WISDOM FROM “UGLY DUCKLINGS” On My Skin Cancer Anniversary by Wendy Steele
Anniversary is a thing to celebrate and to remember. Sounds strange that I celebrate my Melanoma diagnosis and use this to remember my experiences. What I learned then and know now is that I am in charge of my health and well-being.
My doctors have all earned a basic level of my trust. The keyword is basic! I never let down my guard and question everything I hear. I respect the doctors I have chosen, but I do not treat them like gods. I have way too many experiences where what they thought or said was just wrong.
I bristle when I hear people that blindly follow their doctors, especially when they assume the worst and use Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt tactics to get me to agree with a treatment. They all do it! It is how they survive in a corrupt and broken medical system. Below is an example of one of my experiences that led me to a terrible experience at the Mayo Clinic a few years ago. As a part of my Melanoma anniversary celebration, the story below is an essential reminder to me.
One Experience Among Many! – Part One!
My experience with several “ugly ducklings” has once again put a bright spotlight on my desire and responsibility to share my personal wisdom about skin health.
So far, I have had the pleasure to personally talk to and meet many of our customers during multiple special events. At one event, I was wearing several flesh-colored bandage strips on my upper chest and self-consciously made sure that I covered those strategically with clothing, as I did not want to reveal those ugly little bandages. I thought later that perhaps I would have been better off letting them show because then I could share more personally my own experiences with “ugly ducklings.” Knowledge is a powerful thing.
As the story goes, I visited my dermatologist for my overdue annual skin check. Because I am a Melanoma survivor, it means that I am, and always will be, a Melanoma patient. I live 365 days a year with the reality that I am a melanoma patient.
Before my appointment, I called ahead, and I alerted my doctor, “ I have several ugly ducklings that I wanted to have excised and checked.”
So what are ugly ducklings? “Ugly ducklings” are a recognized medical research term being used by skin specialists to help people understand how to recognize and track early warning signs of skin cancer. The more you know about how to identify ugly ducklings, the more effective you may be at beating skin cancer through an early treatment!
On appointment day, the excellent news reality of my melanoma patient status is that I get much extra attention when I have my skin checked. In my case, my Doc and her specially trained RN assistant double-teamed me as they scanned my entire body- scalp to soles of my feet, hands fingers, and places where the sun never sees. I have lots of spots and freckles on my body. The fact is I could easily count more than 100 moles on my body. So many that five years ago my dermatologist decided that they should all photographed so that we could keep track of any changes in my moles! So with double team attention and prior photos in their hands, my body exam took about 15 minutes with two sets of trained eyes on me.
At the end of the exam, in addition to the two ugly ducklings, my Doc identified a third one. All of these were on my upper chest near the pectorals. All three were excised and sent for biopsy.
These moles were not truly ugly. They just looked different to me. Moreover, they looked different to my doctor. So this is the “ugly duckling” practice at work…prompting me to get checked by my dermatologist.
So what exactly should you be looking for when you check your skin every month? Also, what early warning signs should you pay attention to always and act on immediately? Here’s what I do:
- I pay attention to any mole that stands out – that is anything that I think looks darker, redder more round rather than oval. These are moles which my eye are automatically drawn to looking at. It is because it just looks different from the other moles that I have! The fact is I know these moles better than my doctor-mainly because I live with them and see them every day! Anything that stands out to me could be the first sign of an ugly duckling, an outlier that bears having checked for any change.
- I also watch closely any moles where one half of the mole does not look like the other half, this is known as asymmetry
- I pay attention to moles with blurred, ragged or notched edges – with irregular borders
- Color changes in moles – from clear to red to brown to black or even blue – all are early warning signs
- Anything larger than 6mm in diameter, i.e., the size of a pencil eraser bears watching more closely and getting checked
- Every day we are aging and evolving, and any change or growth in the mole is an early warning sign.
Any of the above signs in new moles or growths or existing moles or growths should be checked immediately by a dermatologist. What I just described above is now known as the A, B, C, D, E‘s of melanoma skin cancer. They are all early warning signs to pay close attention to and pro-actively take action on with your doctor.
Another thing that I have learned is if a mole is itchy, crusty, or bleeds, you should immediately ask your doctor to remove it and order a biopsy. Do not let a doctor freeze or burn off these moles because you will not know if there were abnormal or cancerous cells in the tissue that are burned or frozen off. If you experience a regrowth of an area that was previously burned or frozen, immediately have a re-excision and order a biopsy to be sure it is cleared of any potential skin cancer.
So what was the result of my ugly duckling moles that were excised?
Two out of the three came back from pathology as abnormal! Not cancer, but unusual. Now, I am in the process of learning exactly what an abnormal pathology report looks like up close and personally in real-time. I am about to learn more about the wisdom from ugly ducklings and what my next steps will be. I want to share this experience so that others will not be fearful but instead may learn from my experience.
What came next was initially alarming and later another big lesson why you cannot always trust your doctor. What started as fear turned to anger and a lot of time and expense.