Last week I was diagnosed with skin cancer. I will admit that I don’t think I was overly surprised when my dermatologist called to tell me the biopsy I had recently had done had came back as cancerous. My fair skin and familial history always had me thinking it could happen…would happen in my lifetime.
But still, that couldn’t prepare me for the feeling of having the wind knocked out of me with the words “it was indeed a form of skin cancer and we need to take next steps to remove it fully.”
I can confirm that being told you have cancer is indeed a very frightening feeling. And I can’t begin to fathom what it feels like when you receive a diagnosis that is more aggressive or complicated or terminal.
So here is the real deal on my skin cancer diagnosis:
I have what is called a basal cell carcinoma and it is the most common form of skin cancer. And, while it is able to be treated, it also, scarily, increases your odds significantly in repeat skin cancer diagnoses. Should multiple basal cell carcinomas occur over time, often you become more susceptible to other, unrelated cancers as well. My life was going to be seen a little differently moving forward.
At first, as I hung up the phone with my doctor, I felt a sense of betrayal. I felt I had betrayed my body by not being more responsible with sun care all these years. Or was my body betraying me?
I wondered if this diagnosis was a wake up call.
Could it be a wakeup call to life’s preciousness and a reminder that at any minute things can change? One of your many lenses on life changes and it comes into focus in a way you’d rather it not. I was, in that moment, reminded that there’s no good time to receive less than stellar news.
In the moments that followed hanging up the phone, I wanted to tell everyone and I knew and no one at the same time. I wanted to feel less alone in the diagnosis. Suddenly my apartment felt hot and so very small. I felt like I wanted to cancel all my plans for the day and yet also bury myself in work that would distract me from the new reality I had just been served.
I also came to have frustration in trying to determine what this would cost me to have treated.
As someone who is self employed I have very expensive and yet not great health insurance. I found out this cancer removal wasn’t going to be fully covered since I hadn’t met my deductible which only further made me feel stress about the diagnosis. The cost estimate given to me made me utterly nauseous.
I felt alone.
And, if we’re being really honest, as the news set in, one of the things that struck me the most was that’s I’d be going through this process and the steps that were to follow somewhat alone. Even treating my initial biopsy site had proven difficult. It’s in a tricky spot for me to place a bandaid on. And I realized I’d be going to the removal procedure alone and have a few weeks of taking care of the site alone. It was an indication that while I love my independence and don’t mind singledom, I will admit that it’d be really nice to have someone who could help me through life’s tougher plot lines day to day in person. (And to be clear: I have a wonderful emotional support system through friends & family which I am grateful for.)
In recent years I have been more diligent with my sun care. But, man, do I wish I had listened to all the science that tells you to be thorough and obsessive with sunscreen and sun safety.
A few things I discussed with my doctor at the time of my biopsy that I thought was worth sharing…
- Wear a hat always when in the sun for extended periods of time.
- Be thorough when you apply sunscreen. The area my cancer developed is a common area people miss when applying sunscreen. It is just below the base of my neck and often not covered when you do the back of your neck or shoulders.
- Don’t count on moisturizer or makeup with SPF. It’s just not enough. These formulas are diluted forms of sunscreen. Use physical sunscreens with zinc or titanium oxide. Use it every, single day even when it isn’t sunny. It means my beloved Olay moisturizer with SPF 25 no longer cuts it. I can still use it but I must also apply a physical sunscreen of SPF 50.
- Reapply, reapply, reapply. Always have sunscreen on you.
- Do not miss going to the dermatologist at least once a year to have a full body scan done to monitor for any potentially cancerous spots.
- If you burn easily, buy a rash guard to wear when spending time in the sun.
I have some much-needed lifestyle changes that need to happen moving forward as I face this new reality. And I felt this post was important to share as a cautionary tale. So that my story may hopefully inspire you to be more sun-cautious moving forward. In a few weeks I will go in to have my procedure and I’ll be relieved when it is over. But in the meantime, this news is scary and unsettling but I am truly lucky it wasn’t anything worse. And that it can be treated rather easily.
I’ve come to terms with the news and am looking forward to getting the procedure over and done with. In the meantime, I’ve been working to stay positive and see the good happening around me. And I have to say, I’ve spotted a lot of goodness in the days that followed the diagnosis – and for that, I am immensely grateful.
p.s. my battle with thyroid disease and how I manage my anxiety.
Meghan, so sorry to hear about this. Can totally understand what you are going through because I got the same diagnosis a few years ago. I also get what you mean about going it alone … although you are never alone when you have good friends and family to get you through the scary times. I remember the shock when hearing the news as well. I’m grateful you had a good doctor who was able to spot the issue. I am so grateful to my GP who, years ago, recommended I start going for yearly body checks and my derm found the spot at the top of my forehead, along my hairline. I had a good doctor who did the Moh’s surgery in office and, luckily, was able to get it all on the first pass. Not sure if you were advised about a plastic surgeon. When this was suggested to me, I said “What? I don’t need one. I’m not that vain!” I figured why would I need one when the spot was small and, hopefully, not something they would have to go deep to remove. But my dermatologist and the doctor who did the procedure said “you are young …” and that I might want to think about it and so I did and went ahead and booked it right after the Moh’s surgery. Both in-office procedures were fairly quick and I was home and relaxing within about 2 hours. I have faith you will be fine and I don’t know if you could fight with the insurance (I know it’s a huge hassle when you are already worried about your health) to cover more of the costs. I’ve been there and also dealt with the realities of insurance only being good enough to cover a portion of the costs. I wish you well and a speedy resolution.
Thank you so very much for sharing this experience of yours! Comforting to hear about your procedure and healing! I hope you stay health and basal cell-free moving forward!
Thank you so much for sharing. You are going to help so many people. I’m so sorry you are going through this, but I’m at least glad it is a treatable kind. Please let me know if you ever need ANYTHING! Xo
I so appreciate your kind words, Alyssa! Thank you!!
I will come over to Brooklyn to bandage you up!!! Love you– can’t wait to twin on Nantucket next summer in giant hats & rash guards hehe
YES! Rash Guard life is going to be new for me but I AM READY. <3 you
Thank you for sharing this! Your post is a wake up call many of us probably need, I’m sure writing this post wasn’t easy for many reasons. I hope your procedure goes well and you have a quick recovery.
Exactly why I wanted to write it – I hope just even one person becomes more sun safe as a result! Thank you very much for the well wishes – it means a lot to me!
Thank you for sharing this. You are strong and can get through this. It really means a lot to see someone talk about this. One of the reasons I follow you is because you are paler, every time I scroll through my Instagram feed and see everyone tanned and in the sun I feel crappy. I had the same diagnosis when I was 11 and have been extremely careful ever since. Being so pale has something that has made me self conscious but when people need to learn that it’s for your own health. Thank you for sharing this and brining awareness to something that so many people overlook, I hope more people will become aware when they are in the sun
The diagnosis really is a wake up call isn’t it? I would rather embrace my skin tone and be safe than sorry but I think I still have room for improvement when it comes to my sun care as I learned last week! Never feel badly for who you are and how God intended you to be!! So appreciate your kind words and supporting me speaking out about this.
Wow, thank you so much for sharing, and I’m sorry to hear about your diagnosis. You are in my thoughts, and I am absolutely wishing you the best with your treatment. <3
Really appreciate it!
Meghan you are so brave to share this diagnosis. I’m so sorry this happened to you! I’m extremely fair as well and this is a good reminder to me to be way more diligent, and I thank you for that. Your post is going to help so many people. I hate how bad things happen to the best people…sending lots of support and good vibes your way!
Thanks so much for the kind words & support, Jackie!
I had a spot removed last year for the same reason. I will tell you that I am always conscientious about the sun and what I am wearing and when I am out. My father passed in Oct 2017 of melanoma that had metastasized. I am of Irish heritage with blond hair and blue eyes. It is a cumulative issue. I wear a compression garment on the leg that the basal cell was diagnosed.
I hope that all goes well for you.
So sorry to hear about yours and your dad’s diagnoses, Maureen. Appreciate you sharing your story to continue to help spread awareness.
You are doing so much good sharing this story & these sun safety reminders with the world! Sending all the good & healing thoughts your way! xo
Thank you, K <3
So sorry to hear this Meghan and thinking of you. I’m fair skinned as well and it’s definitely something I worry about. Sending you all the love and positive vibes during this time.
Thank you so much, Diana! It means a lot to me!
I am so sad to hear this. Thank you for sharing how important sun safety is, especially right now in the summer. Even my mom with a more olive complexion had to get a nasal cell carcinoma removed from her neck/chest area. Always here for you, sending thoughts and prayers!
Thanks, Jen! Looking forward to catching up next week XO
My thoughts and prayers go out to you. I’m in the same boat – light hair, skin, eyes. I too didn’t use sunscreen when I was younger. We just weren’t educated. My mom has cancer now but she’s hanging in there. Stay well. Be well. Love, Kathy
Sending love to you & your mom, Kathy!
Hi! Thanks for sharing this. I have been exactly where you are on 3 different occasions. I was 28 when I discovered a “pimple” on the middle of my scalp on the very top of my head. I’m a RN, so I worried when it didn’t go away after a month and a half. I went and got it biopsied and voila-Basal Cell. Both my mom and maternal grandma both were blessed with this as well, but found much later in life. I had the MOHS procedure done due to the chances that it could travel down my hair follicle to the bone. Less than a year later another spot popped up on my scalp about an inch from the first one. I was devastated. MOHS #2 done, and now I have a beautiful bald spot about the size of a silver dollar on the top of my head. Due to the fact that I had 2 cancers in the same area, I was advised to do a chemo cream on my whole scalp (Aldara). It made my skin boil up and made my hair look greasy and disgusting x2weeks. I also felt tired, achy and my lymph nodes swelled up due to the chemo med. Around that time I discovered a suspicious spot on my arm that turned out to also be BCC x3 small spots. I applied Aldara to that as well. Now I’m 34. I go to my dermatologist every 6 mos and she checks my whole body. I’ve been to about 4 different dermatologists bc most of them refused (or were too lazy) to check my whole body despite my history, which really upset me (that’s their job!!). I wear sunscreen constantly, rash guards while swimming and hats whenever I’m outside. As much as it sucks…I have scars and bald spots that will be with me forever… I’m still grateful that it’s not a more serious type of cancer. Feel free to message me any time if you have questions or just want to talk. Hugs to you.
Jessica, thank you so much for sharing your story. These diagnoses are so scary and I’m so sorry you’ve gone through this so many times. You are not the first person I’ve heard say this about derms and their inability to be thorough – it’s upsetting! Sending you strength and healing!
Meghan… so sorry to hear this news! Please know that I will pray for complete healing for you as well as strength to get through each and every day and moment that might be difficult. Thank you for posting about this. I’m an Olay moisturizer with built in sunscreen girl, too, and you are right… it is not enough. It’s caused me to re-examine my options. Let us know if you find any good sunscreens that are lightweight and can be worn under makeup. Sending you a virtual hug!
Your prayers are so appreciated, Amy!!
So sorry to hear this. It does certainly make you reevaluate your life and health. I recently had some health issues, and while my insurance is pretty good, it is so disheartening and anxiety provoking to see how expenses healthcare is, even with insurance. Never once has my insurance covered the full amount of a doc visit outside of annual physical and annual well woman exam. Additionally, the amount of time and energy spent sorting through insurance, making appts, etc is beyond frustrating.
Sending you health & wellness, Wendy! Know we’re not alone in these frustrations!
So sorry to hear this <3 Thank you for sharing this tough time and what the doctors have told you that can help others moving forward.
Thank you, Bailey!
Hi, I just read this and had to comment. I had 4 Mohs surgeries around and on my nose in 1 Summer.
First of all, if you are truly a strawberry blonde or have any type of red hair, you need more anesthetic than the other people.
We learned this when they were numbing me up, and well, I needed more. Then the dermatologist asked me what was my hair color as a child– I said strawberry blonde. He said, ok, then we definitely need more for you. I learned this at med school. I also had a plastic surgeon close me up. I cried when I was brave to see the holes made by Mohs and before closure. I felt defeated. I was just starting to do 5ks and now I had to come up with something else to stay active. That was Summer 2017. My scars are visible to me and they have faded much. Also I was told by the plastic surgeon to not bend over to tie my shoes and sleep in a recliner until he saw me for post op. These instructions were due to the surgeries being on my face. The dermatologist could not guarantee a good looking scar so that is why I went with a plastic surgeon. I chose not to laser the area 3 months post op. I will say you may bruise in a weeks time just because what the skin has gone through. Also be patient on the day of Mohs, it could take a while if 3-4 layers have to come off. I definitely had someone drive me back and forth from the plastic surgeon whereas, my dermatologist I could walk the block to. Get some movies ready to watch as you heal, and a new journal to write about all you feel, and let people cook or bring you food. Take care and know, yes, it’s a new normal but in 6 months to a year, it’s back to regular check ups with the dermatologist.
Thank you for sharing your story, Mimi. These surgeries while routine are so scary! I can’t imagine what I would be feeling if the procedures were being done on my face. I appreciate your advice for post-opp too!
Please read up on alternative medicine, tomatoes in any form canned or fresh are good for preventing skin cancer according to Australian studies, also please, please, please go to the website Skin Biology and purchase BioHeal. This copper peptide is excellent for healing scars, or wounds, burns, etc.
Thank you, Lyn!
Oh Meghan, I’m sorry this happened to you. As a fellow pale girl and someone who easily burns, I know the struggle it is to try and prevent skin cancer. I’ve had to have a few suspicious moles removed, but so far they have all come back non-cancerous. Still, waiting to hear the results of a biopsy is a stressful experience I would not wish on anyone.
Thank you for sharing your experience and encouraging others to practice sun safety and get checked themselves.
I’ll be praying for you and I hope that you will take some comfort in the thought that you are doing all the right things in regard to taking care of your body.
Really hope yours comes back negative! Thank you so much for your sweet words & prayers – they are truly appreciated!
I understand. I’ve been through this. It’s scary but you’ll be ok. I’ve had 2 removed with plastic surgery repair. It took time, but now you can’t tell at all.
Thanks for sharing, Cynthia
Meghan, sending positive vibes your way, Thank you for sharing your story despite this difficult time.
So appreciate the good vibes, Tanya!!
Sorry to hear about your positive biopsy results- I have had melanoma w/ a recurrence & 2 skin grafts for small lesion on my nose- quite the shock, I assure you- had a few basal cells removed as well…sun exposure as a child/teenager- I think this diagnosis will help you to keep on top of skin checks every 6 months- this way anything found can be easily treated. One cosmetic recommendation which I have used for a few years. Bobbi Brown makes an SPF 50 protective base- I use everyday- even when cloudy- under makeup- it’s a great product- when at beach- hat & a thin layer of zinc on my nose ( I pretend I’m a cool lifeguard)-
I’m thinking of you- keep us posted
Thank you, Emme! Hope your spots stay away and appreciate the tips you shared!
I’m wishing you the best of luck and strength as you go through your procedure! You’ve got this. x
Thanks so much, Cindy!
So very sorry to read about your skin cancer diagnosis. It was very brave of you to share this with your readers and I hope that you can get in as quickly as possible so that you move forward without worry. It’s so easy to miss a spot when putting on sunscreen. I’ve lathered up only to forget about the upper portion of my ears. My dermatologist has sunscreen that you can buy at her office that offers a higher SPF than what drugstore brands can. I hope that’s an option for you as well. Will be thinking of you and I’m so glad you caught it early. I would also like to share that my mom was diagnosed 25 years a go with skin cancer and she has been to be treated a few times and last week we celebrated her 82 birthday. She wore a big floppy hat.
So appreciate the kind words, Margo and so glad your mom is doing well!!
I know the feeling. I have struggled with skin cancer for over 30 years. I’ve had basal, squamous, and melanoma diagnosis’s. All handled with Mohs surgery. My father died as a result of malignant melanoma. I wish creamy skin was more fashionable than a healthy tan. Because you and I both know there’s no such thing as a healthy tan.