As it turns out she may have saved a lot more than just money
For over seven and a half years, Deb Wilson has worked at Riverside Regional Medical Center in the area of Medical Transport and as a certified paramedic in the Emergency Department. During that time she has participated in a wide range of medical situations that required quick, calm and decisive action. Those experiences and her professional background served her well recently when the need for fast response was suddenly directed to her.
Deb Wilson recognized the value of saving on her health plan premiums next year. She also understood that the wellness exam that could reduce her healthcare costs also made good sense as part of her personal approach to better health. But for this visit, Deb had something even more specific on her mind.
For a few months she had noticed a mole that seemed to be changing in shape and color. When she arrived at the medical office of Sterling Ransone, MD, her primary care physician and a member of Riverside Medical Group, she showed the mole to the nurse practitioner who initially examined her. The NP immediately took a photo of the mole and said it would be a good idea to carefully document it over a period of time. But Deb had an unsettling feeling that time might not be on her side.
"I already knew there had been some dramatic changes in the way the mole looked from the time I first noticed it. And these changes happened fairly quickly. For that reason I requested that the mole be removed and after that was agreed to, we made plans for a relatively minor procedure."
Deb was scheduled for a punch removal, a method of removing certain sizes and configurations of moles. For this procedure, the physician uses a small, circular instrument with a sharp blade that literally "punches out" the mole in way that is similar to a cookie cutter. It was quickly determined, however, that the mole would have to be cut out with more traditional scalpel excision. After the procedure, the mole and surrounding tissue were sent to a lab for analysis. And shortly after that Deb Wilson felt a sudden and startling shift in her world.
"The lab report came back positive for melanoma. I can't say that was a total surprise but you really can't prepare yourself ahead of time for that kind of news. What I remember feeling first was something like getting hit with a baseball bat. Then I focused on learning as much as I could about skin cancer in general and my diagnosis in particular."
After the diagnosis, Deb was referred to Riverside general surgeon Hall Howard, MD, a member of Riverside Medical Group, who did a re-excision of the area where the biopsy was done to remove the melanoma and create clean margins.
"This second procedure went a lot deeper and required a little recovery time. I'm back to my life with family and work now, and the prognosis is good … but still, it's something that will always be part of me. I'm a lot more cautious now and I communicate to my children the importance of protection from the sun. Our skin is our biggest organ and it's always out there, being exposed to something that is potentially harmful."
"The experience reinforced for me how important it is to pay attention to what's going on with our bodies. In fact, it's helped me move toward a healthier lifestyle in general. I think everyone should take advantage of the wellness exam that's part of their health plan. The money you can save is nice, but in my case it was pretty minor compared to my life. I'm sure I would have had the mole checked out anyway. But I definitely think the wellness exam helped speed up the process – and in this case, speeding things up really made a difference."
The ABCs and the D and E of Melanoma
Melanoma is not as common as other types of skin cancer. However, the rate of melanoma is steadily increasing. The most important warning sign for melanoma is any change in size, shape, or color of a mole or other skin growth, such as a birthmark. Watch for changes that occur over a period of weeks to a month. Use the ABCDE rule to evaluate skin changes, and call your health professional if you have any of the following changes:
- A is for asymmetry. One half of the mole or skin growth doesn't match the other half.
- B is for border irregularity. The edges are ragged, notched, or blurred.
- C is for color. The pigmentation is not uniform. Shades of tan, brown, and black are present. Dashes of red, white, and blue add to the mottled appearance. Changes in color distribution, especially the spread of color from the edge of a mole into the surrounding skin, also are an early sign of melanoma.
- D is for diameter. The mole or skin growth is larger than 6 mm (0.25 in.) or about the size of a pencil eraser. Any growth of a mole should be of concern.
- E is for evolution. There is a change in the size, shape, symptoms (such as itching or tenderness), surface (especially bleeding), or color of a mole.
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