Welcome to the skin cancer series! If you follow me on Youtube or Instagram, you’ll have seen my diagnoses and following surgeries to cure my basal cell carcinoma. I’ve gotten tons of questions about my experience with skin cancer, and in this series I’ll take you through the diagnosis, my options to get rid of the cancer, and how I made my decisions. This post is going to be the first part of the series, all about how I was diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma.
My mom was the first to point out the little scab/scar on my forehead in 2015 and ask me how long that had been there. I hadn’t given it much thought, as it started off as a normal little spot that would bleed and then scab over. It had repeated the bleed/scab/bleed/scab cycle a few times, but I hadn’t thought it could be anything bad. I just figured it would need a bit of time to heal (and for me to stop picking at it). She asked me to get it looked at, but I brushed it off because I didn’t think it was anything major, and I didn’t have health insurance.
I had taken Oprah’s sun safety pledge in 2012, and had been sun safe since then, using hats and sunscreen whenever I was outside for long periods of time. Since I’d been safe in the sun, I never thought that skin cancer could happen to me.
I left to go traveling in November 2015, starting in Europe and then continuing on to Central and South America. I usually covered the spot up with makeup, so I don’t have a ton of photos of what it looked like. I did find one photo from Costa Rica with my family where you can see the spot well.
Every time I would see my mom, she would ask me to get the spot looked at and I would tell her it’s fine. After two and a half years of traveling, I came to Australia with Michael to build a home and a life in one place. In August 2018, I signed up for Medicare, and went in for a doctors check just to make sure everything was alright. At the last minute, I added on a skin check to make my mom happy.
During the skin check, doctor asked if I had anything specific that I was concerned about. I pointed out the spot on my forehead and told him that it had consistently grown over the last three years, and that it would just scab and bleed and scab over and bleed again. He had a look at it through his little microscope, then sat down, looked at me, and said “I think you have cancer.”
The doctor was vague and insensitive, and coupled with my little knowledge of skin cancer, I automatically assumed I had melanoma – that’s the only type of skin cancer I had heard of. He asked me to schedule a biopsy, which I did before heading home. As soon as I got home, I googled skin cancer and read horror stories of people who were diagnosed too late, and given only months to live. I thought that was going to be me. I got so angry with myself for not looking into this sooner and listening to my mom the first time.
When I went in for the biopsy, the skin doctor that I saw this time was much more helpful. He gave me some paperwork on basal cell carcinoma, which he was pretty sure was the type of skin cancer I had. I’d never heard of basal cell carcinoma (BCC for short) before, and I was grateful for his help.
The doctor told me a bit about this type of cancer. He told me about how BCC generally stays on the top of the skin and doesn’t go into the bones. It will slowly grow over years, and the only way to cure it is to cut it out completely. He told me that there is a high cure rate, and as long as this hadn’t gone deeper than the skin, it could be cured by a surgery in which it would be cut out.
The doctor also mentioned that once you get BCC, you have a 75% chance of getting it again. He recommended that I start taking vitamin B3 twice a day, which can help prevent future cases of basal cell carcinoma, and staying out of the sun as much as possible.
Needless to say, the biopsy came back testing positive for cancer. The doctor called me in to get my results, and told me I had basal cell carcinoma.
I’d always thought that going into the sun with sunblock was safe. I thought that as long as I wasn’t getting burnt, and I was wearing a high SPF, I’d be safe from cancer. I thought that wearing hats and not being in the sun for too long was healthy. Turns out, BCC is genetic, and being in the sun (even with sunblock) can be dangerous if BCC is in your genes. After I got diagnosed, my mom told me about a case of BCC in our family.
Once the doctor diagnosed me with basal cell carcinoma, we discussed what needs to happen next. He referred me to another doctor, a specialist in this area. I made an appointment with Dr Sjarif as soon as I left the medical centre. Stay tuned for Part 2 of the Skin Cancer Series, where I take you through my experience with Dr Sjarif and the options he gave me to get rid of my cancer.