News & Press
#GetNaked: Darren Reilly
A few years ago, my wife was diagnosed with a rare form of melanoma. Because of this, I decided to get yearly skin checks with a dermatologist. At my first visit, I had the doc look at a suspicious freckle on my calf. He said it was nothing. The next year I went again, different derm, same freckle – it’s nothing. I visited a third new doc in as many years (different jobs and different health insurance hence the multiple different dermatologists). He looks at the freckle and says, “Nah, it’s nothing. But do you want me to take it off just to make sure?” Better safe than sorry, right?
And it’s a good thing, because a week later I got a call saying that it was melanoma and .9mm deep. Because of its thickness, I had to have a sentinel node biopsy. This is where they remove the closest lymph node to the cancer to see if it holds any seeder cells and if a more widespread treatment would be necessary. Thankfully, the lymph node was clear and only a localized removal of the surrounding area of my calf would be required.
So now I’m getting skin checks every 3 months and monitoring anything suspicious since I have a history of skin cancer. There was another, less suspicious freckle on my left arm. The doctor said it’s probably nothing, but given the circumstances of the last freckle, “let’s take it off anyway.” A couple of days and a phone call later, guess what? It’s melanoma. Cue the in-office removal of the surrounding tissue.
Near this latest spot was another freckle that we were going to “keep our eyes on.” At this point I just want everything off. Looks funny? Take it off. I’m reminded of that scene in Goodfellas about borrowing money from a gangster. “Your house burnt down? [expletive] you, pay me! Your mother just died? [expletive] you, pay me!” The freckle has an unusual border? [expletive] you, cut it out. Funny coloring? [expletive] you, remove it! But I’m no Henry Hill, so I agreed to just watch it. I did this for a year and a half, but in the back of my mind I’m thinking about the other freckles that were “nothing.” I say to yet another new dermatologist, “We’ve been watching this one, but I think I’ll feel better if we just remove it.” Now it’s just getting repetitive: a few days, a phone call, another problem. This time it was a “severely atypical dysplastic nevus.” Which just means “we didn’t look at all the cells, but what we did see is no bueno, it’s got to go.”
The moral of the story – speak up and advocate for yourself. I can’t imagine where I’d be if I just took their word at “it’s nothing.” What if I hadn’t found a dermatologist that offered to just “take it off?” Would I now be fighting skin cancer that had spread throughout my body? Would it have landed on one of my organs and now I’m undergoing chemo or radiation? Or would I still be living in the sweet spot of ignorance before I showed any clinical symptoms; all the while the melanomies are gathering in numbers and strength for an all-out assault?
It’s an easy thing to remove a suspicious spot and have it tested. The removal process doesn’t hurt, the recovery is simple, and the definitive answer is always better than a supposed “no.” If you know your ABCs (Asymmetry, Border, Color) use that info to advocate for yourself and have your concerns taken seriously. And when in doubt, have it removed.
A word to all my male readers. Two things: you’re not invincible and going to the doctor does not make you weak. I know I always thought, “I don’t need to see a doctor, nothing’s wrong.” As a people, we men react to “if there is something wrong, let me fix it.” With this mind set, we don’t get checkups because “there is nothing wrong” and its “pointless” to waste my time just so the doctor can confirm this. It’s this foolishness that leaves us open to slow moving attacks like melanoma. Just like scheduled oil changes, we should get skin checks BEFORE our warning light comes on.
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