Help it's a Melanoma.
Western Australia is famous for its long hours of sunshine.

This post has been updated: Please wait a moment while it redirects to the most recent post about melanomas at Lifestyle Fifty.

There’s a moment in everyone’s life when you suddenly stop sweating the small stuff.

When the world seems to stop spinning and remains motionless on its axis.

When breathing stops.

Just for a moment at least.

That searing moment of vision when I realized the truth about immortality, and that a long and happy life may not be my birthright, happened just the other day after a routine skin check, which we have regularly because we live in beautiful Western Australia famous for its long hours of sunshine and clear blue skies.

“How are you, Jo? How’s the wound healing?”

“Good, thank you.” I replied, thinking how nice of my Doctor to call just to find out how I was after the mole biopsy he’d taken a few days earlier. The mole was removed surgically because it was considered a small risk, and given a 20% chance of being dangerous, so the odds were in my favour, and I’d been sure that they would be. Heck, I was just waiting to have the stitches out, that’s all.

“Jo. I have some good news and some bad news,” my Doctor continued.

Sharp intake of breath. Then my heart stopped beating for a moment as I considered his words especially the ‘bad news’. He wasn’t  ringing to just find out about the  wound, or how many pain killers I’d taken , or if the blood had returned to my veins after my fainting fit following  the small, 15 minute surgery last week.

I think there was silence. I don’t think I responded. I might have muttered.

Instead of speaking, I sat down and swallowed, realising that my mouth had suddenly become very dry. I could have been in a scene from a movie, one that was now playing in front of my eyes, not real though, surely?

Then I heard my Doctor continue speaking.

“The good news is that we seem to have caught it in time. The mole is a malignant melanoma, but in its early stages. The bad news is that I will need to remove more skin from the area to make sure that all the cancerous cells have been taken away and reduce the chance of it spreading to other parts of your body. Now, when can you come back in?”

Come back in? Me? But I always wear sunscream. There must be a mistake. No I can’t come back in. Anyway, I’ll faint. I can’t do this. I don’t want to do this under local anaesthetic – I’ve heard rumours of big scars. Isn’t there a chance you could be wrong?

My thoughts were shrieking at me like harpies.

But I didn’t say anything.

“Now how about Thursday?” My Doctor asked.

Thursday? No! We have family visiting from the UK and we’ve booked to go dolphin watching among other things.

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Straight after we’re going on a two day trip to Margaret River and w’e’re treating ourselves to two nights at the lovely Cape Lodge set in amongst its own vineyards and luscious gardens. You know, it’s special – A BIG TREAT.

Help it's a Melanoma
We had booked to stay at the lovely Cape Lodge in Margaret River

My head was spinning with the implications of disruption to our plans.  No, this was all too inconvenient.

Then a little voice of reason crept in.

But you know Jo, melanomas spread, and remember reading that stuff on the internet – remember – it’s the most dangerous form of skin cancer unless it’s caught early? What are you thinking?

I opened my mouth before my brain could catch up with me and replied.

“Yes.” I said. “Thursday. Thursday will be fine. Thank you.”

“Would you like a mild sedative to calm your nerves on the day?” My kindly Doctor asked.

“Yes, Please,” I said while I was thinking; “Actually I’d like a whole jar full.”

The surgery was painless, apart from a few stings from the local anaesthetic and  some tugging feeling when the wound was sewn up with stitches, three layers of them.  I remembered the same feeling when I’d had my epidural caesarean all those years ago. The difference being then that I was coming out of the procedure with a lovely baby, not a question mark.

This time I didn’t faint – can you believe I came over all queasy the last time when I had the biopsy taken – since then I had practiced deep breathing techniques, and in my handbag I had stashed coca cola and a mars bar (big treats in this girl’s life) to raise my blood sugar levels before I attempted getting off the bed. I’d also told my active writerly imagination not to be such an inexcusable wimp over a relatively small procedure.

But as my sister in law pointed out the other day, “Any procedure is a minor one, as long as it’s happening to someone else.”

Afterwards it was sore, and sleeping was uncomfortable for a few nights, but the knowledge that I had had a brush with cancer was more painful than the wound itself, because now I could be at risk of further melanomas, and instead of a yearly visit to the Skin Cancer Clinic it will need to be every three months. At least for the next year or two.

It could be worse, and that is why I’m writing this down. Melanomas are an invidious form of cancer and can if left to their own devices spread to other parts of your body reasonably quickly. They are the most dangerous form of skin cancer, and you shouldn’t take them lightly or wait to get them seen to … you know what it’s like … you think, well it doesn’t hurt, so I’ll wait a month or maybe get it checked next year.

I am one of the world’s biggest wimps when it comes to blood and needles, but I can only thank my Doctor for spotting this one early and making sure I went in to have it removed.

We are lucky to live in a beautiful part of the world, but there are always downsides to Paradise and Western Australia purportedly has the second highest incidence of skin cancer in Australia.

So if you only do one thing today, and you haven’t done so recently, why not book an appointment for a skin check?

You might also visit Melanoma WA, a great site promoting more awareness about skin and sun safety, and offering support for anyone affected by melanoma, run by Clinton Heal (2011 WA Young Australian of the Year).

I’m also linking to other great travel stories on Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Travellers Sandbox today because regular skin checks are important for any one who travels to hot climes.

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  1. What a big scare. My mouth went dry just reading about it. Were you at the doctors to get your skin checked or did he just notice it? I have had mine checked in the last year. Thank God he found it!

  2. Hi Jan, yes I went for a routine skin check. I’ve actually kept them up over the years because our kids have been brought up in sunny countries. I always thought it was a bit of a waste of time and money for me … but hey ho! So glad you get yours checked regularly too. So many people don’t.

  3. And now I must confess… I have never had a skin check… and I’m off to go and write a note to myself. I didn’t live int he sun until my mid-20’s but you never know.

    Thank goodness that you do go and that you have a great doctor. Well done you for looking after yourself and also for sharing your story.

  4. Thanks Seanna, and yes, I do think it’s important. I also didn’t live in hot climes till my twenties.

  5. Glad is all good with you, has reminded me that it is about time I had another check up xxx

  6. Hi Joanna,
    You were lucky it was caught just in time. I hope you’re healing well. Thanks for sharing your story and for reminding everyone not to be complacent about our health.

  7. My husband has had a melanoma – caught in time – as it’s been well over 5 or 6 years now. It’s amazing how the priorities change in your life when a health crisis comes up.
    Hope it all turns out well. My husband has such a small scar you’d never know a big chunk was taken out. Good luck.

  8. Thank you Marisol, and your pics of Manila Bay at sunset are so lovely.

  9. Lee wallis

    What a worry for you Jo, luckily the prognosis is excellent if caught early. We had our own scare with melanoma when our then 19 year old son was diagnosed with meatastatic melanoma 6 years ago. He is doing well now but like you has to be vigilant to any changes in his body and yearly checks with a dermatologist. There is an amazing amount of research being undertaken around the world into treatments and therapies for melanoma which we all take comfort in. Take care x Lee

  10. Thanks Lee, and I’m sorry to hear about your son, but so glad that he’s doing well now. Yes, the research and treatments have come so far. Thanks for your kind thoughts x

  11. Oh Jo I am so sorry to hear about your scare, and I pray and hope that all is good, and you will come through it all with just that – a scare. A dear friends sister didn’t come through it so well. Your post is a timely reminder for all of us. Me? I have never had a skin check. Looks like you have given me a kick to book in for one, sooner rather than later. Thanks Jo. Take care, and I hope you have had a great time with your UK rellies xxx

  12. I’m so relieved that we’re hearing good news Jo. It’s certainly something we can’t be complacent about at any age. A friend of ours lost her son to melanoma at age 27 and she went on to set up the Scott Kirkbride Foundation which has raised a lot of money for research into this insidious disease. It certainly reminds us all to be vigilant with our health checks.

  13. That’s very very sad, Jenny. Yes, I was lucky to catch it early. Thanks for your kind thoughts too.

  14. Thank you for sharing this story with us, Jo. It certainly is a good reminder for a good health check. So glad you’re doing well. It really does put many things into perspective with health scares like this. Good luck!

  15. Tracey | Chronic Adventures

    Hi Jo, So glad to hear you caught it early. I believe Queensland has high figures too. I’m always passing people in the street with a white dressing patch somewhere on their body and I always wonder about it. I cover up and wear sunscreen but I know I’m at risk just walking to the shops.

  16. Hi Tracey, yes I believe QLD has very big figures, so it’s good to hear that you cover up and wear sunscreen. I’ve just bought not one but 3 different hats today for same reason!

  17. I’m so glad you caught it in time Jo. Early intervention is so vital. One of my sister’s best friend lost her husband last week to melanoma. So young and you are right it is vicious.

    I don’t get my skin checked nearly enough as I should– olive skin sometimes makes me feel “safe”

    I’m going to the doctor;s this week for a few other things so have just added skin check to the list. Thank you for raising the awareness.

  18. Thanks for popping by Caz, and I’m glad that maybe the post has prompted you to have regular skin checks. I honestly thought it would never happen to me, but I am so glad that my Doctor spotted it early. That’s very sad about your sister’s best friend’s husband …

  19. Words of wisdom from someone who knows. I’m glad that you seem to be in good hands with your doctor and that your melanoma was caught early. I do get regular skin checks since I’ve had a few basal cells which were fairly easy to take care of. thanks for sharing an important message.

  20. Jenny Buzer

    Terry had 2 melanomas removed about 18 and 20 ? years ago. He still has regular checks and last year had photodynamic therapy on his face (painful! but effective). You can never be too vigilant. Keep out of the sun, cover up, keep checking – and keep positive!

  21. Thanks Jenny! And glad to hear that Terry is keeping well. Your tips are sound and I’ll be promoting the same 🙂

  22. Johnna, I missed this story when I read your post about blog’s yesterday. Wierd we both have stitched in our backs. My mole was atypical, so they removed more skin. My doctor watches me more carefully because I had melanoma in-situ on the back of my leg last year. When I found out I had melanoma I cancelled some activities I wasn’t enjoying. Cancer helped me focus on what was important. Thank you for reading some of my stories on by blog. 🙂

  23. Hi Pamela, thank you for coming back to read more. I know it seems a small world when we both have stitches on our back at the same time and we are continents apart geographically. I was exactly like you. Having a brush with melanoma stopped me in my tracks and made me reconsider lots of things about life. Yes, me too, three monthly skin checks for a while now. I hope you go well, and that we keep in touch.

  24. Wow, Jo! What a nightmare. I’m so glad it was caught quickly. Melanoma is sneaky. It can mutate and spread so quickly, it’s scary. I wish I was there to give you a big bear hug. *sending it across cyberspace instead.
    Take care, you xxx

  25. Aww, thanks for your concern Linda, I feel hugged 🙂 I’m all stitched up and healing, just on much more rigid mole patrol now 🙂

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