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In his own words: living with melanoma

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In the process of a physical exam leading up to a scheduled hip replacement, melanoma was discovered on Dan’s* back. Because the hip surgery was only two weeks away, the doctors acted quickly and aggressively to remove the melanoma. Dan, a 52-year-old mechanic was fortunate that the melanoma had not spread, and they were able to remove all the cancerous tissue. He enjoys his life in northern Michigan with his wife, two children, and one grandson.

What was your first sign that something was wrong? What symptoms did you experience?

I didn’t really have any symptoms. My wife is the one who noticed it on my back, in the middle of my shoulder blade last summer. At that time, it was a smooth, light tan mole, but it had irregular edges. My wife wanted me to have it checked out, but I never did. When I was in for a physical exam prior to my hip surgery, the doctor spotted it and noticed that it was irregular. He referred me to a dermatologist.

What was the diagnosis experience like?

The dermatologist immediately felt that it was melanoma, but didn’t know to what extent. He did a small biopsy on it, but didn’t think it had spread at all. When the tests came back and confirmed that it was definitely melanoma, he wanted to take out a bigger area. The doctor explained initially that if the results came back positive, I would have to have more taken out. He referred me to a surgeon.

What was your initial and then longer-term reaction to the diagnosis?

My initial reaction was to hurry up and get it taken care of because I didn’t want it to interfere with the hip surgery. I was just relieved that they were able to get it all. When I went in the second time, it had not come back indicating that they had gotten it all and it hadn't spread.

How is melanoma treated?

When the dermatologist looked at it, he agreed with the doctor who did my physical that it was melanoma. That same day, he cut out an area about the size of a quarter, and approximately 1/4 “ deep. They biopsied the tissue and it came back positive. So the dermatologist referred me to a surgeon and I went back a week later to have more removed in the same area. This time the incision was about 6” long and about ½” deep. At that point, he felt he had gotten it all. I didn’t really have any pain; I just felt a lot of pulling. I go back for a follow-up visit in six months.

Did you have to make any lifestyle or dietary changes in response to having melanoma?

The only change is that I need to keep an eye on any changes that occur with other moles and be sure I keep the follow-up visits with the dermatologist.

Did you seek any type of emotional support?

It was somewhat of a stressful time because I was trying to finish up things at work and around the house to get ready for my hip replacement. Finding out about the melanoma and having to make the additional doctor visits added to the stress. I guess we just pulled together as a family.

Does having melanoma have any impact on your family?

I don't really think so, other than my wife helps me keep an eye on any changes in other moles on my body.

What advice would you give to anyone living with melanoma?

Get it taken care of as soon as possible. If it's not detected early, it can spread into the lymph nodes and can be much more serious. Also, limit your sun exposure.

*Not his real name

Interviews were conducted in the past and may not reflect current standards and practices in medicine. Talk to your doctor to learn more about how this condition is diagnosed and managed today and what treatment approaches are right for you.