I had this spot on my back. It came and went, for years. It was in a particularly tricky place to see, in the middle of my upper back. But every now and then, I’d become aware of its presence when I’d go to scratch my shoulder and inadvertently jab it with my nail.
That’s the only way I ever knew it was there. And when I was aware of it, it was always scabby.
After a few years, I decided I should get it checked. Easily treatable skin cancers are fairly common in my family, so I figured the best thing I could do was have it checked.
This was before my breast cancer diagnosis.
The tricky part of having this spot checked was that - like I said - it came and went. And doctors can take a while to get into.
Getting it checked
At my dermatologist appointment, I asked the doctor to check the spot, and she recommended having it removed and biopsied. She said it was probably nothing - but it made sense to remove it, just to be sure.
I got home that day and, after reaching over my shoulder to feel where the bandaid was, noticed something odd: the bandage was in a spot much lower than I expected.
She had evaluated and removed the wrong spot.
So, of course, the correct spot had mostly receded again by this time - and would certainly be gone by the time I got back in to see her. Plus, it was still a little visible and she had checked my back, so she must have thought it was fine. Right?
A year or so later, the spot was back again. Since the first appointment didn’t quite go how I had planned (the biopsy she did came back benign, by the way), I decided to go back.
This time, I circled the spot on my back I wanted her to look at.
She didn’t even suggest a biopsy, saying that it didn’t really look like anything. It went away again and I largely forgot about it.
When it came back again
Fast forward a couple of years, to the near-end of my active treatment for breast cancer. I scratched my shoulder. My nail jabbed an area. It was a little scabby for a few days…and then I remembered that this was the recurring spot.
I was just finishing up treatment for breast cancer. I had had this spot looked at twice (kind of)…but it just didn’t feel right. And there was no way in hell I was going to be done with breast cancer, just for someone to tell me in a year that this spot on my back was cancer.
So I made an appointment at another clinic.
My dermatology appointment was the day after my final radiation session. I was upfront that this was a second opinion, that I had been told not to worry about it, and that I was feeling extra-sensitive, after just finishing treatment. But I also said, in no uncertain terms, that I wasn't particularly interested in not being sure about what it was (or wasn't). And, of course, I had circled the spot before going in.
The doctor was understanding and attentive - but also wasn’t very concerned. In fact, he said he’d be comfortable both watching it or removing it.
Since it was in a place that is hard to monitor (because I can’t see it), and because I was (am still) feeling particularly over cancer, I asked him to remove and biopsy it - just to be extra cautious and give my brain a rest.
It came back precancerous.
Of course, it’s important to highlight that it wasn’t cancer at this time. And that, theoretically, I certainly could have watched it (if I could have actually seen it) until it changed, and dealt with it then: precancerous spots can take years (or even decades) to turn into actual cancerous lesions.
But the point of this story is to listen to yourself. To advocate for yourself, even if it’s something small. Even if you need a second (or third, or fourth…wait 'til you hear my plastic surgeon story 😉) opinion. Even if one doctor says it’s fine. Twice. Ask questions. Listen to your intuition. Make sure you are comfortable with the doctor’s recommendation. And if you are not, keep asking questions until you are.