A few years back, I had cancer; specifically stage II melanoma- cancer of the melanocytes. Melanocytes are the pigment cells in the body. Wherever you have pigment, skin and eyes are the most common sites, you can develop melanoma.
It’s a bugger to treat. No radiation or chemotherapies are available; surgery only. Today, only a few immunotherapies are available and most are still in clinical trials.
Melanoma is the under-rated killer amongst cancers. One person in the US dies every hour every day from melanoma. Five noticeable sunburns in your lifetime nearly doubles your chances of melanoma. If you are a dad, you know to protect your kids from the sun. But you need to protect yourself with sunscreen and a hat and shades so you can stay alive and intact for your kids. I was the poster child in my youth and twenties for what not to do. Learn from my mistakes.
My book, Melanoma: It Started with a Freckle, was published in spring of 2016 by McGann publishing. In the words of David Binder; this century’s most esteemed photojournalist and the winner of the 2009 Athens Film festival for his film Calling My Children:
David Stanley crafts a remarkable account of his journey with skin cancer. In the opening sentence of the Preface for “Melanoma: It Started with a Freckle,” Stanley sets a direct tone saying, “Everyone has a cancer story.” Too many people do have cancer stories. Few writers craft the telling so well.
Without sentimentality and with wit, David’s personal lens allows us to focus on the experience from the inside. For those of us with family members who have been affected by skin cancer, and for everyone who has yet to be affected, this is the book you want to read. And even a mention of Zingerman’s as food heaven, his regular stop for post treatment meals, proves that Stanley knows what’s important to say.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll post excerpts. Here’s a bit from the second chapter.
From Chapter Two…
Four days later, on Monday afternoon, I found myself sitting in Dr. Abd Alghanem’s office; draped, numb, and nervous. That I had assurances about my case from a doctor I trusted didn’t help. That the surgeon was well thought of by both my doctor and several of my doctor-friends didn’t help. That this was an outpatient procedure didn’t help. That I’d be heading straight to practice with the Holly High School soccer team I also coach after the procedure didn’t help.
I had cancer. Not just your everyday basal cell carcinoma; the skin cancer of lifeguards and lawn-mowing guys. Basal cell is so common that if you are a white guy who lives to 65, the odds are 1 in 6 that you’ll develop a basal cell skin cancer. If you are white male who golfs regularly, the odds drop to 1 in 3. Three million people per year in the USA are diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma. It can disfigure, but it rarely kills.
No, I had melanoma. The cancer that took down Bob Marley. And TV producer icon Stephen Cannell of the Rockford Files. And Bruce Springsteen’s keyboard player Danny Federici. President Reagan’s daughter Maureen died of melanoma at age 62. In my case, caught in time, easy enough to manage, but nonetheless, melanoma.
My surgery was no more draining than the biopsy. I lay on my side. Dr. Alghanem chatted in my ear about our school age boys on the soccer field. His melon baller was bigger than Barkey’s. The doctor wore magnifying glasses over his regular glasses. The incision was ¾ of an inch long. He showed me his work in a mirror. He was calm. I could hear his deep, regular breathing. As I managed my low-grade anxiety, I counted my breaths.
One, two, three, four. One, two, three, four. I could hear my heartbeat in my right ear, the ear pressed against the seat cushion of Alghanem’s exam room chair.
“Just a normal day at the office,” I told myself.
Now You Know:
Most sunscreens require from 15-30 minutes before they reach peak protection. Apply them before you head out into the sunshine.