Yes Virginia, Anyone Can Get Cancer   April 9th, 2011

The phone call from the dermatologist came as quite a shock three weeks ago. I felt like I was having something of an out of body experience as he explained that the reason for his call was that the mole his staff removed some twelve days prior was a malignant melanoma, and that I needed to get help immediately for a sentinel lymph node biopsy and wide excision.

I knew skin cancer was a bad thing anyhow, but when I mentioned the diagnosis to my wife, Linda, and saw the color drain from her face, I gathered I might not fully comprehend the extent of my problem.

Further research indicated that melanoma is the worst kind of skin cancer there is, and that it has a rather high chance of being symptomatic of cancer in the lymphatic system, especially if not detected soon enough. And once entrenched in the lymphatic system it’s only a matter of time before the cancer invades one’s organs (which is known as metastasis).

I hoped it had been caught soon enough. After all, the mole that I had had removed had only been present for only a short time. Granted, it had grown rapidly – from zero to about 7-8mm in around two months, which is why it originally had me a bit worried – enough so that I wanted it removed. And I only noticed it because it was in a rather obvious location on my right thigh and seemed to be a little different from my other moles, but not in any really obvious way.

My mole one week before it was removed. It later turned out to be an amelanotic malignant melanoma.

My mole one week before it was removed. It later turned out to be an amelanotic malignant melanoma.

If the mole had been on my back or other non-obvious spot on my body, I would still be ignorant of my condition, and thus a step closer to permanence of the truly bad sort.

I was also fortunate in that the dermatologist had the same idea I did – namely to get the mole analyzed in a lab to make sure it wasn’t something bad.

Of course, that wasn’t the result that came back:

Excerpt from the diagnostic report on my mole pathology.

Excerpt from the diagnostic report on my mole pathology.

It’s not obvious from the above text, but the mole was a rare kind of melanoma, an “amelanotic” melanoma, meaning it did not have any pigment, and therefore none of the visual warning signs that the tissue was potentially cancerous. As a result, the statistical survival rates for amelantoic melanoma are not very good because they are usually identified far too late – many months or even years after they have formed. In my case, however, the hope has been, and still is, that two months was early and soon enough. We’ll see, as the lymph node biopsy (which I will discuss in a separate post) came back positive (for cancer), which is actually rather negative from where I sit.

The Moral of This Story

I am only 46 years old, in good health, only mildly overweight, with no known genetic predisposition to cancer.

Granted, I live on a Caribbean island, but the reality is that I’m a bit of a mushroom, spending almost all of my time indoors working, cooking, eating, playing, and sleeping. I average less than an hour or two a week outdoors, so regular sun exposure is not a likely contributor.

I did, however, get a really bad sunburn on my right thigh from a full day of white water rafting in Costa Rica in September 2008. Could this have started then? No way to know, and I’ve been told that there is a body of thought among a small group of cancer specialists that there is no sustainable correlation between sun exposure and melanoma. The fact that melanoma can appear on (or even in) any part of one’s body, even one that never sees sunlight, lends some credence to that possibility.

What I can tell anyone reading this is that you should be on constant vigilance for any new growths on your body, whether odd looking or not. And if your gut suggests something is wrong, run, don’t walk, to your doctor’s office and have it looked at. And insist on a lab analysis on any part of your skin that is removed. Better safe than sorry.

 

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This entry was posted on Saturday, April 9th, 2011 at 20:45 and is filed under Health. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.Both comments and pings are currently closed.

26 Responses

April 9th, 2011 at 21:24
Dawn Spencer Says:

Thanks for posting this information Jake. Keep posting and keep up up-to-date with your treatment. Prayers have begun.

April 9th, 2011 at 21:40
Barbel Heusinkveld Says:

Hi Jake,
Thanx for being so open and honest about what’s happening to you and your family. I am sure that it will help a lot of other people be more aware if they ever have the same thing happening to them. Keep us posted.

April 9th, 2011 at 22:35
Mark Sage Says:

Thanks for sharing your story, Jake. We are all hoping that your early detection and rapid response will knock this disease out.

Stay strong,

Mark

April 9th, 2011 at 22:46
Jenna Says:

I’m going with a good result since you found this early. You’ve got the best that modern medicine has to offer, a good grasp of your situation and the ability to research and understand what’s going on so that you can participate in your treatment. I say that’s a triple threat against cancer, and that’s pretty damn good.

April 10th, 2011 at 00:31
Don Says:

Hi Jake. I’m so sorry to here about your diagnosis. My partner was diagnosed with malignant melenoma about 2 years ago. His legion was kind of odd as well. It actually started growing on an existing mole. He was fortunate in that his lymph node biopsy was clean. He now goes for quarterly skin screenings and twice yearly oncology checkups. So far he appears to be doing ok. He was 50 when diagnosed. He avoids the sun since even before the incident, but he does burn easily. His mole was also in an area that normally isn’t exposed to the sun. One lesson it taught us was to not put off things for someday later. I actually started following you on Twitter when planning for our Antarctic trip o. The Nat Geo Explorer. People would ask ‘why now?’ and we’d tell them we wanted to see it while we were both youngish and in good health. Best of luck to you and your family.

April 10th, 2011 at 16:24
Jake Richter Says:

Don,

Thank you for your story, and I fully agree – do all you want now and do not save it for some indeterminate future. Going on our Antarctic trip with the whole family last year was an amazing experience, and we did it in the prime of our lives, in contrast to the average age of our fellow passengers, most of whom were in the 60s and 70s. No regrets!

Jake

April 10th, 2011 at 13:48
LaDonna Says:

Jake….you are such an inspiration. Thank you for sharing this! I hope people will take your words seriously!
You are in my thoughts and prayers!!!

April 10th, 2011 at 16:20
Jake Richter Says:

Thanks Dawn, Jenna, Barbel, LaDonna, and Mark! I hope this blog article and subsequent ones will get people to take their moles more seriously. I certainly didn’t pay as much attention as I could have, but hopefully the action I did take was early enough.

But I am definitely planning on sharing more in this blog (and on FB).

Jake

April 10th, 2011 at 14:13
Cynde Says:

Jake, I’ve never seen this kind of melanoma. New to me. I may ping you to see if we can use it in our melanoma article. I’ve had hundreds of basal cell carcinomas removed, so get a body scan by my derm every six months. I’m vigilant about anything that looks suspicious. Thanks for sharing your experience, because so many people don’t really pay much attention to new growths on their skin. If there is any info I can send to you, all you have to do is ask…

Hugs to you, Linda, Kristiana, and Bas…

Cynde

April 10th, 2011 at 16:17
Jake Richter Says:

Cynde, I would be happy to give your company a license to use the image in exchange for a link back to help raise awareness. I plan on doing a lot more sharing on the subject of cancer and mental attitude in the coming weeks as well :-)

I would like an information you guys might have on the biology of cancer cells. I’ll be getting clinical information from the source, but not cellular biology data, I suspect.

Jake

April 10th, 2011 at 18:18
Meryl Says:

Thanks for posting, I really like it when people who go through any medical procedure actually read and analyze their report. I find Doctor’s tend to just give you a small bit of this information….I like to read it ALL.
Looking forward to hearing good news. Glad it did present itself in an area that was easily detectable. Xxoo ( to Linda too!)

April 11th, 2011 at 09:33
Andy Pride Says:

Man, really hard to hear, keep as positive as possible,and let us know if you do need help moving or for whatever!
All our best to you guys!

April 11th, 2011 at 14:24
Tara Smith Says:

Thank you for sharing Jake. With your talent for writing you will undoubtably help many others and in doing so, I’m sure, help with your own recovery. Without a doubt attitude and fortitude will win the day — and a big support group ~ xo
Many hugs to you and your family as you go on this journey.
Much Love,
Tara & Guy

April 14th, 2011 at 10:13
Smack Says:

Jake, I don’t know exactly what to say. Hope for you, fear for what could happen and a genuine pissed-off attitude that cancer has the balls to bully you comes to mind. Prayers for you and your family said and continue. Be well, that’s an order!

Smack

April 14th, 2011 at 13:32
Cynde Says:

Jake, just getting back to this. I’m on medical leave until Monday, but when I get back I’m going to talk to our team about using the images and linking to the blog to raise awareness.

Hang in there and take a deep breath and think about all of us that are thinking and pulling for you….

Hugs,

Cynde

June 20th, 2011 at 16:53
Steve H Says:

Jake, thanks for sharing your journey with melanoma. I recently had one removed from my lower thigh that initially was rated at Clark’s IV and 1.1mm in depth. I have a nice 4″ scar now on my thigh and 2 lymph nodes gone forever. Fortunately, there had been no spreading into the lymph nodes. My final classification is Stage 1b melanoma. It’s incredible how quickly these things can progress. I’ll continue to check your blog from time to time for your updates. Hang in there, and I’ll pray your treatment program will be effective and long lasting.

Steve H

June 20th, 2011 at 19:03
Jake Richter Says:

Thanks for your note Steve. I’m glad your melanoma did not turn out to be worse. I assume you’ll be getting more frequent skin checks at this point, and possibly scans as well?

Take care,

Jake

January 26th, 2012 at 23:35
Samantha Says:

Wow. I was searching google for mole pictures because I have some strange ones that I developed in my teen years.. only to find this picture and it looks a lot like mine. It’s kind of freaking me out now.

http://i517.photobucket.com/albums/u335/samanthavv/2012-01-26182359.jpg

I couldn’t get a very good picture because it’s on my own face… but it looks a lot like yours. :-/

January 27th, 2012 at 10:41
kim nixon Says:

Samantha is it a new mole?

January 27th, 2012 at 10:44
Jake Richter Says:

Kim’s question is a good one. I would be concerned if it has grown very quickly – otherwise it looks like a regular Nevi (mole).

Jake

January 27th, 2012 at 19:20
Samantha Says:

i showed up when I was 16 or 17 and then another showed up on my back when I was nineteen. I’m 23 now and they’ve only gotten bigger and the one on my back flakes and bleed sometimes.

January 27th, 2012 at 20:45
Linda Richter Says:

The real answer is that it can’t hurt to have a doctor look at your moles. After Jake was diagnosed, our two teens and I went to a dermatologist for skin checks for peace of mind. I have a couple large nevis (always had them) which per the doctor are nothing to worry about.

January 27th, 2012 at 22:17
Jake Richter Says:

A bleeding mole is worrisome, Samantha. Listen to my wife – like I always do – see a dermatologist,

March 17th, 2012 at 23:08
Rick Quarti Says:

Hey Jake,

TC and I will come a knocking next week.

Kindest Regards,
Rick
#9

April 23rd, 2012 at 11:27
Pam Osborn Says:

Hello Jake,
Thanks to your blog, I am now awaiting biopsy results for a mole that grew to about 5 mm in about 2 months… looked just like yours. The new mole came up on the left side my face and I wanted it gone. I decided I would look online to see what it could be and if it was nothing to worry about I would try to get it off myself. After reading your blog Jake, I decided to get an appointment to have it removed. The doctor I went to has seen amelanotic melanoma before and so he was concerned. My mole was slightly more raised than yours. It would sometimes bleed if I messed with it and I was having a strange tingling sensation around the area. When the doctor removed it by punch biopsy he had a very hard time getting it to stop bleeding. My son took a picture before the biopsy- I would show you the picture if I knew where to send it. My biopsy should be back by 4-27-12. Prayers & blessings out to you Jake.

May 1st, 2012 at 18:31
Jake Richter Says:

Hi Pam, how did your biopsy results turn out earlier this week?