April 23, 2007

DC family warns of skin cancer

By Kristen Miller
Staff Writer

With summer on the way and people out enjoying the sun, one family shares their story to help spread caution to prevent a deadly disease.

Brad Thielsen, 43, of Dassel, was diagnosed with skin melanoma, one of the most serious forms of skin cancer, in 1999, after finding an unusual mole on his back.

The doctors at Mayo Clinic in Rochester thought they caught the disease with a biopsy to remove the mole.

Thielsen was advised having his moles checked every three months for any changes and has had several moles removed since that time without much concern, according to his wife, Becky.

Then in November, Brad experienced chest pains and numbness in his arm. A tumor was found on his lung and a biopsy confirmed it was metastatic melanoma, meaning the cancer had spread.

When he returned to the Mayo Clinic at the end of the month, doctors found there was lymph node involvement in his right lung as well as multiple lesions on his brain, making his diagnosis Stage IV metastatic melanoma, in which the cancer has spread to other organs such as the lungs, brain, and liver.

Since then, Brad has had two rounds of a chemotherapy pill, 10 sessions of whole brain radiation, six sessions of intravenous chemo, and 10 additional sessions of a lower dosage of whole brain radiation.

Brad’s most recent visit showed the melanoma continues to spread to other areas of his body, including numerous lesions on his brain.

“We’re not sure how much time Brad has left, but I wanted to share this story in hopes that other people will heed the warning about skin cancer,” Becky said.

With a 2.5 centimeter lesion on his cerebellum, which is the part of the brain that affects balance, Brad must use a walker and is no longer able to drive.

Brad grew up in South Dakota, working outside on his parent’s farm. It was not uncommon for him to be working without a shirt on, Becky said.

He has been employed by the City of Hutchinson as a plant equipment maintenance mechanic for the wastewater treatment plant. Now, with bleeding on his brain and weakness from chemo, radiation, and steroids that help control his headaches, he can only work a few hours a week in a supervisory role.

Before the disease took over, Brad was always on the move, Becky said.

He enjoyed working in the garage on vehicles and even built a go-cart for his three kids, Tyler, 18, Anissa, 10, and Kara, 8. Brad liked to be outside and was a practical joker.

“His sense of humor is well-known by anyone who knows him. Once in awhile, there is still a small joke that sneaks out,” Becky said.

Through this, the Thielsens have learned to live their lives one day at a time.

“We have a tremendous network of support through our family, coworkers, and church family,” Becky said.

“Our faith in God’s plan sustains us; prayers from people, near and far, are what carry us through each day,” she said.

Monday, May 7 is Melanoma Monday and National Skin Examination Day, sponsored by the American Academy of Dermatology to help raise awareness about malignant melanoma and to encourage early detection through screening.

“Melanoma is a relentless beast, and prevention is key,” Becky said.

She warns of suntanning and tanning beds because, “Once melanoma, always melanoma,” since there is no cure.

Facts about skin cancer

According to the American Cancer Society, there are more than 1 million skin cancers diagnosed each year in the US. This is more than cancers of the prostrate, breast, lung, colon, uterus, ovaries, and pancreas combined.

Melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, was estimated to account for 62,190 new cases in 2006. As of 2006, melanoma deaths per year totaled 7,910.

The American Cancer Society recommends taking these necessary precautions to prevent all types of skin cancer, with melanoma being the most serious.

• Avoid the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

• Seek shade, especially in the middle of the day, when the sun’s rays are the strongest.

• Cover up with protective clothing when out in the sun.

• Wear sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher and reapply after swimming, toweling dry, or perspiring. It is also advised to wear sunscreen on hazy or overcast days because UV rays travels through clouds, as well.

• Wear a hat with a wide brim to shade the face, eyes, and neck. If wearing a baseball hat, remember to apply sunscreen to ears and neck.

• Wear sunglasses with 99 to 100 percent UV absorption.

Five signs to check for

The American Academy of Dermatology gives the following information to help detect melanoma. They are called the “ABCD and Es of melanoma.”

A. Asymmetry: The mole is not completely even in appearance.

B. Border: The margins should be even and smooth, without ratty or projecting edges.

C. Circumference: The mole should be nice, and round and without jagged or sharp edges.

D. Diameter: The size of the mole should not be more than six millimeters (the size of a pencil eraser) measured across the mole.

E. Evolving: Any changes over time in shape, size, symptoms (itching, tenderness), surface (bleeding, scaling, inflammation), and shades of color.

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