Get Well

The 411 on a Skin Cancer Screening

by Hannah Smith

Remember that line in Twilight when Anna Kendrick asks Kristen Stewart how she could possible be so pale if she were from Arizona? I have a tendency to get a similar reaction from people when I tell  them that my pasty complexion originated in Los Angeles, CA. Yeah, a vast majority of my friends, my mom and sister included, boast incredible tans, but I simply cannot, no matter how hard I try—and I used to try VERY hard.

In the past, I would sit in the sun with such low SPF for such long periods of time that if I had a time machine, I would slap the senses into past Hannah. But because time can’t be undone, last year I came to the decision that I had to embrace my pale skin and protect it the most I could. This meant I began to wear sunscreen every single day, slap on a hat as often as possible, sit under the umbrella at the beach, and of course, schedule my extremely procrastinated skin cancer screening.

Getting a basic skin check is something we should all do, no matter skin tone, but I figured I’d had enough tragic burns to warrant a trip to the derm… however I quickly realized I had no idea what my visit would entail.

That morning, I was terrified. I made my boyfriend come with me and he got me a smoothie before the appointment to make me feel better. Can you say #blessed? Nonetheless, I was loosing my mind and don’t remember anything in-between the smoothie and being in the exam room. When I first sat down, I consulted with the nurse about my family’s skin history first. She informed me that a family history of skin cancer can increase a person’s chances, so if your family is commonly afflicted, don’t be afraid to go get checked. My family is riddled with skin cancer, and so the nurse said she thought it was a great idea I came in.

The nurse then handed me a gown to put on with only my underwear on underneath, and then informed me she’d be back shortly with “a group of people.” “Is my skin cancer screening an open invite?,” I thought to myself. Thankfully, the nurse returned with only one more nurse, and they informed me that, together, they’d complete my examination. They let me know that they take note of any dark marks or moles, and pay special attention to any raised or misshapen (meaning: not a perfect circle) marks. When they found something they thought might be unsavory, they looked at it under a closer magnifying glass to determine if the color or shape might indicate a further problem. This up-close examination is done over your whole body, even the bottoms of your feet, and it takes less than five minutes. If there’s nothing to be extracted, then you’re out of there like that.

In my case, something did have to be removed. Hearing them suggest removal prompted another anxiety attack, but this time I was alone and just had to breathe through it. What alarmed the team was a small mole on my right shoulder which I claimed hadn’t been there my whole life. Because it was raised, slightly misshapen, and very dark, the doctor determined he needed to get a better look to determine if it was cancerous. Unfortunately, to make that determination, the mole had to be scrapped off of my body.

Panic ensued once more, so they informed me I could schedule the removal for another time, but I figured it best to get it over with. To start, they numb the general area and then take a small piece of the mole off for examination. I’m not going to lie, this was incredibly easy to get through. Then comes my least favorite part- shaving off the remainder. Listen, it’s not painful in any way, but they were removing something within my eyesight and watching them do it was definitely a mistake. They take a fine razor and scrape the remainder off in the same way they used to chop trees with a two person saw. It was torturous but over in less than 2 minutes. They top you off with a band aid, and that’s it- you’re free to go! Keep in mind the nurses are not plastic surgeons, so having something removed might leave a scar. Mine has definitely scared, but it’s smaller than the mole ever was so I’m not complaining.

All in all, the trip may have induced a decent amount of anxiety, but it was worth it in the end. Having the peace of mind that I am in the clear for the time being is amazing, so all I can do is keep up my sun care.

If you haven’t been checked, I urge you to go. There’s nothing wrong with being on top of things! Just remember it’s all for the best and it’s probably nothing anyway.

Featured Image via Victoria Morris

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