Triple Skin Cancer Diagnoses No Match for This Patient's Infectious Optimism
May 24, 2018
| by Alison Shore
May is Skin Cancer
Awareness Month, a fitting time to prepare for the upcoming sun-soaked summer.
Each year in the United States alone, skin cancer afflicts more than 5.5 million people and is the most common cancer diagnosis. Exposure, be it cumulative or periodic but intense, to the sun’s long, crafty reach causes the majority of skin cancers. Awareness of signs and symptoms of skin cancer and preventive measures goes a long way in minimizing the need for medical intervention or, in extreme cases, death.
The Skinny on Skin Cancer
Skin cancer comprises three main types: basal cell, which occurs in the outermost layer of the skin, manifesting as pink growths or open sores; squamous cell, which has displayed a staggering 200 percent increase in incidence in the last 30 years, occurring mostly on sun-exposed areas such as the head, neck and hands, and presenting as scaly red patches or open sores; and melanoma, the least common but deadliest, often appearing in the form of an abnormal-looking mole. As with any cancer, early detection is key in successfully combating skin cancer. Prevention is paramount, too.
Just ask Dori Neuman, whose cheerful disposition belies the fear — and frustration — she felt when receiving not one, but two, skin cancer diagnoses in 1998. Both cancers were caught early, thanks largely, said Neuman, to Maureen Reagan, daughter of the late President Ronald Reagan. Reagan, who died of metastatic melanoma in 2001, appeared on a television talk show in the late 1990s imploring people to undergo regular skin checks. Neuman, concerned about a rash on her chest, listened and acted, scheduling an appointment with her dermatologist. “I still want people to know that Maureen Reagan made a difference in my life,” said Neuman.
A Second Opinion
The rash was nothing, but a pimple near her eye looked suspicious, said the dermatologist. A biopsy confirmed basal cell cancer. Neuman sought the advice of Frederic Grannis, M.D., a now-retired clinical professor of thoracic surgery at City of Hope, but at that time Neuman’s physician for an unrelated respiratory ailment. Grannis directed her to a plastic surgeon because the cancer was deep and required skilled surgery.
Neuman believes a simple but above-and-beyond suggestion by the plastic surgeon may have saved her life. “When he was removing the stitches from my face, he asked me whether the dermatologist had performed a complete body check for skin cancer,” recalled Neuman. She replied no, so the plastic surgeon did it himself, finding a spot on the upper right side of her back that turned out to be malignant melanoma.
Following the advice of both the plastic surgeon and Grannis, Neuman immediately scheduled surgery with David Chu, M.D., a retired surgeon who specialized in melanoma at City of Hope. This quick action led to a straightforward resection of the melanoma.
“The melanoma was early stage,” said Neuman, “with no lymph node involvement. I was going to survive!”
Neuman’s youthful sun indiscretions undoubtedly contributed to her cancers, she admits.
“People used to ask me where I got my tan, given that I grew up in New York City,” said Neuman. “I told them I went to tar beach,” she said jokingly, referring to the rooftop where she and friends would socialize and work on their tans. She sunned from an early age, and remembers having several severe sunburns — a risk factor for developing skin cancer later in life — at summer camp. She is also fair skinned, another risk factor.
In the 20 years since those health scares, Neuman has gone to City of Hope annually for a full-body check-up, one of the services (others include biopsies and dedicated treatment rooms) provided by the hospital’s Skin Cancer and Pigmented Lesion Screening Clinic
Most recently, she began consulting with Farah Abdulla, M.D.
, who joined City of Hope in 2017 as a dermatologist in the Department of Surgery within the Division of Dermatology and is integral to the screening clinic’s success. Neuman commends Abdulla’s expertise, as well as that of the other members of her health team at City of Hope.
“Dr. Vijay Trisal
also played a major role in my skin cancer journey,” said Neuman. “And he continues to be there for me today.”
Neuman’s health concerns (which, unbelievably, also included a squamous cell diagnosis four years ago) may continue, but so does her infectious optimism and gratitude for the great care she receives at City of Hope.
As a spokesperson about melanoma at technology forums and meetings of women’s clubs and human resources organizations, Neuman spreads the gospel of healthy skin care.
Her advice? Wear sun-protective clothing, stay out of the sun between the hours of 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., use a sunscreen with 30 SPF (she prefers hers chemical free) and get annual checks — which mirrors the advice of the medical community. She adds this: “There is no such thing as a healthy tan.”
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