Thank God for Poison Ivy

Normally, I wouldn’t be thankful for the annoyingly itchy and irritating rash that is caused by poison ivy but I’m pretty sure it just saved me from skin cancer.

Last month I was doing yardwork and unknowingly brushed up against some Poison Ivy. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize it until about 3 hours later when I had finished and noticed my skin was very unhappy. It seemed to be localized to my wrists so I wasn’t really worried. I’m pretty sure that I’ve never had poison Ivy before and if I have, I must have blocked out any memory of it because it really sucks.

Keep in mind, this happened a month after the tonsillectomy and I was just starting to emerge from hibernation recovery. The very first thing I do is get poison Ivy. I mean, really? Hasn’t my body been through enough? Anyway, I shrugged it off because in the grand scheme of things, it isn’t that bad. I mean, poison ivy is only supposed to last from 1 to 2 weeks right?

Wrong, so wrong.

At the time, there was so much going on that I lost track of how long I had poison ivy. During this time, my grandmother was transitioning into Heaven. She started going downhill very quickly and within 6 days passed away. My sleeping habits were off and I completely lost track what of was going on with my body. It really wasn’t until a couple of days after her funeral that I realized it had been two weeks and the ivy was SPREADING. By this time, it covered the left side of my stomach, my left upper thigh, and both arms.  How in the world did this happen?

It wasn’t until I really looked at the areas that were covered that I realized I might need to go to the dermatologist. It wasn’t the poison ivy I was concerned about but a mole that had changed since December of 2014. This mole was on my upper left thigh and had rapidly changed. It’s scary because all of my moles are flat, light colored/multi colored, and not symmetrical; keeping an eye on them is critical for my health.

Engagement Photos 041

If you do not already know this about me, I have fair skin, blue eyes, blonde hair, atypical moles, a parent who has had a malignant melanoma, and a grandparent that has had basal cell carcinomas. I am the picture of what skin cancer looks like in women my age.  I have previously had 4 moles removed and only one of them was harmless. The other three were all actively changing and moderately abnormal.

Please, try to contain your jealousy.

When I went in, I ended up having 3 biopsies performed on 3 moles to check for malignant melanomas. There were two more moles that also looked slightly different, one on my stomach, and one on my hip. I expected all of them to be abnormal but I had a feeling that something was not quite right. Oddly, calmness came over me and I decided to deal with the results when they came and not stress. I mean, if I have cancer there is nothing I can do now to prevent it so why waste energy on stressing?

All of them came back abnormal.  However, this is the first time one of them was extremely abnormal. Okay God, here we go. Please just give me the strength to deal with whatever comes next.

When she called with the results she said, “Mrs. Ball, the skin biopsy on your left anterior thigh came back as a dysplastic compound nevus with moderate melanocytic atypia. The skin biopsy on your right posterior thigh was a dysplastic compound nevus with moderate melanocytic atypia and it was close to the margin. The skin biopsy on your lower abdomen was a junctional and lentiginous dysplastic nevus with severe atypia. You will need to have a larger biopsy done around the site to ensure that the melanocytes are benign. “

“Umm, I’m sorry but I don’t know what you just said.” “Ms. Ball, you do not have cancer, but we will need to get larger margins around the mole on your stomach to be safe. “

So, I came very close to having a malignant melanoma-but DON’T have one. If the melanocytes (pigmented skin cells) choose to change, they will become a malignant melanoma. There is a chance that the cells will never progress into cancer, but there is also a chance that they will. So what do you do about this? You have an in office surgery to get better & bigger margins. That’s protocol.

When I say they got bigger margins, I mean they really made sure to cover the ENTIRE area that could be affected. To be specific, they cut 3 layers of skin deep and scrape out all of the pigmented skin cells that were in the vicinity of the mole. After that, they send it off to be tested and suture you up. Oh and it is painful, don’t let anyone tell you it isn’t.  I think if the spot wasn’t on my stomach it wouldn’t hurt as much and it wouldn’t be as difficult to move around or do anything.

I wasn’t allowed to exercise, sweat, lift anything over 10lbs, or bend certain ways.

Want to know why am I telling you all of my personal business? Because the last time I was in that office, my doctor was running late for my appointment. When she finally came in, she apologized for running late but that she had just told a 30 year old woman she had metastatic melanoma. That woman was only 4 years older than me at the time and just learned that she did not have long to live.  Do you know that the number one cancer in women in their late 20s is melanoma? Haven’t heard this? Yeah, probably because we are warned about breast cancer and heart disease, but not about the largest organ on our body.

Think you don’t count because you tan easily or don’t have a family history of skin cancer? Think you’re being safe because a tanning bed offers a more controlled tan? Well, you’re wrong. People who use tanning beds before the age of 30 are 75% more likely to develop melanoma than those who have never used a tanning bed.

All you have to do is check your skin monthly and go to a dermatologist once a year. If you find a suspicious looking mole, patch, or lesion have it checked out. I’ve started taking pictures of my moles because I can’t remember exactly how they’ve changed and don’t want to risk it.

The next time you go to a tanning bed or bake outside in the sun remember that you will pay for the damage you are doing to your body. The last time I was in a tanning bed was 8 years ago- and I only went twice for 7 minutes. To be fair I have had several bad sunburns before I was 20 and once after 20 so that has increased my risk along with my genetic predisposition. But seriously, all of these flat, atypical moles arrived after the tanning bed visits.

It’s interesting to me that the number 1 cancer for women ages 26-29 is melanoma. Is it because we (as white women) try to darken our skin in the name of beauty at all costs? Uh, yep. We are literally killing ourselves in order to please others. I remember being bullied harshly in middle school over my fair skin and curly hair. If I could say one thing to myself when I was that age it would be to start loving myself as God made me. The truth is, someone will always find your imperfections if their looking hard enough. It isn’t difficult to learn to straighten your hair, use fake tanners, and wear mascara. However, it is hard to see yourself as beautiful without those things. It isn’t worth the damage you are causing your body.

Trust me.

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