Monday, April 16, 2012

Dermatology For Dummies

I love the sun. I've loved it my whole life. I grew up a beach baby, building sandcastles and playing in  the surf. The first car I fell in love with was a 1968 Ford Mustang convertible and when I established myself enough in life to buy a convertible, I did. I feel creative, energized and alive with the sun shining down on me.

I am also naturally fair skinned and I haven't always been careful enough about using sunscreen.

I knew the basics about spotting potential skin cancer from reading magazine articles and such. Moles that are inconsistent in shape, change in size, look irregular in color or have bumpy texture are all possible warning signs. When I first moved to CA twelve years ago, I got a bad burn that peeled twice. Since then, I've noticed more moles popping up on my shoulders and chest in the locations of that burn, so I became a little more diligent about my sunscreen habits -- and about checking myself in the mirror for new spots.

Recently, I noticed a mole that didn't look just right. It didn't look bad, but it didn't look like most of the others I had either.

I decided it was time to bite the bullet and head to the dermatologist for a full body check. The doctor agreed the mole needed a closer look -- under a microscope -- so I go back for a biopsy next week.

Most of my experiences with doctors have bordered on cringe-worthy, but the dermatologist I found through a friend was amazing. And she taught me a few things I didn't know about skin.

  • We are all genetically programmed to produce bumps, moles and other imperfections. It's what makes us unique. Because of that, you can have plenty of things that look odd but aren't cancerous. I have one noticeably raised red mole I was concerned about and she confirmed it was totally normal.
  • When you go in for a body check, it's important to remove your nail polish. Nails are skin too, so it's important to check nail coloring and look for blue streaks or other discolorations under the nails as well. Treat yourself to a manicure and pedicure after your doctor appointment.
  • It's a good idea to have your skin checked once a year. Your dermatologist can monitor changes in the size or shape of the mole that might happen so gradually you don't notice. In addition to the mole that needs a biopsy, my doctor now has a list of some other moles that don't present an issue at this point but should be monitored.

My doctor was especially great about reinforcing that I had done the right thing in getting checked out. She also made me feel really great about the fact that I knew my skin as well as I did and realized what to look for. Although I did get a gentle reminder about using sunscreen EVERY TIME I have the top down on the car....

Better safe than sorry, after all.

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