For all of May, our blog has featured articles about skin cancer for Skin Cancer Awareness Month. The articles have largely been informational, highlighting the importance of prevention, early detection, and treatment options. But before the month is over, we want to share one final blog for Skin Cancer Awareness Month – this time of a more personal nature. In this blog, we explore the story of U.S. Dermatology Partners patient, Naomi.
Where Naomi’s Journey Began
Naomi had a large number of risk factors for developing skin cancer. She spent hours outside in the sun while growing up in North Dakota and Minnesota. Later, she moved to sunny Arizona, raising her family in Phoenix. With fair skin from her Scandinavian descent, Naomi experienced many sunburns during her lifetime, both in her home state of Arizona as well as during the frequent trips she made as a national speaker to tropical Hawaii. This was all before she knew about the importance of protecting skin her skin from harmful UV rays.
The Importance of Skin Exams
Because she had experienced many sunburns over the years, Naomi has always been diligent about getting annual skin checks. These annual checks later turned in to checks every six months after being diagnosed with multiple basal cell carcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas. It was on one of those routine visits, in May 2018, that Naomi pointed out a rough spot on her shoulder that she felt required an extra look.
Her U.S Dermatology Partners physician, Dr. Howard Luber, scanned the area carefully and noticed something that Naomi had not – a small pink lesion right next to the rough spot. That was the spot that didn’t look right to him. He was concerned because the spot was atypical in color. To be sure of what he was seeing, Dr. Luber biopsied the lesion to get an accurate diagnosis.
Naomi’s Skin Cancer Diagnosis & Treatment
That following Monday morning at 7:30 am, Naomi received a call from Dr. Luber. He said, “Naomi, the biopsy confirmed a skin cancer in the melanoma family. To best explain the situation, I would like you and your husband to come and meet with me today at noon. It’s very important.” Naomi knew that it must be serious. During that appointment, Dr. Luber explained the diagnosis, it’s significance, and the plan to Naomi and her husband.
Dr. Luber says, “The lesion was pink and not darkly pigmented which was unusual. For that reason, it was more suspicious of being a basal cell carcinoma than a melanoma. However, this turned out to be an amelanotic melanoma. These unpigmented melanomas may be pink, red, purple, normal skin color, or essentially clear and colorless. The important message here is that not all melanomas are dark.”
Dr. Luber had Naomi undergo a workup for a melanoma of this particular type, depth, and stage, including a visit with a medical oncologist. With any melanoma, there is always a concern that the tumor could have metastasized; however, thankfully in Naomi’s case, all tests proved to be negative. Two weeks later, Naomi had surgery to remove the cancer. The tumor was successfully removed in its entirety and Naomi is now healthy with no signs of recurrent melanoma.
It is now one year later after that fateful doctor visit and Naomi wants to share her story in hopes that others will understand the importance of having annual skin checks, and more frequent checks if they have a previous history of skin cancer. She says, “Even in my case, where I felt I had become an expert at detecting possible skin cancers, it was only through the trained eye of Dr. Luber that he found what turned out to be melanoma.” Naomi wants to remind patients at high risk, or with a previous history of skin cancer to get checked regularly by a board-certified dermatologist. Not only is it important for peace of mind, but it could also literally save your life.
While it is not the most common among the different types of skin cancer, Melanoma is potentially the most dangerous form of skin cancer. Melanoma develops when DNA damage to the pigment-producing skin cells known as melanocytes triggers the cells to multiply rapidly forming malignant tumors. This DNA damage is most often caused by intense UV exposure from the sun or tanning beds which is an especially large risk factor for those who are genetically predisposed such as those with fair skin, light hair, and blue or green eyes. Melanoma is so dangerous because it can advance and spread into other parts of the body, where it becomes hard to treat and can be fatal. However, if melanoma is recognized and treated early as in Naomi’s case, it is almost always curable.
Learning from Naomi’s Skin Cancer Experience
If you ask Naomi what she learned from this experience she says, “Choose an excellent dermatologist and see that physician regularly. It is extremely important and could be the difference between life and death.” She now sees Dr. Luber, the man she credits for saving her life, every 3-6 months and will continue to do so “forever”. Naomi says, “I hug Dr. Luber him every time I see him! I think it was amazing that he caught this so early, especially since it was not the typical presentation of melanoma. He saved my life and I am eternally grateful.”
For Skin Cancer Concerns, Contact U.S. Dermatology Partners
If you live in the Phoenix area, Dr. Luber and the team at Southwest Skin Specialists will be happy to talk to you about skin cancer or any other skin care needs. If you don’t live in the area, U.S. Dermatology Partners has accomplished physicians nationwide. To get an appointment at an office near you, simply fill out our online form. A team member from your local office will be in touch to schedule your visit.
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