My Skin Cancer Scare

I always thought it was unfair to still be experiencing wrinkles AND acne into my 40s and 50s.

As May comes to a close and we celebrate Memorial Day here in the United States, it is the unofficial start of summer. With BBQs and trips to the lake or beach upon us, I wanted to write about something other than fibromyalgia, but still something near and dear to my heart. May is Skin Cancer Awareness month. I became aware of this disease as a little girl, since it has plagued my mom’s side of the family. She grew up in a beach town back in the days when they used baby oil on their skin in the summer. Fair skin + no protection + summers in the sun = Disaster.

My first recollection of skin cancer was when I was about 8 years old at one of my ballet recitals. My mom had to wear a big floppy hat to protect her face. She had just had surgery to remove skin cancer, which took part of an eyebrow and had she waited any longer for treatment, she was told she would have lost her eye. Since then she’s had multiple surgeries – nose, scalp, ear. And she is facing two more surgeries in the next few weeks. My aunt, grandmother, and my oldest brother have all had a few removed. We are the fair-skinned ones in the family. Because of this my mother instilled in me at that very early age to take care of my skin. I think of using sunscreen as one of those things that everyone knows they should do, but often don’t take the time. SPF is your friend!

#MySkinCancerJourney

I always thought it was unfair to still be experiencing wrinkles and acne into my 40s and 50s. I had major hormonal imbalances and problems with endometriosis, so I was plagued with cystic acne from my late teens until my hysterectomy at the age of 45. Since then I have still experienced the occasional blemish, but lately my skin was finally clearing up.

Last fall I had a facial with microdermabrasion. This is a minimally invasive procedure using an abrasive instrument to gently sand the top layer of your skin away. It is supposed to treat light scarring, discoloration, sun damage (some of which I had), help your pores and blackheads, and reduce fine lines and wrinkles.

Well, my skin did not like it, not one bit. I have always done better with chemical exfoliation rather than a manual one like this. I had some bad breakouts after this treatment, so I went back to my aesthetician. She treated the spots with an LED light wand to promote quicker healing. The spots cleared up.

Within a few weeks later I had a spot on my nose that I just thought was another breakout. It finally healed after about 3 weeks, but returned around Christmas. It wouldn’t heal, and kept bleeding.

I was immediately concerned. Warning Signs: A sore that won’t heal and/or bleeds.

I scheduled an appointment for the first week of January with my dermatologist. I always visit her every July for a skin cancer check, and had been fine so far. Her diagnosis was a precancerous spot called actinic keratosis (AK). She recommended a treatment called Picato (Ingenol mebutate) to burn it off – considered a topical form of chemotherapy. “Ingenol mebutate is a substance found in the sap of the plant Euphorbia peplus and an inducer of cell death.”

The Picato gel is a treatment you apply three days in a row, and it’s best to do when you have a few days you won’t be leaving the house, my doctor recommended. I had a three day weekend coming up, so I began treatment on a Wednesday, anticipating the worst would be over the weekend.

Boy was I wrong.

First, I was told it only worked on areas that were precancerous. Since the tube had enough for more than the spot on my nose, I treated a few other areas on my face.

I woke up Thursday morning in shock. I wish I had taken a picture of it, but I had the brightest red splotches on my entire left side of my nose and a patch on my left cheek. Something like Richard Dreyfuss in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”

Image result for close encounters sun burn

I was able to cover it well enough with makeup and went to the office.

On Thursday night the redness subsided some, but I opted to skip a night and try again Friday, since my reaction was worse than I expected for the first treatment. By Saturday morning, I was calling my dermatologist, afraid of the reaction from the second treatment. I was blistering and oozing. Not pretty. Her advice was to skip the third day, and to apply thin layers of vaseline to the area to keep it moist. I ended up turning my three-day weekend into a four-day weekend and working at home to let my skin breathe and heal an extra day. And thank goodness for ordering groceries online and sending the husband to pick them up!

Results

I am showing pictures of my experience (from the two-week-old sore to the blistery mess after treatment), so others will know what to expect. (Note, I didn’t take the pictures in the same place at the same time of day every day, so the lighting is bad in some, but you should get the drift.)Post Picato 1Post Picato 2I am very fair-skinned. Bruises and blemishes take a long time to heal on me. The redness took several weeks to calm down. Four months later I still have some very slight redness on my nose that I often add concealer to when applying makeup. But the sore hasn’t come back.

My advice, if you have to use this treatment, is this:

  1. Read all of the material and know what to expect before beginning.
  2. Only use it where you suspect you have AK or precancerous spot(s).
  3. Plan on staying in the house if you are shy about going in public like this, like me.
  4. Have gentle cleansers, moisturizers, and Vaseline on hand for post-treatment care. (I used CeraVe products and Vaseline.)

Know the Signs

The following information is courtesy of the American Cancer Society:

Melanoma

Think A-B-C-D-E – the rule for looking at moles for signs of melanoma – courtesy of the American Cancer Society:

  • Asymmetry – One side doesn’t match the other.
  • Border – The edges are irregular, ragged, notched, or blurred
  • Color – The color isn’t the same and may be black, brown, pink, red, white, or blue.
  • Diameter – The spot is larger than 1/4″ across (think pencil eraser).
  • Evolving – The mole changes in size, shape, or color.

Basal and Squamous Cell 

Basal Cell are common in areas that get the most sun – face, head, neck. Look for:

  • Flat, firm, pale or yellow areas, similar to a scar
  • Raised reddish patches that might be itchy
  • Small, pink or red, translucent, shiny, pearly bumps, which might have blue, brown, or black areas
  • Pink growths with raised edges and a lower area in their center, which might contain abnormal blood vessels spreading out like the spokes of a wheel
  • Open sores (which may have oozing or crusted areas) that don’t heal, or that heal and then come back

Squamous Cell are common on the face, ear, neck, lip, and hands. Look for:

  • Rough or scaly red patches, which might crust or bleed
  • Raised growths or lumps, sometimes with a lower area in the center
  • Open sores (which may have oozing or crusted areas) that don’t heal, or that heal and then come back
  • Wart-like growths

A common precancer called actinic keratosis (AK) generally looks like a dry, scaly patch. It can be pink or yellowish, round or another shape, usually about a quarter of an inch in diameter, but it can grow wider or grow an outward extension like a little horn. An AK may feel rough, different from the skin around it, and it might be a little tender, sensitive or itchy. Generally, AKs develop in sun-exposed areas, including the face, lips, ears, scalp, hands, arms and neck. So other concerns worth getting checked out that could be precancer include:

  • Any new spots
  • Any spot that doesn’t look like others on your body
  • Any sore that doesn’t heal
  • Redness or new swelling beyond the border of a mole
  • Itching, pain, or tenderness
  • Oozing, scaliness, or bleeding

Here are 9 Skin Cancer Treatment Options to read about.

An Ounce of Prevention

Educate yourself about the dangers of unprotected sun exposure. Read these 15 Skin Cancer Myths. Believe them. Skin cancer may be considered a “little c” cancer and not a “big C” CANCER, but remove that thinking from your mind too. We have a family friend who died from Melanoma, so I can tell you that is big enough C for me.

So rather than Burn, Peel, Repeat this summer, remember to wear your sunscreen. The higher the SPF, the better. Pour, Slather, Repeat. 

Here are a few of my favorite cruelty-free products that I use all the time.  This post does contain some affiliate links.

My every day moisturizer for face, neck, hands is CeraVe Facial Moisturizer SPF30. (I also use their cleanser, serum, and general moisturizer. Great product line!) 

I also use this It Cosmetics CC+ Cream sometimes for my face, for an easy SPF + color routine on the go. (I have a new favorite foundation, but am still using this one too.)

For working in the yard and outside activities I use Kiss My Face SPF 30 or SPF 50 Sport. They have some great face products as well.

And always protect your eye with a great pair of shades! My favorite brands are Native and RayBan.

Diligence

I know I was lucky to only have a precancer spot that I caught early. But that is because I knew what to look for and have taken the precautions needed for all of these years. I am often told I don’t look as old as I am, likely because of healthy habits like wearing my sunscreen.

I hope this has encouraged you to be diligent about using sun protection and having your skin checked out. Definitely have anything suspicious looked at soon. There are places that even do skin cancer checks for free every year. (Read more about that here.) Have a great weekend, and don’t forget those sunnies and sun screen!

Any great weekend plans? Do you have other tips or recommendations for protecting yourself from the sun?

Cheers!Cynthia

Author: Photobaugh

Wife. Mom. Fibrowarrior. Joy seeker. Picture taker. Coffee drinker. Blogging about living with fibromyalgia and finding inspiration in every day life. Welcome to My Inspired Fibro Life.

3 thoughts on “My Skin Cancer Scare”

  1. A very informative post. Thank you. I had a basal cell carcinoma removed from the bridge of my nose and it has left quite a large scar. I will reblog a post I wrote on it called Put on your SPF as we have a heatwave here in Ireland.

    Liked by 1 person

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