by Maria Koropecky, Homespunspa owner
Today I’m going to talk about a serious subject: moles.
When do mole(hills) become mountains? The topic of moles and their potential of being cancerous came up in our lessons on a weekly basis at esthetics school. Moles are on the esthetician’s checklist when analysing people’s skin and if we see something fishy (like in the photos on the right-most side in the graphic below), we send our customers to their doctor.
As for me, because I’m fair-haired and fair-skinned, I’ve been aware of my own moles since childhood. I have one mole on my right upper-cheek and apparently, according to those who study the locations of moles on the body and how they relate to your personality — yes there are people who do that :> — my mole means I’m sensitive. But I digress.
Anyway, when I was in grades 5 and 6, my family lived in beautiful Hawaii. In the month of February, after we had been living there for over a year, a family came to visit us from Toronto. We went to a water park and spent the day splashing in the pools and waterfalls and zipping down the water slides. In those days, (circa 1980) wearing sunscreen was not considered essential — in fact, some people often bathed in baby oil and used mirrors to reflect the sun toward their skin for a “better” tan — cringe! :<.
I don’t recall anyone insisting that I wear any kind of sun protection on that particular day; I do remember saying something like, “I don’t need sunblock, I’ve lived here long enough, I’m used to the sun.” I don’t think the adults should have listened to my 10-year-old logic, but what can ya do, the damage was done and I got severely burned. And the burn was so bad, I developed oozing blisters. I remember going to Bellows beach the next day and thankfully I wore a t-shirt but the red-striped t-shirt I chose was the smallest shirt I owned and it scratched against my skin as I played with my boogie board in the surf. The things you remember…
Now as an adult, my skin on my shoulders, back and decolleté (another fancy word I learned in school which refers to the area below the neck and above the breasts) is not pretty. There’s a lot of hyperpigmentation and the skin tone is uneven.
They say if you had a severe sunburn as a child, like I did, your chances of contracting skin cancer increases tremendously and that is why I am vigilant when it comes to the moles on my body. So, when I noticed a change in a mole on my upper thigh last November, I didn’t hesitate to show my doctor.
It was the strangest thing. The mole had been on the back of my leg for years but when I happened to see it one day as I was getting in the shower out of the corner of my eye, I was taken aback. It was this weird grayish colour. I didn’t look at it for more than a second because I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I just knew I didn’t like it.
Within a couple of weeks, I showed my doctor who couldn’t make heads or tails of it and he said to make an appointment for a biopsy early in the new year, after he comes back from Christmas vacation.
A few weeks later, my doctor removed the mole. He said it looked irritated and asked if I had been scratching it. “Maybe in my sleep,” I said.
Having the mole removed wasn’t so bad. As my doctor was cutting, he mentioned I wasn’t much of a bleeder and that comment reminded me of the British show, Doc Martin. So we chatted about this country doctor who gets nauseous every time he sees blood and before I knew it, he stitched me up and I went home.
I figured the results from the biopsy wouldn’t come back for a few weeks and aside from dealing with the stitches, I didn’t think much about my mole. Then my mother asked me if I had heard anything about my results and then she brought up the time when I got that severe sun burn. I was surprised she zeroed in on that day in Hawaii because she never mentioned her feelings about it before and I learned she has always been concerned about that burn, too. And then later on that very day, there was a message on my voice mail from my doctor’s office saying, “the results came back and the mole was benign and everything is normal.”
Whew. What a relief.
Regardless of the outcome, I’m glad I went to the trouble of having my mole checked out. It’s always better to face these things head on and not ignore them.
Do you have a similar story about a mole? Please leave a comment and tell us about it.
In the meantime, keep the textbook graphic below in the back of your mind when you come across a mole on your body. It outlines the ABCDE’s of moles and melanoma detection. Don’t let your mole become a mountain and the earlier you spot it, the better.
- A is for Asymmetrical shape: A common benign mole is round and symmetrical but if you were to draw a line through the middle of a melanomic mole, the two sides would not match or mirror each other.
- B is for irregular Border: A common harmless mole has smooth, even borders while melanomas are frequently irregular in shape and have scalloped or notched edges.
- C is for Changes in Colour: Common moles are generally a uniform shade of brown. Melanomas, on the other hand, come in a variety of shades of brown and black and some are even red, white or blue.
- D is for Diameter: The size of the mole can be significant when it comes to cancer. Melanomas are usually greater than 6 millimetres (or 1/4 of an inch) (or the size of a pencil eraser).
- E is for Evolving: Notice if there are any changes in the mole. When the mole changes in size, shape or colour, or begins to bleed or scab, these are unhealthy signs.