In mid-June, just a few weeks after my 26th birthday, a fresh haircut and in the process of renewing my lease to my apartment, life threw a curveball.
My property manager Adam G., who I’ve become friends with, looked at me and asked what was on the back of my head. I wasn’t sure. I’ve never seen it or felt it before. After all, I don’t have eyes in the back of my head. My haircut revealed a mole in my hair line and Adam pressured me to see my dermatologist to get it checked.
I didn’t know before that conversation with Adam, that his father, Les, died from skin cancer at only 45.
“Someone who’s experienced skin cancer, shouldn’t be shy about warning others of a possible spot of concern. It could save someone’s life,” Adam said.
Adam later told me he’s had several spots, bumps or moles removed because of his family’s deadly history.
My family also has a long history of illness. My father was diagnosed in 2011 with adenoid cystic carcinoma cancer. He is a survivor. My grandfather died from prostate cancer, my grandmother and Aunt Anne are survivors of breast cancer, my Uncle Jim died from multiple myeloma and my Uncle Tony was diagnosed with prostate cancer at 54. My cousin Matt died from an undifferentiated tumor at only 16 months. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always felt like I have to watch for signs and be on my toes, but after years of no health problems, I didn’t think I had to do it now. Not 26. I thought these were issues I would have to be on guard for in my mid 30s or 40s.
Panicking and doing Google searches most of the weekend, I called my dermatologist first thing Monday morning. She got me in a few hours after my first phone call and removed the mole. She called it moderately abnormal.
You could ask any of my close friends how I acted while waiting for the biopsy results. They could see the worry and uncertainty on my face. They would tell me it’s nothing to worry about and I’m young. They said it’s no problem. I kept thinking about my family’s roots and how ignorant I was for not taking it more seriously.
A few days went by and while working on a deer population story, just before I was interviewing a woman with her sweet puppy, my doctor called and asked if I had a few minutes to talk. The conversation, which surprisingly felt warm, was the scariest I’ve ever had. The doctor said the mole removed was pre-cancer. She said if I didn’t remove it, it had a high probability of turning into cancer at some point. The phone call ended and I went right into the interview asking questions about how she felt about deer in the City of Little Rock.
While the woman was talking about deer, I had my aha moment. I realized just because I’m 26, it doesn’t mean I’m cancer-proof.
I realized how ‘young and dumb’ I was for not realizing how important the little things are. Just because I am 26, it doesn’t mean I’m untouchable. I told a close friend of mine I couldn’t believe this happened to me. He then replied, you should be more thankful it was caught.
He was right.
I came to the conclusion that 26 was the beginning of the rest of my life. That day in the leasing office may have given me in an extra 40 years of life.
“It’s weird. It’s 2019 and it’s the one of a few cancers that shows you an outwardly bodily sign,” said Adam.
He’s right, too.
It’s time to step up and no matter your age, it’s time to start the conversation and watch out for one another.
It is my hope, with sharing this story with you, and as we all experience the hot Arkansas summer, you schedule an appointment today with your dermatologist. Schedule it, whether you have a spot of concern or not. We don’t have eyes in the back of our head and we all don’t have our Adam’s in the leasing office who will speak up.
Schedule your screening today. Start living the rest of your life now.
For more information about prevention, click here to visit the Skin Cancer Foundation.