My First-Hand Experience with Melanoma

Every­day life can seem like a bal­anc­ing act. The demands that come from our fam­i­ly and work often make putting our own health last on our pri­or­i­ty list.

As a prac­tic­ing, board-cer­ti­fied der­ma­tol­o­gist for over a decade, my job is to edu­cate my patients on skin can­cer pre­ven­tion, as well as diag­nose and treat skin con­di­tions. So imag­ine my sur­prise, when in April of this year, my hus­band spot­ted an unfa­mil­iar mole on the crease behind my knee. I would have nev­er noticed it myself. I relied on my own eyes and what I could see of my moles rather than hav­ing rou­tine skin checks by one of my physi­cian col­leagues or physi­cian assis­tants who are trained to look most every­where on the body.

At first, I thought I had pos­si­bly irri­tat­ed the mole while shav­ing that morn­ing, but based off of its appear­ance, in my heart, I knew it was like­ly a Melanoma.

My sus­pi­cions were con­firmed after what felt like a long wait for my biop­sy results; I was diag­nosed with Stage 1 Melanoma. While not good news, I was thank­ful it was Stage 1 and not some­thing more aggres­sive. I imme­di­ate­ly called my DuPage Med­ical Group col­leagues who offered encour­age­ment and advice. That same after­noon, my for­mer col­league, Dr. Ashish Bha­tia, con­duct­ed exci­sion of the mole, which end­ed up being larg­er than a half-dol­lar in size. He and his staff were car­ing and sup­port­ive. Due to the loca­tion of my wound, I was unable to have stitch­es, but through appro­pri­ate care and assis­tance from my hus­band, I expe­ri­enced a rel­a­tive­ly quick and man­age­able recov­ery.

Fol­low­ing labs and X‑rays, I vis­it­ed oncol­o­gist Dr. Daniel Frank. When he asked about my men­tal state dur­ing the con­sult, I broke down into tears, now ful­ly under­stand­ing the men­tal exhaus­tion of being a patient with a poten­tial­ly life-threat­en­ing dis­ease. While I’ve treat­ed hun­dreds of Melanoma cas­es, expe­ri­enc­ing this diag­no­sis and treat­ment as a patient brought a whole new per­spec­tive and made me more empa­thet­ic to my patients.

Melanoma is quite com­mon; one in 50 peo­ple will get diag­nosed with it. In fact, the Amer­i­can Can­cer Soci­ety’s sta­tis­tics show there are more Melanomas from tan­ning beds than lung can­cer inci­dents from smok­ing. I believe strong­ly that peo­ple must get year­ly full-skin exams — der­ma­tol­o­gists includ­ed! Some say to start at 40, but I rec­om­mend soon­er, because the most com­mon can­cer in 26 to 40-year-olds is Melanoma.

I’m so thank­ful that my hus­band spot­ted that mole, and I was able to receive the help I need­ed. Going for­ward, I’m going to ensure that I take the time nec­es­sary as a busy, work­ing mom to get a full, skin check. Based on my expe­ri­ence, Melanoma can hap­pen to any­one. Remem­ber, take the time and get appro­pri­ate care. Lean on your spouse, fam­i­ly, friends and col­leagues for sup­port in health and in the oth­er demands of life. And, stay well.

In good health,

Kelle Berggren, MD
DuPage Med­ical Group Dermatologist

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