Since writing this blog, I have had many people contact me sharing their story and asking advice. The majority of the people that write to me are Stage 1 melanoma patients, so I have decided to write this post for them. For those of you that don't have Stage 1 melanoma, I hope you still find it useful... and a little entertaining!
Here is my advice for you!
1. Three monthly skin checks
Annual skin checks are recommended for the general population, but once you have been diagnosed with Stage 1 Melanoma this changes. You are strongly recommended to have 3 monthly skin checks for at least 2 years. It is only when you have not had a recurrence that your 3 monthly skin checks can return to 12 monthly.
Three monthly skin checks will aid in early detection and ensure you remain at Stage 1.
2. Know what is normal
In between your 3 monthly skin checks, it is essential that you become familiar with your skin and know what is normal for you.
Researching melanoma and looking at pictures of ‘melanomas’ should not be your reference. These pictures are often an extreme example in order to make a point. Yes it is helpful, but I want to stress that anything that is DIFFERENT for you is a concern. Know what your normal moles look like and use that as your reference.
So this is the first point of advice for becoming familiar with your skin. I hope you enjoy the next few…
3. Get naked
Get naked… preferably in front of someone (Yes, I did just say that).
Between your skin checks, make sure you dedicate time to looking over your skin and taking note of any changes. Unless you are extremely flexible you will miss areas, so having your significant other assist you is always helpful!
4. Take pictures
Take pictures to document any changes to your skin. You see your body everyday, so it is difficult to see small changes over time.
This is a great way to help your doctor monitor your skin in between appointments.
5. Twist, bend, lift, and manoeuvre
Similar to my point above, you are not going to be able to see everything by just standing in front of the mirror. You will need to twist, bend, lift, and manoeuvre to make sure that you are aware of changes.
- Shaving your legs is always a handy way to notice any changes to the back of your legs.
- For those of you that are well endowed make sure you lift your boobs and have a looksy underneath, you never know what might be hiding!
Anyone that goes near your body - your hairdresser, waxer, beautician, gynaecologist, optometrist, dentist etc. – ask them to keep an eye out for any changes. It is often these people that notice changes as they only see you on a semi-regular basis.
6. Know your lumps and bumps
Although you are only Stage 1 and you have been given clearance (all cancer removed from the excision, no sign of disease), it is essential that you feel for any lumps or bumps.
Feel your lymph nodes, in particular the ones located closest to your primary. If there is any swelling, don’t ignore this and go straight to your doctor to ensure a biopsy is taken. It could just be a swollen lymph node because your body is fighting an infection, but it could also be your melanoma spreading. The same goes for any lump or bump on your body.
Ensure that EVERY time you have your skin checked that your doctor also feels your lymph nodes. If they do not do this, request that they do or I would strongly be considering seeing a different doctor.
7. Slip, slop, and slap
- Don’t go and sunbathe.
- Don’t use solariums.
- Embrace being pale.
- If you really depend on a tan, use fake tan!
- Always carry sunscreen with you (SPF50)
- Always make a point of wearing sunscreen.
- Wear long sleeved tops if you know you are going to be outside.
- Wear a hat (something that I always struggle with because my head is the size of a watermelon!)
8. Choose your most important team member
Although some would disagree with me on this point, I think it is extremely important that you find the best doctor, whose expertise is in the field of melanoma, at the beginning of your melanoma journey.
A specialised dermatologist will be able to follow you through your journey as a Stage 1 patient, and have all the skills to do this, but IF your melanoma did spread this will not be the case.
The best decision I ever made was to book an appointment with a General Surgeon, who was well known in the field of melanoma, the week after my wider excision was removed and I was classified as ‘cancer free’. I went and saw this doctor and pretty much wasted his time, he told me the facts, the statistics, and the reality that there would only be a 5% that I would find myself in his office again.
BUT, I was that 5% and am so glad that I was already his patient. Even though it had almost been a year since I had seen him, once I found the lump under my arm, tests were booked within a week, results were given, and surgery was performed the following week. This wouldn’t have been the case if I hadn’t seen him when I was diagnosed with my primary.
9. Don’t research beyond Stage 1
I know that it is really difficult to not Google everything, but when there is such a disparity between prognosis for Stage 1 and Stage 3 and 4, it really isn’t worth it.
When you are Stage 1 Melanoma, you are given a 95% chance of being fine. There is a mere 5% chance that your melanoma will progress (Gosh, I was unlucky).
Don’t waste your life waiting for what may happen.
Research Stage 1 Melanoma. Understand what it means to have melanoma. Understand the risk factors. Don’t go and sunbathe or use a solarium. Follow what the doctor suggests. Stay vigilant. And, follow my advice above!
10. Strongly consider my role in your melanoma journey
This is a difficult piece of advice, but I strongly ask you to consider whether reading my blog is making you stress more then necessary.
Remember that I was the unlucky 5%. I followed all the advice of the doctor, but unfortunately this did not help me. Chances are it will help you and you will be in the 95%. You can always come back and follow my blog if things did change!
Obviously, I would still love if you stayed around and followed my story!