The nervous wait for four little words
I write as I’m sitting in a doctor’s waiting room while my Hubby goes under the knife to remove a melanoma on his back. It’s my birthday and I know the only gift I really care about are the words of the stranger/doctor saving my soul mate.
Often referred to as Australia’s national cancer, melanoma kills thousands of people in this country every year. One person every six hours will die from melanoma in Australia.
Melanoma rates are still on the rise and it is the most common cancer in young Australians aged 15 – 39 years. I’ll just say/shout that again. IT IS THE MOST COMMON CANCER IN YOUNG AUSTRALIANS AGED 15 – 39 YEARS.
AND IT IS PREVENTABLE!
In 20 -34-year-olds, melanoma is responsible for more deaths than any other cancer.
What is going on young people?
While we baby boomers, in all our ignorant bliss, were lathering our teenage bodies in coconut oil to get better tans you guys grew up with the warnings and were being taught the importance of sun safety.
THE NUMBER OF DEATHS AND DIAGNOSIS IS STILL INCREASING
Cancer Australia has projected 1,675 people will die from melanoma this year – 1,160 of those will be male.
The projected number of new cases of melanoma in 2015 is 12,960 – 7,640 of them male. This compares with 2011 figures which show 11, 570 people were diagnosed with melanoma skin cancer.
The American Cancer Society estimates for melanoma in the USA this year are 73,870 new diagnoses and 9,940 deaths.
Melanoma skin cancer is the fourth most commonly diagnosed cancer in Australia. In 2015 it is estimated that the risk of an individual being diagnosed with melanoma skin cancer by their 85th birthday is 1 in 18.
The chance of surviving if caught early is 90 per cent.
WHAT IS MELANOMA?
Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer and grows very quickly if left untreated. It can spread to the lymphatic system or bloodstream then onto other parts of the body like lungs, liver, brain or bone.
The skin’s pigment cells produce melanin to help protect the skin from ultraviolet rays (sunlight).
During childhood the pigment cells (melanocytes) can aggregate together, forming a mole.
While most moles are safe, sometimes the melanocytes in a mole can grow and divide in an uncontrolled way. If they grow in an unregulated way they can become a melanoma.
TIMELY ADVICE TO HELP PREVENT MELANOMA
With warmer weather heading our way, here’s a quick refresher course on what to do to prevent skin cancer.
The best defence is prevention which means good sun safety habits – slip, slop, slap (slip on a shirt, slop on the sunscreen and slap on a hat). Overexposure to ultraviolet light causes 95% of all melanoma, according to the Melanoma Institute of Australia.
SUN SAFETY TIPS
- Use a sunscreen with the highest possible SPF (in Australia that’s SPF 50).
- Ensure the sunscreen is broad-spectrum – this protects from UVA and UVB rays
- If you are in the water make sure you use a water-resistant sunscreen
- Be careful to cover all parts of exposed skin – the back of necks, tops of ears and feet can often be overlooked
- Wear a hat with a wide brim
- Wear wrap-around sunglasses
- Wear sun-resistant clothing
Interestingly, melanomas can occur in places that are rarely, if ever, exposed to the sun (such as the inside of your mouth) so really good self and professional examination is essential. If you see a mole that looks a bit different or has changed shape, seek medical advice immediately.
THINGS TO LOOK FOR WHEN CHECKING FOR MELANOMA
- Asymmetry – when one-half of the mole does not match the other
- Irregular, ragged or blurred edges around the mole
- Variations in colour
- The diameter is bigger than 6 mm or getting bigger
- Any changes, including itching, bleeding or crusting
If you notice any of these things get them checked by a doctor immediately as early intervention is essential. If caught early the melanoma can be surgically removed and that may be all the treatment required. If it is left then further treatment may be necessary.
Hubby, who has fair skin and is prone to skin cancers, is in the care of a skin specialist. This means he has regular check-ups, which turns out is a good thing. When the doctor noticed a mole on Hubby’s back had changed he immediately did a scraping to send to pathology.
The pathology result sounds chilling: “malignant melanoma to the right posterior shoulder”.
The only reason I am able to research and write about this with any kind of composure as I wait (holding my breath) is that the doctor felt confident he had spotted Hubby’s melanoma early and it had not reached the lower level of the skin yet. And he is a highly regarded expert in his field who Hubby and I have a lot of faith in.
Even so, the statistics are terrifying and the knowledge that more young people are dying because of this monstrous cancer is deeply depressing.
I have always been a bit of a sun worshipper (so hard to believe it can be so bad when it feels so good).
I do not intend to let fear keep me in the dark but I will be extra diligent about using sunscreen and getting checked by an expert.
Clearly, the message is still not reaching people. It’s not only about following safe sun practices, but it is also about regular checks. Something most young people just can’t be bothered to do.
Today I didn’t get to hear the words I wanted most but instead must wait two weeks for the next appointment when new pathology results will be revealed. Hopefully, they will tell us that evil cancer is now gone.
Hubby was told the cut to his back would seem alarmingly large – they take much more than they need to ensure they get all of it. He has more than 20 internal, dissolving stitches.
He has his right arm in a sling for three days to remind him not to use that arm, even for picking up his coffee cup, as it will stretch the stitches.
No golfing or lifting the Goddesses for a month!
HOLDING MY BREATH SOME MORE
I’m not going to spend the next two weeks stressing. And I’m not going to post this until I have that answer. But I will be holding my breath.
What I will do today is make a commitment to help get the word out there, especially to the young ones – our children. Check yourselves and have regular professional check-ups.
You can do this at any one of the many skin cancer clinics – for FREE!
You may be too busy to stop and take the time, but the alternative could stop you dead.
Please share this post. It could help save a life.
I didn’t think one could hold their breath for two weeks but I’m sure that’s what I’ve been doing. It feels so good to breathe again!
The results are back and the doctor finally said the words I’ve been waiting for; “I got it all”.
That means there will be no more treatment for that melanoma but the check-ups are now at shorter intervals to guard against new ones.
Today I am grateful for my Hubby (always) and for living in a country where you can be checked for this monstrous killer for FREE.
Have a safe summer, and a gleeful week, Tamuria