The dreaded yearly skin test….my first at MD Anderson was on May 29th of this year. I had been checked several times in years past by a dermatologist near my hometown and was told everything looks great! When Dr. Sharon Hymes, whom I had seen before at MD Anderson Melanoma and Skin Center for graft vs host skin issues, came into the room and looked at my makeup and concealer free face, she instantly started asking me about the spot on my left cheek. She had questions…how long had it been there? Several years. How long has it been two-toned? I don’t know because I have used bleaching creams and thought only part of the spot responded. She told me we needed a biopsy.
This seemingly innocent, annoying “age spot” was about the size of a pencil eraser. It was completely flat and smooth. The top half of the spot was a darker brown than the bottom light brown or golden color. When I asked Dr. Hymes what she was suspicious of and she told me melanoma, I was shocked! This spot was nothing like I imagined a melanoma to look like! I pictured a melanoma to be dark, purplish, blackish, globby, irregular.
So a biopsy was done. The top darker part of the spot was “shaved” and sent to the lab. The rest of my skin test went well, thank goodness! Now it was the waiting…do I really have melanoma? What if it isn’t contained? What will my face look like? I’m a stem cell transplant survivor…do I really have melanoma? Here is a photo after the biopsy had partially healed. I don’t have a good close up of the spot before the biopsy.
A few days later, I got the call, and it was melanoma in situ, lentigo maligna type. I was set up for an excision with Dr. Valencia Thomas at the MD Anderson MOHs and Dermasurgery Unit. Dr. Hymes had presented my case at the dermatopathology faculty conference and it was decided that my melanoma was not a candidate for MOHs surgery. These faculty conferences at MDA are an awesome thing! Several top notch doctors discuss and decide the best possible treatment.
I instantly loved Dr. Thomas! Besides her excellent credentials (Harvard, Harvard Med School, numerous awards and honors, and the list goes on!), she is caring, compassionate, funny, professional, and an excellent surgeon. She took a lot of time explaining melanoma, the flap excision surgery, and the healing process. The actual excision went quickly. But she spent some time suturing! She is really really good with a needle and thread! This photo was right after she sewed me up.
I had very little pain, just soreness. A week later I went to the Texas Tech Health Sciences Center Dermatology and MOHs clinic to have my sutures removed by Dr.Ikue Shimizu. She had done a Fellowship at MD Anderson under Dr. Thomas 2 years ago. Dr. Thomas was very confident with her removing my sutures and Lubbock is only 100 miles away verses Houston at 650 miles. Dr. Shimizu was great! The suture removal went very well. I was happy to get rid of them!
Everything progressed nicely until I developed a large purple bump on my incision. It got larger and larger and I could no longer resist popping it! The nurse had told me that the inside sutures sometimes work their way out before they are dissolved and I thought this was happening. It turned out to be a spitting suture. I had emailed Dr. Thomas a photo of it and she put me on doxycycline and told me it would resolve. It did! Evidently I had a reaction to the suture material. She emailed me a research paper she had written about spitting sutures. The photos in the paper looked just like my bump!
Two weeks ago I went to see Dr. Thomas for my follow up check up. I’m still having a reaction to those inside sutures. She gave me a shot into the incision site where I have 2 knots or bumps to see if they resolve. On Nov. 10th I will see her again and more than likely have another surgery on the incision. The spitting suture and the bumps have caused the incision not to heal properly. She assured me that when we are all finished and healed, it will look just like my other cheek! She truly is amazing and brilliant and I have complete confidence in her! I will post a photo and follow up after I am completely healed! Here is a photo of me and beautiful Dr. Thomas two weeks ago at my follow up appointment. Even with the suture problems, my incision looks better than I ever expected it to look!
Bottom line…I am so thankful that I saw Dr. Hymes and that the melanoma was contained and had not spread. I am so thankful for Dr. Thomas and her excellence as a surgeon. Please get your annual skin checks and wear sun screen. I will get skin checks every 6 months now, and I will go happily! I’m a survivor! Most importantly, I’m a survivor because of the best Doctors at the #1 Cancer Center, MD Anderson! I can do this!!!!!