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Home » Stories, True and Otherwise

Dr. Robinson 2, moles 0

Submitted by on December 16, 2008 – 1:11 PM134 Comments

Tuesday December 2, I visit the dermatologist for a routine skin check, which I do every six months.Dr. Robinson biopsies two moles from my back.

Wednesday December 3, Dr. Robinson calls to inform me that one of the moles is a melanoma."Malignant," "cancer," words you don't expect to hear at 35.That's the bad news.The good news is that the melanoma is at the earliest stage, and if he takes the mole off and gets the entire site, that's the end of it.

Thursday December 4, Dr. Robinson chops out both moles: sketchy Lesion A, and evil rogue The Notorious Lesion B, which requires him to cut away a centimeter on all sides and down to the muscle layer underneath.Robbie feels confident that he'd gotten the whole thing.

Friday December 5, Mr. S took off the pressure dressing.More than 50 stitches greeted him.The photo is after the jump, and is not gory or anything; it looks kind of like eyebrows on my back, actually.

There is also good news after the jump, so take a deep breath and go for it.

stitchfest

Tuesday December 9, I call in for my lab results.I don't expect to hear anything bad, but it's still a huge relief when the nurse calls back and says, "He got it."I had a melanoma in situ, Robbie took off the whole situ, done, thank you, goodbye.

Now, I have to go in for skin checks every three months, and I have to have various tests also — not to make sure it hasn't spread, because it basically can't have, but to provide a baseline (I could explain the concept in more depth, but it's not interesting; just trust me when I tell you that Sloan-Kettering is not involved and it's just maintenance).

But everything's more or less fine.The stitches came out yesterday; I can sit straight in a chair again now, instead of leaning saucily; I don't have to have radiation treatments or anything.I had a skin cancer, and now I don't.

So, it's not really a big deal, but at the same time, it is, because melanoma is really easy to head off, but really really a bitch to fight once it gets a foothold, so please, do not let it get a foothold.If you have any moles at all, please visit a dermatologist and get them looked at, and if the doctor thinks you should come in regularly to have them checked, DO IT.Don't blow off the appointment, don't rely on friends to tell you whether a freckle "looks weird" — go to the doctor.That renegade mole was on my back; I didn't see it changing, I didn't know it looked funny, I couldn't see that little bastard at all, and if I didn't go to the dermatologist regularly, it would have done its thing and who knows when I would have caught it, or whether we could have stopped it.

Not sure whether you need to go?Go anyway.Bring your kids, too; the moles that keep blowing up on me come from sunburns I got twenty-five years ago.Put SPF 30 sunscreen MINIMUM on yourself and your children every day, even in the winter, even when it's cloudy.Don't go to tanning beds, ever.Don't lay out between 10 and 2; don't lay out at all, actually, it's boring and bad for you.Don't think that because you have dark skin, it will save you; it doesn't always.

I don't want anyone to lie awake nights obsessing over their beauty marks, but seriously, a very minor amount of diligence here, an hour out of your life to go to a dermatologist and make sure you aren't at risk, could make a huge huge difference.Nobody wants to become that person who goes to various doctors once a week and gets all Howard Hughes about things; "trying not to die" is not "living."But neither is remaining in denial about a mole that's turning blue or shape-shifting…or a mole you can't even see.Maybe you don't have moles, and that's fine.I have hundreds.Dr. Robinson is on their shit like a vice-principal.I don't love the stitches and the peroxide lavage or any of that hassle, but it beats melanoma.And I mean it literally beats it.A mole looks dodgy, you take it off.Done.Better luck next time, tiny jackass.

Get yourselves a Dr. Robinson.Get yourselves this one, if you want — that's Dr. Bruce Robinson on East 60th in Manhattan.His staff is excellent, he's got coffee and nibbles in the waiting room, and he's a warm, friendly guy who spends as much time with patients as they need — and he does not mess around.You shouldn't either.

To reiterate: I am fine.Robbie got the whole thing, because Robbie is the man.I don't want you to freak out, not about me.But if one person gets freaked out a little, and goes into have her skin looked at, and finds a mole that looks kooky and gets it taken off, and is fine as a result, or if one person is like, "I hate how greezy SPF 60 is but I guess it's worth it"?Awesome.You can't go around afraid of little rando shit like this all the time, but you can be aware, and if you're aware, you'll be fine too.

I ain't going out on a fucking mole, my friends, and none of you should either.Get 'em checked.

My heartfelt thanks to the nursing team of Mr. S and Skyrockets, who had to dress the stitches because I couldn't reach, and to Dr. Robinson's Scalpel of Swift Justice.

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134 Comments »

  • Lee Mickle says:

    The founder of the company I work for was a very busy woman–too busy to pay much attention to a mole on her arm. By the time she went to a doctor about it, it was too late, and she died after a long struggle with malignant melanoma. Good on yer for seeing the dermatologist, and for sharing the message with your readers!

  • Tisha_ says:

    Sars,

    I'm so glad to hear you are doing good! I am totally one of those put-it-off-as-long-as-possible people.

    I know, I know. But, that's who I am. I always say, "I'll go after my birthday… I'll go after Christmas… I'll go after the 4th of July" You get the idea.

    I wish I wasn't like that.

  • Jeanne says:

    Go Robbie! Stick it to melanoma!

    I also want to reiterate the message re: mole checking. I've had many a suspicious mole removed in my life and so far ::knock wood:: none have been cancerous. My back, arms, and legs look like constellation maps due to the unholy combo of Irish skin and sun. Sunscreen people! Love it!

  • Ipstenu says:

    I had a similar experience a few years ago with a mole by my under-arm lymph node. It was 'suspicious' and even though I'd had it all my life, my derm guy finally said he wanted to get rid of it (I'd gone in for a mole that had metastasized after I got bit by a spider). They took it off and biopsied it and I get a phone call that it's malignant.

    Turned out that the woman who called me had miss-read my chart. It was NOT malignant, but I spent thirty minutes having a panic attack. Now it's funny. Then? Not so much.

  • Hum says:

    Dear God, Sars! Sending you positive vibes for a speedy recovery. Your websites are a bright spot in my day. Please get well soon and have a wonderful holiday.

  • attica says:

    So the obvious crack that 'Robbie's got your back' is officially In Play? Or is it already done?

    Seriously, dermos are our friends. Glad you're good.

  • liz says:

    Oh man, I'm sorry to hear that you had (have) to go through all that, but I'm glad you found it. I'm only 35 & just found out I have breast cancer! Not in situ, either. I'm glad you found that shit out early & gave it the boot.

  • Nomia says:

    My mom just got diagnosed in October with what turned out to be a Stage 2 malignant melanoma on her arm. Lots of scans, 2 surgeries, and 2 lymph nodes less, it's all gone – but – it was pretty terrifying. People tend to minimize melanoma because they think it's just a matter of how much has to be cut away, I think I thought that way too. But it's CANCER and it doesn't matter where it begins, if it spreads far enough, you're pretty screwed. I'm glad you're okay Sars and I definitely agree with your recommendation, people should get a basic baseline exam, just in case.

  • Laura says:

    Thank you for sharing this, Sars. Just yesterday I was like, "Huh. Why is my mole… itchy?" and you've now inspired me to schedule an appointment with a derm. Unfortunately I have student health insurance and the derm only comes to campus, like, once a month… but I'll be ready for him next time.

  • Alexis says:

    Glad it's all gone!

    I've had a couple "black freckles" removed (dunno) that turned out to be benign, but I keep a watch on it. Thanks for the reminder to wear sunscreen because it does matter. I started getting lazy about it this summer because I actually got a tan (!) from so much bike riding, and I really shouldn't.

  • jenn says:

    hey, glad you're fine. Also–"dressing the stitches" makes me think of tiny corsets and gowns. Heh.

  • Laura says:

    Glad all is well with your Japanese Fighting Moles, and thanks for the kick in the ass. I've been putting off a mole check for about 3 years now, despite my dad's history of actinic keratosis, one melanoma taken off his knee, and my own constellations of "Irish exposed to UVs" moles (Jeanne! My people!).

    Re: sunscreen, do you find that it discolors your clothes? I slather my exposed skin every day but then find myself throwing away shirts because the collars/cuffs/sleeves slowly go yellow. Do I need to buy better sunscreen, or maybe better laundry detergent?

  • ferretrick says:

    Really glad you are ok, Sars and thanks for the PSA.

  • carrie says:

    Thanks. I am seeing if Robbie takes my insurance now.

  • Amanda says:

    I'm very happy to hear you're doing well-and I want to reiterate the importance of getting moles checked out just in case. I had a melanoma removed when I was in 10th (!!!) grade, and so many people just assume skin cancer is for old 80 year olds who never knew about sunscreen and bathed in baby oil before frying up like bacon.

    So yeah~get checked and then get checked AGAIN.

    Congratualtions on catching Notorious B BEFORE it could turn into something life-threatening.

  • Stephanie says:

    Obviously it is worth it to just pony up the cash if necessary, but any tips on having the insurance company cover dermatologist visits? I could just ask my primary care physician to refer me and she might do it because she's cool. But then again, is it better to be all "I'm worried about this mole here" instead of "hey, let's just check stuff out for fun because I'm pale and all"?

  • Lamoshe says:

    Glad all is well, Sars! Whew!

    I'll second (or third, or whatever) the call to get checked, even if you see nothing suspicious. I went to a dermatologist for something else (my stupid peeling fingernails) and while I was there she and I decided she should look me (all) over. She saw nothing at all alarming until the end of the exam, when I asked about a little pale/whitish area of skin on my cheek. Not red, not a bump, didn't look scary at. all., just a little…odd. Her eyes got narrow and she immediately called for a biopsy kit, telling me she was "pretty sure" it was basal cell carcinoma. She obviously had passed her visual-recognition exams in dermo school, because she turned out to be right. It looked nothing at all like I expected skin cancer to look, and I am SO happy that she caught it, even though that day was not a happy one for me. I had Mohs surgery (very cool, if you're a science or medical geek, I'd think; read about it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mohs_surgery) and now all is well. But I go back every year to the same eagle-eyed dermatologist for a full-body check.

    So go!

  • Annie says:

    I've been after my husband to get a couple of moles on his back checked out. After reading this, I don't care if I have to knock him out, jam him into a giant pet taxi and drag him to the doctor, he's GOING. I'm sure I should get checked out too.

  • La BellaDonna says:

    1. I am SO HAPPY it's ended on a high note for you, Sars! Stay well.

    2. What is it with moles and Christmas?? Just hit the second anniversary of the one they dug off my chest – right above the breast, same size as the ones you got. Very attractive. NOT. I wasn't happy about that Christmas gift, believe me.

  • Krista says:

    Wow…thank goodness you caught it early!

    My dad has had umpteen moles removed "just in case" from his torso over the years, so far no cancer, but thankfully he's diligent about it! Keep an eye on them, people!

  • FloridaErin says:

    My hubby and I were already planning appointments, but now we're DEFINITELY planning them. Nothing like this to kick my butt to do something I was already going to do but keep putting off. We're both fair skinned and live in Florida, so we should be going just for those reasons alone.

    By the way, can someone please explain to me why men cannot remember to put on sunscreen when they golf or mow the lawn, despite being told REPEATEDLY to do so? God. If the moles don't kill him, I will.

  • Snarkmeister says:

    Also beware of funny "scars" that keep breaking open and then healing over again. I had one of those on the side of my nose; I figured it was just weird scar tissue from an ill-advised nose ring I got in my teens. I'm getting married next fall, so I finally made an appt with the dermatologist to see if anything could be done about it. He walked in, took one look and said, "That's not a scar, that's cancer." I had a biopsy done immediately, which confirmed that I had basal cell skin cancer. Then I had several months of appointments with a special surgeon, culminating in a day on the operating table with her taking off little bits of my nose and then grafting on some skin that she took from just in front of my ear. THEN I had weeks of grody, disgusting-looking recovery. And now? My nose looks completely normal and I am cancer-free. Luckily basal cell is one of the slowest growing cancers, because I had that thing for literally YEARS before I had it looked at.

    DO NOT ignore weird skin stuff. Just go in and get it looked at. Ignorance is not bliss, y'all. And DON'T skip the sunscreen!!

  • Maria says:

    Thank you for this, Sars. And Thank YOU, Robbie, for taking such good care of her.

    My mom seems to be on the same timeline as you with the surgeries and stitches. She had a mole removed from her scalp in November and they thought it looked funky so she went back to have more dug out of her head on the 2nd. She got to wear a cute mod-looking headband bandage for a couple of days, and she was sure everything would be negative because they always have been before. But she's my mom, and there were a lot more stitches this time, so I worried.

    She got the stitches out yesterday, and after 2 weeks of holding my breath I got the call – "There's nothing wrong with my head!"

    All of this because Crisco and Vaseline were her "suntan lotion" of choice 35 – 40 years ago.

    So to reiterate – if you have spent any time outdoors, like EVER in your life, get checked at least annually. Mole Patrol is your friend.

  • AngieFM says:

    Aaaahhhhh!! So scary; so glad you're okay. I'm going to try not to get sappy here, but in these weird times, our communities, virtual and actual, are what we've got. You are, and Tomato Nation is, part of that community vibe for me. Thanks for being one of those people who gets your moles checked out, and thanks for the reminder to the rest of us.

  • Elyse says:

    I'm so glad that this turned out the way it did.
    Also you just got me to pick up the phone and not only schedule a derm appointment to look at the two freckles at are getting a little weird, but I'm also scheduling a mammogram. I'm only 29 but my mom died of breast cancer this year. The funny thing is (uh, ha?) that even though younger women are getting diagnosed with breast cancer, you still have to get a special referral through Kaiser if you want a mammogram and you are under 40. Thanks, healthcare.

  • Kate says:

    glad to hear yours got caught. i'm due for a mole check next month; i have to make sure i do that.

  • Cora says:

    A piggyback suggestion: girls, get your mammos. Get your gynie to say whatever she has to say to the insurance company to get them to cover it — my gynie told my stupid "you don't need one until you're forty" insurance company that I needed a mammo because I'm diabetic, which is bullshit, but they're stupid and it worked. I have a pinhead-sized tumor I call George living under my right nipple, which is benign and hasn't changed shape or size in two years, but the point is that me and my doctor know about him and keep him under strict scrutiny so he will not become a problem. It does not hurt, it does not take much time.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    @liz: Oof, I'm so sorry. Ladies, don't blow off the GYN or your monthly breast exams either (I confess that I almost never do my post-period breast check like I'm supposed to).

    Once I got over the stomach-dropping terror (which wasn't really warranted, but when you hear a word ending in "-oma," it's going to happen), what I mostly felt was resentment that, at least in this one way, I am now old. But I can get over that too. Dr. Robinson told me that three of his patients got beat by melanoma because they were in denial about the maintenance care, and I can sort of see what they were thinking, but in the end it's not worth it.

    …Says the woman who has not set foot in a dentist's office at any time during this presidency. Dread it, gotta do it anyway.

  • Carrie Ann says:

    Thanks for posting this, Sars. After reading it, I made the call I've been putting off for a few years. Hope you have the speediest of recoveries.

  • Amanda Cournoyer says:

    Oh, good for you, Sars. I'm glad. Good job, Robbie!

    Actually, a couple of weeks ago, I had a couple of moles looked at myself. I've had the one in my ear since birth (it is literally a large part of my exterior ear) but the one on my back was just discovered during my annual summer pre-employment physical. The derm didn't like either of them and I had them biopsied last week. The results came back yesterday — they're just normal moles. Phew. And on the plus side, now they're both smaller! Hooray for unintentional cosmetic improvement!

    Not to sound like a vampire, but I avoid the sun as much as possible. Oh, I go outdoors, of course, and I like the outdoors. I hate sitting in the sun, though. I don't get sunbathers. It's all hot and sticky sitting there, and you're cooking your skin. No thanks. I think that aversion to sunbathing is part of the reason neither mole was problematic. And now I am definitely going to keep that habit going.

    I'm going next week to get my sutures taken out and I'm going to ask her to give me a waist-down check (I got a waist-up check the week before the biopsy) while I'm there. Just in case. I'd rather know than wonder.

  • The Hoobie says:

    So glad you and Dr. R KICKED. ITS. ASS. Hope you are treating yourself to some fine melanoma ass-kicking celebratory stuff right now.

    I had an in situ cancer at age 34 (not melanoma), and I have to regretfully warn you that NOBODY GETS that for such a cancer, surgery—and just surgery—is often the cure. NOBODY. Not even medical professionals, sometimes.

    I had people who I thought knew better offering me wig catalogs months after my surgery. I shoulda had little cards printed up that said, "Hi! Yes, I had cancer. But hooray, it was a kind that could not invade other tissue and could not metastasize. They removed it all surgically and I'm fine now. No, I didn't and I won't need chemo or radiation therapy. But thanks for asking!"

    I know everybody meant well, but… sigh. When you're already freaked out about the removal of a major body part, it's just not fun to see your office's admin assistant gleefully tapping on your office window while holding up a wig catalog.

    And just another quick PSA: If you have a weird symptom but your doctors are dismissing it with such "reassuring" phrases as "Oh, it couldn't be cancer. You're too young!," FIND ANOTHER DOCTOR. I am SO grateful that my doctors never said such a thing and took me and my symptoms seriously at all times.

  • Tina says:

    Sars, I'm so glad you caught it!

    I saw my derm a couple of months ago for a mole that was itching (no prob, says she), but you've inspired me to go ahead and make that next appointment right now. Well, call now — like you, I have hundreds of moles, and there's no way I can keep up on them the way the doc can with regular visits.

  • KPP says:

    Wow! Them's some scars. I've had some annoying moles cut off for cosmetic reasons (I grew 'em knobby so they catch on things) so when they call up to say they're benign I'm all "Oh yeah, thanks." I'm glad I haven't had to face the -oma kind. And they only seemed to require a scissors and a bandaid (and me wondering why I couldn't be tough and do it at home–yeah, I know, it would a bad idea).

    @Sars Get thee to a dentist. Its not that bad. You only think its bad. Okay, some of the hygenists are better than others, you've got me there. After a rotation of dentists through my current clinic, the dentist that I currently have is totally cool. She rocks.

  • alanna says:

    Sars, so glad you are well. When I was in college my mother's dermatologist found a small-but-very-malignant melanoma on her neck and I got a "don't panic, they can probably remove it all" phone call from her that of course made me panic for days, until she called back to say it had been successfully removed. Scary, scary, scary – and made me even more obsessive about sunscreen.

    Liz, my condolences and best of luck to you. Stay strong and be well.

  • ferretrick says:

    Stephanie, just tell them you have a mole you need checked, and call the number on the back of your insurance card. Ask if you need a referral to see a dermatologist. Most insurance plans now tell you not to get a referral, just go directly to the person you need to see. They've finally figured out it makes no sense for them or the customer to pay to get a referral no PCP is going to refuse to give out, for fear of being sued.

  • Ang says:

    Sars, so glad you're okay. And your message here is a good one. Thanks for spreading it. I'm pretty diligent about skin care and always have been (though I admit that it's been more because of insecurities about looking old than about health concerns), but I do have lots of moles on my back and on the backs of my arms, so they're hard to see.

    Now, can anyone tell me just how I am supposed to get my paler-than-pale (but always covered in SPF 30) self to the dermatologist when all of them that are in my area and covered by my insurance are booked solid 8 months, minimum, in advance? Apparently, there is quite a bit more money to be made with botox and microdermabrasion and other cosmetic procedures than with cancer checks and such. (I feel for those with acne, because if I can't get in to get a skin cancer check, people with disfiguring acne probably don't have a prayer of getting in for treatment.) I live in a small city–about 300,000 in the metro area–and I imagine that the situation is even worse for those in smaller or more rural areas (and, as always, the poor and uninsured continue to get the worst of everything).

    I made an appointment last year for 6 months out, and then I received a call the day before the appointment telling me that my time slot was no longer available, but that they could get me in 9 weeks. I told the receptionist to forget it because I didn't want to put up with that shit, and then I called and spoke to the rest of my possible insurance-approved dermatologists, and was told I could wait several more months. So I dropped the whole thing. (Sorry this turned into a health-care rant, but this is all so frustrating.)

  • Colleen says:

    Scary! So glad everything worked out OK. Go, Robbie!

  • Ellen says:

    I am very happy to hear you are OK.

  • Laura says:

    Huh, strangely enough, I am sitting here right now leaning forward in my chair because of a gigantic bandage on my back from a mole I had removed yesterday! Mine was "abnormal", but not malignant. Ironically, they found it when I went with my husband to the dermatologist. He had some weird moles that I wanted him to get checked out, so I make an appointment for myself too. Of course, he didn't have to have any removed.

  • Aubrey says:

    Love you Sars! So glad you are OK. Stupid moles…

  • Jaybird says:

    Glad you're okay, Sars, and thanks for the reminder that pretty much everybody needs. I had a couple of actinic keratoses removed b/c my GP said they were pre-cancerous, and while the numbing and tugging and teensy ripping (?!!!) noises weren't fun, they totally beat chemo and major surgery and all the horrid whatnot that that implies.

    Y'all, while you're getting checked, get your scalp some attention as well. I recently read of a just-married, active, seemingly healthy 27-year-old who died because she didn't take seriously the dime-sized melanoma on the crown of her head.

    Uck, I need to get my teeth cleaned too. Phleh.

  • Sandman says:

    Go, Robbie! Glad he was in your corner, Sars, and that you're doing well. Thanks for spreading the word, too.

  • mary ann says:

    Every year I go to the dermatologist for my mole check and every year he says "You don't have skin cancer yet. Maybe next year. Here's a brochure of things to look for between now and then." (I have red hair, fair skin, family history, a personal history of lifeguarding and living in Phoenix. I started getting my annual checks at 25.)

    If nothing is wrong, it's super, super simple to knock out that appointment.

  • Kristen says:

    Rock on! So glad you had good news.

    [quote]Mr. Stupidhead says:
    December 16, 2008 at 2:36 PM
    Yay, Robbie![/quote]

    Yup, that's what the sibs do for you. My sis had a couple moles removed this year, and I just wanted to cheer. We swap out bandages as necessary, too.

    @Mr. Stupidhead, don't let her go another 8 without seeing a dentist. They say that clean teeth are one of the indicators for low risk of heart disease or something else nasty that I don't want to have. Also, the dentist checks in on another body area that you can't see yourself — and yes, cancer can get you there, too.

  • Molly says:

    Glad to hear you kicked that fucker out before it could get its claws in.

    I lucked out in that my sketchy boob mole turned out to just be a weird-looking mole (indeed, I spent the day after being told "yeah, you're going to want to have that cut out and looked at" reading your Japanese Fighting Moles entry).

    The Hoobie, I probably shouldn't be laughing as hard as I am. It's the "gleefully" part that did me in.

  • Katie says:

    So pleased to hear you are fine – and I wish you and all those you love a very Happy Christmas.
    I had my moles checked out this summer having put it off for a while – huge feeling of relief when all okay.
    Happy Christmas to all the readers!

  • Miss Twitch says:

    Glad to hear you're okay! My dad had one of those things in '85 and would not go in to the doctor until it started WEEPING BLOOD.

    His scar is about 8 inches long, much bigger than the "eyebrows" you've got (and in a year from now, the word "mole" will now mysteriously make me think of Sam Waterston and I totally won't remember why).

  • Deanna says:

    Thanks for this, because I have "been meaning" to get a full body look-over for some time and it's gone straight to the bottom of my priority list until now. Thursday at 2:45!

  • JK says:

    thanks for the reminder. I am plagued with procrastinating guilt about mine – I think because I hate the derm I went to about five years ago, and standing all cold and nekkid in front of him and the nurse.

    AND – please go to the dentist. Someone I know just wound up in the hospital for a week with a major infection that started in a loose filling and blew up her head and neck like a balloon.

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