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Protect Yourself, You're Worth It!

Posted by Benjamin Willard on

In January, I received a phone call from my dermatologist's office. The kind office worker was calling to give me test results for two biopsies I had done. Honestly, I assumed she would say something like "Everything checked out ok, and you're all set!" That's not what she said. 

Let's jump back to the beginning of this story for context. For the better part of the last decade I've been putting off getting a spot checked out on the side of my head. I can remember countless experiences getting my hair cut where the cosmetologist would see this mole/spot on the side of my head and ask me if I had gotten it checked out. I would casually respond that I hadn't gotten it looked at yet, but I was going to soon. Well then a decade passed. Procrastination got the best of me. 

My lack of urgency could have resulted in a bad outcome for me. I shouldn't have taken my own health for granted and yet I did. The spot on the side of my head looked grisly, but there were plenty of reasons I didn't view it as a priority. I was young, healthy, it didn't hurt, you couldn't really see it when covered by hair, etc. None of these were valid reasons for putting off an essential visit to the dermatologist's office. 

It wasn't until Blake and I got married that I really started to worry about this mystery spot on my head. I had now committed my life to a partnership with someone. He was counting on me to maintain my health so we could have our happily ever after. Even still, I waited more than a year before making an appointment. Why didn't I just schedule the appointment and go?

You see, I had never been to the dermatologist. In fact, I have had very few modern medical experiences at all. I was raised in a family that downplayed illness and banked on "God will take care of it." Even though I believe God looks out for us, I also believe He would very much like us to take advantage of the blessings of science. This aversion to medical care I was raised with has followed me into adulthood, however. This problem is compounded by my personality, I'm an enneagram 2, so I really really don't like asking for help. It's a challenge for me to both admit I need help, and to find the right people to help me. 

This story thankfully has a good and happy ending. In January of this year, I finally reached out to a local dermatology/plastic surgery office and made an appointment for a general spot check. For me this visit was casual and yet very pivotal. The derm was young, he was quick and blunt, but very willing to listen to and answer my questions. I showed him the spot on my head, and he identified a handful of other spots of concern on other areas of my body.

Based on his examination, he wanted to biopsy the spot on my head and another on my back. A quick shot of local anesthetic and he was off to the races using a scalpel to painlessly shave two odd-looking moles from my body. Basic wound care was administered and thorough but easy after-care instructions relayed. He assured me they would be in touch with the biopsy results in short order, and he explained the potential next steps, should the test results warrant further action. 

I was feeling pretty good about the whole thing. The dermatologist had quickly relayed a statistic about how infrequently further action was required after these types of biopsies. I went about my business, studiously completing the suggested after care. I did make one small change for my wound care, choosing to use a Pure Castor Oil to keep the area moisturized, as opposed to the mandated petroleum jelly. This was a personal choice, which reflects our desire to keep toxic chemicals off our skin whenever possible. I recommend you follow your doctor's advice regarding surgery after-care.

Then, I got that phone call with the test results. Like I said, I was not mentally prepared for the results to say anything other than all is well. The dermatology office calmly explained that they rate lesions they test on a scale from "no concern" to "severely concerning." Anything rated moderately concerning or higher receives extra attention to avoid something bad from developing. Of the two lesions they biopsied, one was "moderately concerning" and the other was "severely concerning." Almost on auto-pilot, I thanked her for calling to let me know and quickly pulled out my schedule to set up surgery dates to remove the skin surrounding where both lesions had been. This is what the dermatologist had explained to me was the next step if the results warranted it. The plan was simple, surgically remove the skin to a specific margin around the site of the removed lesions. That skin would then be biopsied to ensure the cells at the edge were normal and not abnormal like the cells they found in the lesion.

I will spare you the gory details, but these types of surgeries are performed with local anesthetic. I was awake while they handled the spot that was close to my ear. I could hear every single action he took with extreme clarity. While I couldn't feel pain, I distinctly remember the feeling of my skin tugging tight as he pulled the stitches perfectly closed. It's almost like I got a mini face lift for the left side of my face. (If only I had a bad mole on the other side in that exact spot.. KIDDING). 

These operations were quick and out-patient, but they were much harder on my body than the initial biopsies. Especially the surgery on my head. I definitely was forced to slow down and take it easy in the days following that operation. Once again, I studiously followed wound care instructions to help ensure the best scar outcome. 

After getting stitches out 7-10 days after surgery, the suggested wound care was over. However, this is just the beginning if you want the best possible outcome for your scar. We had pre-ordered a post-operation Scar Gel from IMAGE Skincare. We don't typically have this product in stock in our day spa retail store because our facility doesn't offer these types of operations. I have been very pleased with the results of the scar gel. I've applied it twice a day, massaging it into both scars to help them heal. The gel works to assist your body as it heals the scars, making it less likely for the scar to raise up and pigment. 

I was pleased to receive good news when the test results came back following each surgery. The margin skin they tested around the lesion sites was free and clear, no suspicious cells. We accomplished what we came to do, with a good result. As our friends in Gilead say, "Praise be."

Dermatologists recommend you scheduling a spot check appointment once a year. It's a great opportunity for them to look you over, head to toe (and in between your toes too!). During this visit, they can identify skin lesions that might be concerning and help you decide any necessary course of action. I felt a huge sense of relief following this whole experience. I scheduled my spot check for next time. The dermatologist wants to see me after 6 months since we're just now establishing a baseline for my skin. After my 6 month follow-up, I will move to a yearly spot check schedule. The key to consistency in recurring appointments is to set them up before you leave. 

Self care doesn't always look like a glass of wine, bath bomb, and a good book. Sometimes self care is cutting the crap and scheduling that appointment you know you need to make. Don't take your health for granted. I feel blessed that I had a good outcome, regardless of my procrastination. I feel empowered knowing that in addition to daily steps I take like wearing big hats, long sleeves, and applying plenty of mineral sunblock, I'm now building this yearly spot check habit to help protect my skin. 

This month is Skin Cancer Awareness Month. It's a dedicated time to help spread awareness of a disease that takes the lives of two Americans every hour. Right now our attention is divided between so many things. We are honestly all just trying to survive. Between work, school, bills, and the countless obstacles thrown at us by a global pandemic we all feel a little overwhelmed. I encourage you to give yourself some slack, take a walk outside to help your mind manage the stress. Just make sure you wear your sunblock while you walk, and maybe remind a friend they need to wear their's as well. 

until next time,

-Ben

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