Catasauqua Press

Monday, July 22, 2019

Relay for Life column

Thursday, October 31, 2013 by SHARI NOCTOR Special to The Press in Columns

Be vigilant when it comes to skin cancer

My friend, Paula from Whitehall, was sitting at her aunt and uncle's pool enjoying a beautiful summer day. She looked down as the sun was shining on her legs and noticed a mole looked a little different.

What happened next was so interesting that I asked Paula if I could share her story.

On Tuesday, Paula went to her regular doctor, who decided the mole looked unusual. The center was definitely a darker color than the rest. The next Monday, the doctor performed a punch biopsy, where the affected area is cut out around and below the mole and sent it off to the lab.

Two sutures that held the area together needed to be removed a week and a half later due to irritation. The doctor believed she may have been allergic to the sutures.

Three weeks later, Paula received a phone call from her doctor. The biopsy was not normal. The doctor confirmed she removed the whole mole and the surrounding tissue. Several technicians looked at the tissue and thought further evaluation was needed. They all thought it was pre-melanoma, the deadliest form of cancer. Paula's doctor made an appointment immediately for the following Monday with an oncology team at Lehigh Valley Hospital.

Paula, who lost both her father and brother to cancer, visited the American Cancer Society's website at www.cancer.org to research melanoma. Her first thought was, "This cannot be happening to me; I have two children in college and have no time for cancer."

Fear paralyzed her after reading that melanoma is the only form of skin cancer that can spread to other organs of the body even before it is detected. She began asking questions such as how deep was the melanoma, did it spread, was it going to be able to be treated and how would her life change?

The oncologist explained it was stage 1 melanoma. She was very lucky she questioned the appearance of the mole that had been present for years. The onconologist would need to remove the affected area through a wide excision believing that, once the affected area was removed, no radiation or chemotherapy would be needed.

Paula was aware of what would take place during the surgery, but fear still consumed her. She was worried because she may be allergic to sutures and she does not respond to anesthesia well. Although the doctor explained everything well, Paula still felt unprepared.

A 4.5-inch incision was made on her thigh. A large dimple remained on her leg because the doctor had to remove muscle in the affected area. The surgery and recovery were painful and the site was not very pleasant to look at.

Last week she received news that all margins were clear and the melanoma is completely gone. No radiation or chemotherapy treatments are needed. Paula will need to be vigilant and have her reamining moles checked regularly by a dermatologist and check for new ones.

As a member of Relay for Life, Paula has been captain of the team "Ray of Hope." She is living proof that early detection is crucial in fighting cancer and feels very lucky to have had her melanoma caught at the earliest stage.