said.