On Trying to Be Responsible: Seeing The Dermatologist

In late December (this had nothing to do with trying to use up my flexible spending money, I swear) I decided to be responsible and go to the dermatologist for a mole check. When I mentioned this to a few friends, I was surprised to hear that several didn’t even know this is something you are supposed to do, so I figured I should share this story.

I am relatively fair skinned and have a lot of freckles (and a few moles) and though I have no history of skin cancer in my family, I’m told that I should be going for a full body scan every year, though I’d only been a time or two before this last appointment. The doctor basically looks closely at your entire body and sees if there are any questionable moles. Depending on what they see/find, they will act accordingly.

When I was there, I noticed the doctor stopping at one particular spot on my leg. I realize that this is really weird to say, but it was actually a freckle I really liked. It was cute, small, and on the top of my quad and I don’t know, I just liked it. To me, it didn’t look like anything was wrong with it at all, which is probably why I’m not a doctor.

  • “This one looks suspicious,” she said. “Do you mind if I remove it and send it in for testing?”
  • “Umm.. right now!? What? How does that work?”
  • “Basically, I’ll just inject a little Lidocaine under the skin, shave it off, cover it with a bandage, and you won’t feel a thing. It’ll take less than a minute.”
  • “Uhhhhhhmmmm ok I guess. Are you SURE it’s not going to hurt??”

Now, you should know I am a total freak about these things. I tend to get worked up over the littlest things and automatically assume worst case scenario on all things health related (some might call this a hypochondriac?), but honestly, the procedure was no big deal. I left there with a Band-Aid over the spot where my beloved freckle used to be with no harm done.

Fast forward a week later, and I got a call back from the doctor saying that the mole came back atypical and she wanted to go in to remove more.

Frantically, I asked her a ton of questions and she explained that basically, there is a spectrum between benign (nothing wrong) and melanoma (cancer), and it had come back as “moderate” on the atypical scale, so not mild, nor severe. To be safe, the doctor wanted to go back in to remove more of the mole to make sure the margins were clear (aka no atypical cells were left) and stitch it back up. It’s a fairly common procedure and though I didn’t have skin cancer, this would make sure that I didn’t develop it there.

Now, I also had this weird thing on my arm. It’s something I have had for years and have always been super self-conscious of, and oddly enough got asked about A LOT. I think it is from a scar, but I honestly can’t remember when it showed up, how long I’ve had it for, and if it has changed over time. I have had it looked at before, but I brought it to the dermatologist’s attention when I was there this time, too.

Weird Thing

The doc said that she didn’t think it was anything serious, but that she wanted to remove it and  and send it in to be tested, too.

So last Friday, January 18th, I had an appointment to get the mole on my leg and the spot on my arm removed. I told them I was freaking out, so they told me to come in 30 minutes before my appointment so they could give me a Valium to calm me down before the procedure, and I was SO glad I did that.

photo 3 (5)

I definitely wouldn’t have been feeling that good without it, especially when I saw all the equipment laid out for the procedure.

photo 1 (2)

Yikes.

After a few minutes, the doctor came in and marked up my arm and leg for how she was going to cut in. Both places were going to be cut in a football type shape around the spots, given a lot of Lidocaine via injection, have the questionable things cut out, then stitched back up with both internal and external stitches.

The procedures themselves were not THAT bad, really. I couldn’t feel anything even though I was totally awake and made the doctors talk to me the whole time about anything other than the surgery. That is, until they put in the external stitches. It didn’t hurt at all, but I could feel the doctor pulling back and forth pretty hard when she was putting those stitches in and it was a really, really weird feeling. I was relieved when it was over, and also that they did my arm first because that was the worse of the two. They put some tape-like strips over the stitches in both spots, then loads of gauze to absorb any post-op bleeding, and then taped them up.

Both places looked like this:

photo 2 (4)

I was in and out in about an hour, and my aftercare instructions were this:

    • Ice both places 30 minutes on, 30 minutes off for the rest of the day.
    • Take Tylenol every 4 hours for pain, as needed (which did not help, at all).
    • Elevate both places as much as possible for the rest of the day.
    • Remove the bandages in the morning, and change them morning and night for the next 10 days until going back to have the stitches removed. I have to load them up with a ton of vaseline, then put gauze and tape over the sutures. The goal for these 10 days is not to let a scab form, because it’s better for healing.
    • No exercise for at least 2 weeks, possibly 3, to reduce the risk of clotting and reopening the wounds. Oy.

The hardest part of these instructions was the elevation part. It’s my left leg, and my right arm – so that proved to be a logistical challenge. I ended up sleeping that night with my legs swung over the arm of my couch, and my arm propped up against the couch on a pillow. Super comfortable.

When I woke up the next day, my leg was no big deal. I’ll show you this picture because I don’t think it’s too graphic, but this was the spot on my leg:

photo 3 (4)

Those are the stitches underneath, and then I was supposed to leave that tape over it until it fell off on it’s own. The tape on my leg stayed on for almost 48 hours post surgery, but the tape on my arm ended up coming off that first morning when I removed the original bandages.

My arm was a different story, but I’ll spare you the photos because they are NASTY. The cut is about twice as long as the one on my leg (about 2 inches probably) and bled through the bandages that first night. I almost gagged when I had to look at it in the morning because it was a lot bigger (and bloodier) that I was expecting, but luckily I was instructed to cover it right back up so I didn’t have to look at for long.

In terms of pain, my leg was barely noticeable. If it had just been that mole removal, I don’t think it would have been a big deal at all. My arm, on the other hand, hurt like a b. It stung really bad and felt like someone had stabbed me with a knife (oh wait…) and the Tylenol didn’t really help. I ended up icing it a lot that next day even though I wasn’t instructed to, and that took the edge off. By day three, it was still sore, but hurt significantly less, and now, just under a week afterward the procedure, the pain is minimal. My arm is definitely a little sore and it’s hard to forget I have stitches there, but I barely even notice my leg.

I go back this coming Monday for a follow up and to get the sutures removed, and at that point they will give me further care instructions to promote healing and minimize scarring. The thing I’m currently having the hardest time with is not being able to do any exercise at all. I’m such an active person, and I really like to eat, so I am struggling with not being able to do anything (and still wanting to eat like I am working out 6x a week). I know that my healing is way more important than my running, but I also have a half marathon coming up in March that I’m in the middle of training for, so it’s hard mentally to steer clear of running as well.

Anyway, I will keep you guys posted with how things progress with the healing (and if you aren’t offended by gross things and are curious to see a picture of my arm post-surgery, you can email me at bethsjourneyblog at gmail dot com and I’ll send it to you), but that’s what’s going on with me.

Are you good about preventative medicine and going to the doctor? Do you get yearly mole checks?



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18 Comments on On Trying to Be Responsible: Seeing The Dermatologist

  1. Gwen
    January 24, 2013 at 9:32 am (2 years ago)

    I’ve had three moles removed before – luckily they were all “fine” but better safe than sorry. But never had to have stiches. I did have to take a xanax before a fine needle aspiration (biopsy) of my thyrodi where they stuck a HUGE needle in my neck to get a sample of a nodule. THANK GOODNESS for the xanax the first time! The second time I went all baller without it.

    Reply
  2. Lauren @ Oatmeal after Spinning
    January 24, 2013 at 10:12 am (2 years ago)

    Good for you for being responsible!
    I was really good about going to the dermo for a full-body check once a year for a looong time. It’s just something my mom instilled in me. I’ve had a few moles removed- and one that was “pre-cancerous,” and after that I had to go back for checks every six months for about 2 or 3 years. I tried to go to a new doctor about 2 years ago that was closer to my house and they were SO unprofessional and cold that I never went back (they really don’t care about you unless you’re getting some sort of expensive cosmetic procedure done, like botox). I need to suck it up and go see my original doctor again!

    Reply
  3. Katy Widrick
    January 24, 2013 at 10:54 am (2 years ago)

    YIKES indeed! I have had several moles removed and it’s never fun, but very important. That sucks about the pain in your arm, though…keep us posted!

    Reply
  4. Catherine Beaudet
    January 24, 2013 at 11:19 am (2 years ago)

    I come from a family where a third of them are in the medical field. Doctors, nurses, professionals, Military Medic… I am not. Preventative medicine? Probably not as much as I should be, but I can always ask Mom or Sis if there is something I’m wondering about. I should probably have 3 moles in particular checked on. One I have had all my life on the back of my left calf. The other two are not as memorable, but they are dark. The reason the arm hurt so much is where it was located, on the bicept/tricept area. This is not an area that rests very easily. A person can always stop walking or moving their legs, arms not so much. Glad you’re starting to feel better though. Continue the ice and invest in a some Vitamin E oil for after they remove the stiches and you should not have a scar.

    Reply
  5. Lisa
    January 24, 2013 at 12:19 pm (2 years ago)

    Yikes!
    I get my skin checked every year, sometimes twice. I’m super fair, burn easily and have tons of freckles and moles. None of them are ever anything abnormal, which is good, but I try to be on top of that stuff!

    Reply
  6. Roz@weightingfor50
    January 24, 2013 at 12:25 pm (2 years ago)

    Yay for getting the skin check Beth. My Dad is a melanoma survivor, and he’d have had a much easier treatment if he’d gone and nipped it in the bud like you did!!! Continued good healing!!!

    Reply
  7. Megan W.
    January 24, 2013 at 12:47 pm (2 years ago)

    I laughed out loud when you said “i felt like I’d been stuck w/ a knife…oh wait”. I would have FREAKED if I saw all those tools! So glad you got something beforehand. You have inspired me to go get a check, I have never done a full body scan. My dad had melanoma on his ear and it really just looked like a dark freckle. I had to help him w/ his dressings and I hated it the first day, but then got used to it. The black stiches really disturbed me, and I felt like I was hurting him but he said it didn’t hurt… Now I just need to find someone good in NoVA that is patient and I won’t feel awkward baring all to :)

    Reply
  8. Mahenna
    January 24, 2013 at 3:06 pm (2 years ago)

    Good job! My sister is a melanoma survivor. We are not fair-skinned people. I go in every 6-12 months and have had at least 20 biopsies done over the years. Two have come back atypical and I had to go back for larger margins. It’s no fun, but gotta be done!

    Two comments: Someone metioned back of the calf. Very common spot for skin cancer, especially in women. Be vigilant. Secondly, don’t be afraid to have your nether regions examined if you have moles there. It’s embarrassing, but skin cancer can and does occur there (aka it’s not always sun exposure that causes it). Get over the embarrassment and have EVERY inch of your body examined.

    Reply
  9. Sarah
    January 24, 2013 at 4:17 pm (2 years ago)

    This exact same thing happened to me this summer, but the mole was on my upper chest center (right where a necklace lands). It was scary, but I’m glad I went and had it removed. After the sutures are removed use vasalene every evening. After a month I switched to vitamin E and then vitamin E cream. The scar is still there but not as bad.

    Reply
  10. Heather
    January 24, 2013 at 7:46 pm (2 years ago)

    I am so proud of you for going. I think when it comes to skin, nobody really thinks about going to see a doctor and nobody ever thinks that getting skin cancer is even an option. I probably wouldn’t have ever thought to go myself but my mom passed away from melanoma when I was 12 and she just 35 years old so I know the importance of getting checked out. I am now a complete and total freak about putting on sunscreen and lecture everyone who gets a sunburn. I always tell them it’s only out of love and concern for them ;) Thank you so much for sharing!!

    Reply
  11. Rachel
    January 25, 2013 at 8:53 am (2 years ago)

    Can you please share the name of your dermatologist in DC? She sounds way more thorough than mine who told me to just have my husband check for moles every once in awhile. Thanks!

    Reply
    • Beth
      January 25, 2013 at 10:34 am (2 years ago)

      Wow that is crazy! I loooove my dermatologist – she’s very thorough, attentive, AND I’ve never waited more than 30 seconds after my appointment to be called in. In fact, most of the time they call you in early, which is unheard of! The group I go to is Braun Dermatology, which is at 2112 F Street NW, Suite 701 (Foggy Bottom). Their site is: http://braundermatology.com/ Let me know how you make out!

      Reply
  12. Lynette
    January 25, 2013 at 10:51 am (2 years ago)

    Good for you, taking the time to get checked. I have fair skin and go get checked every year. My sister has had several moles and freckles checked and removed. There are 3 stages, basal is the lowest, squamous is the mid-line and melanoma is the most severe. Hers were all in the squamous spectrum. Thank goodness she gets checked regularly. Someone posted getting your ‘nether-regions’ checked. My doctor also checks my scalp, something else you wouldn’t think about. Hope you heal up quickly and can get back to your training! Thanks for sharing your story! :)

    Reply
  13. Megan
    January 25, 2013 at 11:26 am (2 years ago)

    Oh wow, how scary! I keep meaning to go get my moles checked, but I keep putting it off because I’m not sure how it’ll work if I take my 8 month old daughter with me to the appointment… I know I shouldn’t put it off, it’s stories like yours that remind me I need to just suck it up and do it!

    Reply
  14. Lori
    January 27, 2013 at 9:00 pm (2 years ago)

    I had this done 12 years ago to a spot on my chest. Sadly I scared so bad that I’ve been hesitant on getting other spots checked…stupid…totally stupid. I’m hoping to make this year the year I get checked again. But…with that said my birthmark, which I’ve grown to love has seen some changes & like your freckle…I would be sad to see it go.
    I’m glad you got that spot & the freckle checked & removed.

    Reply
  15. Caitlin
    January 30, 2013 at 4:23 pm (2 years ago)

    Yikes I would have panicked if I saw all those medical tools. Thanks for sharing this important health information. I hope your recovery goes well and will look forward to seeing it’s progress!

    Reply
  16. Heather
    January 31, 2013 at 5:59 pm (2 years ago)

    I am a FREAK about watching out for weird moles. I used to tan in my 20′s, then magically at 30 I realized that was the DUMBEST thing I could do. Now I have two babies and I can’t imagine anything happening to take me away from them, so I do body checks with the derm every year and show him anything that looks like it is changing. I had a new mole/blood blister pop up after my 2nd baby in May and I freaked out. Thankfully it wasn’t anything, but it kept me on my toes. I think you’re a great example of what everyone should be doing. With melanoma waiting and seeing is your worst enemy.

    Reply

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