Saturday, October 15, 2016

A Stutzman Public Service Announcement - Skin Cancer

Yesterday I had to fly home to have short notice surgery.

In January I noticed what looked like a black pin prick mark on my left shoulder.   By March it'd grown slightly to maybe the size of a ball point pen mark. Over vacation this year, I noticed that it'd grown into what looked like a small mishapen kidney bean.

I'd been to my Primary Care Provider (an awesome Nurse Practitioner) in March; I use the VA in Manchester, NH. She told me she didn't think it would be anything to worry about but if it changed, she'd refer me to dermatology.  At the end of August, I requested that referral.  I'd made an appointment for September.  For whatever reason, that appointment changed to the first week in October.

I underwent a biopsy --the doc numbs the site and within two minutes, the entire procedure is over --and a sample of the black skin from my left shoulder was headed for the lab.

Exactly one week later, while sitting in my office in NH, I received the call -Malignant, and Melanoma... skin cancer... the most aggressive kind.

On Thursday, while on-boarding a new engineer,  I received another call. "We have a surgeon with a cancellation.  We'd like to get you in to perform the extrusion." So I booked SWA to Manchester, headed to the VA, and had the thing removed.

The entire procedure took about an hour, but the melanoma was roughly 6 cm long, shaped like a kidney bean, and fortunately for me, had not yet grown deep enough to pass through the skin. I'd caught it early.  I thought for sure I'd be in and out in 15 minutes... I'd booked a return flight only three hours later.

I thought I was going to end up losing a 'quarter sized' piece of flesh. What I really lost was about five inches long, two inches wide, and about 3/4 of an inch deep --a 5" canoe shaped hunk of meat was taken from my shoulder.  I asked the doc --"when my daughter asks me how many stitches, what do I tell her?" He responded, way to many to count. The incision was deep.  Four layers of 24+ stitches were used to sew me up, before the green caterpillar of thread on the surface.

At this point, the doc says the pathology results will be back in about 10 days, but he fully expects that we caught it early enough, and he's fairly certain it's all gone ...but had I waited, even another month, and it grew through the skin, I'd have been really screwed.

So I'm sitting in my MD apartment with bandages covering a sewn-up 5" straight line incision, not yet writhing in pain but expecting it to come as the pain meds fully wear off.

Here's the deal... I grew up working on a farm down the road, bailing hay and mowing lawns in the summer. I NEVER had a shirt on. I tan quickly, and it's these color-generating cells that like to turn into cancer.  My upper body is covered with spots, but I happened to see this one in the mirror one morning while shaving.

I'm ok now, and didn't write this for sympathy. There are many others who can't simply have a small steak cut out of their skin and move on.  I'm writing this to let you know that for every time you've thought to yourself "I'll never get skin cancer", well,  I had that same thought many times too, until this year when I wore a shirt in the pool on vacation and my friend Chris reminded me that I had health insurance and should make it a point to get checked.

So do me a favor. Spend a few extra minutes in front of the mirror. If you see anything strange, don't screw around. Get checked. If you don't know what it might look like, have a look at Google Images.

As an aside, My VA surgeon went to medical school at Dartmouth and then worked surgery --oncology at Michigan.  If you think you can't get smart docs at the VA, come to Manchester.  These guys are smart, polite, and professional.

OK folks..  I knew you were expecting the Stutzman wit, but I'm hanging out today resting, healing. And I know you hear it a lot, but GET CHECKED.

Stutzman wit again next week ;)

Until then, have a great weekend.