I’m 29 and I have skin cancer.
Currently, I am 30 and cancer free but it took me over 5 months to publish this post. It was originally written back in April.
I’ve worn SPF every day since I was 26 but after almost 20 years of heavy sun exposure for nearly 5 months out of every year, the damage had already been done. Additionally, basal cell carcinoma and melanoma run in my family.
I went in to my dermatology appointment on a Thursday to have a small, pimple sized, clear bump that resided right above my lip looked at. I figured it was a wart and since it was front and center on my face, I wanted it off. I assumed the doctor would take a quick look and freeze it off; uncomfortable, but effortless. Instead, she took one look and said, “That’s basal cell carcinoma but let’s biopsy to be sure.”
To be honest, I thought nothing of it. My friends reassured me that I’d be fine and I decided it was nothing because I didn’t want to deal with it being something. But a week later, the news on my voicemail was not nothing. The biopsy showed basal cell carcinoma and I needed to call back to schedule surgery.
I tried to keep my impending panic attack at bay since I was dead in the middle of a gel manicure at my local salon when I read the transcription of the voicemail on my phone. I kept seeing, “C A N C E R”. Immediately after I walked out the door, I called my best friend and cried hysterically for an hour. The week had been particularly shitty, hence my afternoon manicure treat, and this news pushed me to my breaking point. I’m someone who believes that things happen for a reason. And whether you think that’s silly or not, this was a huge sign for me at this particular point in life – April 2017. I gave myself time to freak out. I cried all afternoon. Because the word cancer is scary. And for me, it was even scarier that it was happening at 29 when Google noted that this was more common in people around the age of 40.
I went over to my best friend’s house for pasta and a lot of wine. And then I decided to stop feeling sorry for myself and research what exactly this was.
So, basal cell carcinoma, huh? OK, Satan, let’s dance. Each year, around 4 million people get it, they’re usually somewhere around their 40s, and with the right surgery (typically Mohs) it has a 2% re growth rate. Additionally, it almost always occurs on parts of the body excessively exposed to the sun. 5 months each year for 20 years… The good news is that it almost never metastasizes beyond the original tumor site. Mine was a very small, pearl colored bump that resided in between my nose and my lip but because I already had a spot at such a young age, I’m at risk for developing others over the years, either in the same area or on other parts of my body. It’s a pretty common type of skin cancer and with Mohs surgery the rate of it coming back is low. I scheduled my surgery with one of the best dermatological surgeons in DC, Kelley Redbord, who I highly recommend. She’s no bullsh*t and extremely direct. My kinda gal.
Because the area was on my face, they chose Mohs instead of scooping out a large portion of skin. In any other part of the body, they typically dig out a little deeper to ensure they get all the cancerous cells in one hit. With Mohs, they slice the surface and go look at the patch of skin under a scope to see if cancerous cells are still present. If so, they slice another layer. We did this 4 times. This meant multiple rounds of novicane and multiple rounds of slicing. Since it was on my face, I couldn’t look away. I closed my eyes but that almost personified my other senses each time. Cancer free, I ended up with three stitches and only almost passed out twice. That’s a win in my book. As for the scar, it starts at my nose and ends just above my lip. 5 months and 2 laser sessions later, the scar looks much better than it did when I walked out and friends say they “can’t even tell”. But I can tell and I have to look at it every day for the rest of my life.
Wear sunscreen. Be proactive. See your dermatologist and get a full body scan once a year. Tell them to check your scalp. No, you’re not being mellow dramatic. You’re being thorough.
If you take one thing away from my story it’s to trust your gut. Honestly. I saw this bump pop up a year ago and I knew that it wasn’t right. I put it out of my mind because I didn’t want it to be something I’d have to deal with. Well, it ended up being worst case scenario and if I’d gone in earlier maybe my scar would be smaller. Who knows. Because of my age, my doctor suggested I up my annual check ups to 6 months. The scariest part of this for me is that I will likely have to do this again on some other part of my body, it’s just a matter of time.
Maybe basal cell carcinoma and melanoma doesn’t run in your family. Maybe you’re not worried about having to deal with this kind of stuff when you’re older. I thought I had a solid ten years before stuff like this started popping up. Wear sunscreen. Get regularly checked. Wear a baseball hat in the sun.
My dermatologist recommends this sunscreen. It’s pricey but your skin and health is worth the investment. It’s light and non-greasy; I wear it under my moisturizer and serum every day.
A few weeks after surgery, I sat down with Noëlle S. Sherber, M.D., F.A.A.D., from Sherber + Rad and asked her a few questions. I was curious about a few things and thought you guys might be interested as well. Find our mini-interview here: