A Cautionary Tale

I don’t think I’ve ever shared this story publicly, but skin cancer awareness is a topic that is near and dear to my heart (and my nose!). If my journey can inspire even a handful of you to start a new routine of daily sun protection, sharing it will have been worthwhile. 

If you’re someone who knows you should be using SPF when you go out in the sun, but you still don’t do it consistently, this episode is for you, my friend, because I don’t want you to experience what I experienced. 

I’m sharing my very personal story (and some raw pics!), as well as resources and ways you can become more educated to take the very best preventative care of the skin you’re in!

Prefer the audio? Listen here.

(Disclaimer: I am not a dermatologist or an MD, so this information is not medical advice. I am sharing my story with you from a patient experience. Always consult your doctor.)

In 2011 or 2012, I noticed a patch of skin on my nose was behaving weirdly. I had a tendency to be a little heavy-handed when I dried my face with a towel, and sometimes it would bleed a little bit. At first, I just thought I’d scratched it, and wasn’t too concerned. 

But after a couple of months, it was happening frequently enough that I decided to visit a dermatologist. The doctor checked it out and told me it was nothing. I went on with my life. But it kept happening every so often. About a year and a half later, I went to another skin doctor for a second opinion. Same thing. He told me it was nothing. 

I’d already been through different types of cancer in my life and felt like I needed to do my due diligence. So when another 9 months went by and the bleeding was happening more frequently, I chose to see a 3rd dermatologist. I told her I was very concerned and I thought it needed to be biopsied. She immediately responded, “I completely agree.” 

It was basal cell carcinoma, “the most common form of skin cancer and the most frequently occurring of all cancers”. While it is rare for this type of cancer to spread to other parts of the body, it is possible, so it is a serious diagnosis that needs to be treated seriously. My doctor and I decided on the Mohs surgical procedure to remove the cancerous lesion. 

During Mohs surgery, you are awake and they use a local anesthetic to numb the area. They use a scalpel to scale away the cancerous cells and underlying tissue and then send the sample directly to the lab. Then you wait for the results to be sure they got wide enough margins during the procedure so only healthy tissue remains. Luckily for me, they got it all the first time, otherwise, I would have had to go back under the knife a second time. They stitched me back up and sent me home to heal. 

In hindsight, I should have set up a plastic surgeon to close my incisions, but, with my history of thyroid cancer and my father’s recurring skin cancer, I just wanted to get it off my body as quickly as possible. Four years after my ordeal, I wasn’t happy with the scar tissue on my nose and ended up going to a plastic surgeon to fix it. That whole thing was long, drawn-out, and quite taxing. 

Here’s the thing– I didn’t take sun protection as seriously as I should have until something serious happened to me. To be fair, growing up in the ’70s, and ‘80s sunblock and sunscreen were virtually non-existent (we were all baby oil and sun reflectors to amplify not minimize the rays 👀) And once I knew better, I thought I developed pretty decent sun care habits. As it turns out, I thought I was doing a better job of protecting my skin than I actually was. 

I am not an MD, and I am sharing this information with you from a patient perspective in the hopes I can inspire you to take amazing proactive care of your skin!

The most important thing you can do is regular self-examination because when it comes to any type of skin cancer, early detection gives you the greatest chance for successful treatment. Check every square inch of your body monthly. Even the parts of your body that you don’t think get exposed to the sun– check everywhere!

Get familiar with your sun spots, moles, freckles, and birthmarks. If you notice any changes in size, color, texture, or the borders, it’s time to get it checked out. With each self-exam, you’ll become more and more familiar with what is normal for you and what is not. 

Inside this week’s guide, I’m sharing an easy method to help you start recording your self-exams and keep track, as well as other resources! You can grab it right here. 

Let’s talk about what I do for SPF (sun protection factor). I use a very high broad screen SPF every, single day. Rain or shine, all 4 seasons. I have also invested in SPF clothing and accessories. I wear long-sleeve SPF shirts often and even use driving gloves to give my hands extra protection. I use hats with SPF to shield my face and scalp when I know I’m going to be outdoors. Don’t forget about eye protection. Look for sunglasses with polarized lenses that block out UVA and UVB rays. 

In the guide, I’m giving you a list of the products I use regularly and you can download that here. 

Listen, sunbathing is so 1989, people. If you like how your skin looks with a summer glow, there are SO many amazing fake bake products out there that are easy to apply and won’t turn you orange. You can love the sun and still get your daily dose of Vitamin D as long as you protect yourself and your skin! Depending on where you live, the sun is particularly strong at certain times of the day, so check your UV index and plan to stay in the shade when the rays are the most harmful.

I know much of this information might seem like common sense, but again, from my own experience, I know how easy it can be to skip your sun protection routine, so if that’s you, let this be your reminder to step it up, baby! 

The other important thing I want you to take from this is YOU are your best advocate when it comes to your health. I saw 2 dermatologists who told me there was nothing wrong with the weird acting skin on my nose, but my gut still told me to seek out a third opinion. Listen to your instinct when it comes to your health. 

I hope this little PSA on skincare was helpful to you. If it was, please share it with the people in your life, and don’t forget to grab your guide right here.

I hope you have an amazing week taking care of your skin and as always take care of you.

¹https://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/basal-cell-carcinoma/

²https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/mohs-surgery/about/pac-20385222

³https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/skin-cancer/symptoms-causes/syc-20377605

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  1. Thank you Terri,
    I saw a Rachel Maddow episode where she had a weird mole on her neck that was skin cancer. I also had a weird mole on my boob, so I went to my doctor who said he could remove it and have a biopsy. It was negative fortunately, but I have lots of moles and freckles. Alas, I modeled swim wear and hung out at beaches in southern CA for years. The map guide suggestion is very helpful. I did lose a dear friend at age 42 to melanoma who had a lump in his arm pit, he waited too long and it got into his lymph system and it killed him 18 months later. This stuff is deadly serious. Thank you for telling your story with this and for providing a guide.

  2. Sadly, I, too maximized "tanning" when I was younger – baby oil, iodine, and sunburns! As a result, now in my 70's, I have had 15-20 skin cancers removed, many using the MOHs procedure you described. HOWEVER, for closure of the wound created by the procedure, my dermatologist closes in a way that minimalizes scarring, something your MOHs person did not do properly. I am sorry you had to go back for cosmetic surgery.
    And, the sad truth about skin cancers, I have been told that all the damage is done by the time you are 16 or 18 years of age , varies depending on who you talk to. SO, not to minimize your ongoing SPF and clothing strategies, but that early exposure has you, and me, doomed to more cancers appearing. Shoot!!!!

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