Survivor Stories

Joseph Swails

My story is a good story, I’m one of the lucky ones.

I was working my job as an audio technician and I sprained my back. My physical therapist saw an ugly mole, a pigmented skin growth formed primarily by a cluster of melanocytes and surrounding supportive tissue. The scientific name for a mole is a melanocytic nevus. Moles usually appear as tan, brown, or flesh-colored spots on the skin. The mole was on my right shoulder, just far enough back that I could not see it myself. She said she “didn’t like how it looked” and I should see my doctor right away.

My doctor had come in the next day, at Kaiser Medical Center in Oakland, CA.  She examined me and said she was calling dermatology right now. I mentioned that my mom had had a history of squamous cell cancer, “the good kind.”

There’s a look a doctor gives you when they’re about to give you bad news. All of you who have been through this know that look. She said, “this isn’t the good kind.”

I was packed off to dermatology that day, and I was seen by the head of the department! He said he wanted to remove it, right then and there. So he did, with one of those surgical tools that looks like a melon scooper. He said he’d send it out for analysis but he already knew what it would say: melanoma. But luckily, right on the edge between 0 and 1.

Still, I had to return for a second surgery to remove even more surrounding tissue, because the part he excised had cancer cells all through it. (I now have what my wife calls my “zombie bite” scar on my shoulder.)

That was 12 years ago. No recurrence so far. In fact, my dermatologist says it’s unlikely at this point. He assured me, “don’t worry, you’re going to die from something else.” (Doctor humor, sheesh!)

Early detection is EVERYTHING, folks. I’m one of the lucky ones.