Survivor Stories

Carol StClair, Stage 0

Diagnosed  05/30/2003

When people ask, “Who is a cancer survivor?” I would not raise my hand. This is even after I have had five melanomas surgically removed from my arms, leg, and hand. Why? Because they have all been caught in the early stages of the disease. I have not had chemo, or radiation for the melanoma.

I relate to cancer this way because my daughter, who was diagnosed with stage three colon cancers at 17, and again with stage one at 25 has endured the serious cancer treatments. Only having mohs surgery and recovery was a breeze compared to her treatments.

But a few years ago, I realized that I could go to the cancer survivor rallies. I could get the t-shirt and stand in a crowd with a button on my shirt that announced I have had melanoma and survived.

All five of my occurrences have been the result of an outward mole or suspicious place. I should add I am fair skinned with freckles and have a lot of moles on my body. Four of the surgeries were by a doctor in Overland Park, Kansas trained in the Mohs surgery method. She has a clean room in her office, so a hospital visit was not necessary. The surgery sites soon became known as my “shark bites”. A family member always declared the melanoma could not have been be that serious since it was not done at a hospital.

The most recent melanoma was a “non-issue” in December 2015. In June a biopsy because I had detected recent changes. A biopsy was taken and the lab diagnosed early stage melanoma in June of 2016. The area on my hand required surgery at an outpatient center by a plastic surgeon. This was because it required a skin graft. Because the surgery was not Mohs surgery, the margin removed was very close to the edge of the surgery site. Therefore for 12 weeks I am putting an additional cream used for basal cell cancers to make sure the margins remain clear.

I go into my skin cancer specialist, dermatologist every six months. She has the trust in me that I will contact her if something does not look right in-between those visits. Each time I visit the doctor, I have a list of “places” on my body for her to look at for further risk. Over the years I’ve learned to hear the words benign keratosis, dysplasia, benign nevi or nevus. The doctor listens to my concerns and often takes a biopsy of the areas I point out that have changed. What I have not counted is the number of “spots” that the good doctor has applied liquid nitrogen to eradicate before they change. My medical records contain that information. An FYI, if you have the preventative measure of liquid nitrogen you might not be eligible for life insurance, and you will not be able to give blood until after your 10 year anniversary of being “clean”. For my last regular check up I left with three biopsies, and four liquid nitrogen sprays. The copay was earned on that visit! Again, I stress, I had been there six months earlier.

Have I had basal cell carcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas? Yes. But they were scraped, and sprayed and did not require further treatments. With the diagnosis of melanoma, those seem rather insignificant.

My doctor calls me the poster-person of melanomas. My first location on the back of my arm was a rash that would not go away. It was very untypical. The next few were moles that had changes. The one behind my knee had been a place that the doctor had sprayed with liquid nitrogen, but it returned. When the light brown, irregular spot was found to have melanoma, the doctor performed a Mohs surgery. You could have dropped a golf ball into that hole after she removed the diseased tissues! My doctor is an excellent seamstress to pull the skin together and have it heal as nicely as it has the past eight years.

The good doctor and I have been together for these 13 years. I’d had a good run, no surgeries for the past eight years, until this summer. The doctor now gets to take Friday’s off, and I have now begun to think of my self as a melanoma cancer survivor.