Caught in time, but nonetheless, melanoma.

Author, Michigan State University alumnus and MSU Gran Fondo participant David L. Stanley shares excerpts from his memoir “Melanoma, It Started with a Freckle.”

Stanley Book CoverExcerpt from Chapter Two

My phone rang late Thursday afternoon.

“Dave? Walt Barkey here. I have your results back. No surprise, you have skin cancer. More specifically, you have melanoma. You might know that melanoma is potentially, hear me now, just potentially in your case, the most dangerous kind of skin cancer. But, of all possible melanoma cases, yours is the best. It’s what we call in situ. That means that the tumor is still confined to its original location. In the case of melanoma, that means it hasn’t yet sent out any little runners under your skin. This is a good case scenario. Melanoma can be sneaky. That’s how melanoma in situ spreads.”

“So it’s encysted?” I asked.

Some micro-organisms can grow cysts, a hard shell-like casing, around themselves when conditions get tough. It’s a great evolutionary trick to survive highly dangerous environments. I’m a high school science teacher by profession but by degree, I’m a zoologist with a histochemistry minor thrown in the mix. I understand the science of this. My father is a physician. My wife is a nurse. I worked as an emergency room orderly as an undergrad. I know the words, and I know what they mean.

“Not exactly, but you’re close.” he said, laughing. “You speak the language. Okay.”

“Your tumor is in situ. In situ means ‘in site’ or ‘in location.’ That’s how early we caught it. It hasn’t started to spread and that’s perfect. So, while it’s not enclosed, it is all in one piece. Kind of like a chocolate chip that hasn’t started to melt. Now, the other type of melanoma, invasive melanoma, it spreads by sending out escape pods. Hard to keep track of. But yours is not invasive, yours is in situ.

“You do need to have it removed as soon as possible, but if there is a best way to have melanoma, in situ is the best way. I don’t do these cases. I’ll have my staff call Dr. Alghanem, he’s my usual guy for cases like this, if that’s okay. He’s a plastic surgeon and he does a lot of skin cancer work. Unless you have someone else you’d like to use?”

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.

Stay tuned for more excerpts. David L. Stanley, B.S., M.A., is a Michigan-based writer, voice-over actor and audiobook narrator. He writes regularly for DadsRoundtable.com on cancer living and care. Stanley’s freelance work has appeared in Bridge.com, JTA, Peloton, ROAD, Stand, and Velo magazines. Follow him on Twitter @dstan58. 

A mole, a freckle or a sunspot?

Cindy-6Cindy Partlo is celebrating four years cancer-free at the MSU Gran Fondo this year! She shared her skin cancer story with us and offered a few tips for staying safe in the sun.

I wondered about this odd-looking spot on the side of my nose. Was it a freckle? Maybe it’s a sunspot. I watched it grow larger in diameter over a 10-year period, gradually getting darker and odd colored. Several times I was advised to have it checked out. During that period of time, I saw two different dermatologists that told me it was a sunspot with a freckle in it and not to be concerned. In the spring of 2013, I went to Renee Martin, OD, to have my eyes checked. She immediately noticed the spot and was very concerned. She was insistent that I make an appointment to be seen by her dermatologist, Daniel Dapprich, MD, at Dermatology Associates of West Michigan in Grand Rapids. I was reluctant to do so because I had already seen two dermatologists that both said the same thing. I thought about it for a few weeks and decided that the spot had changed enough to warrant another visit.

When Dr. Dapprich introduced himself, he looked right at the spot, and I knew he was concerned. He said that he would like to take a biopsy and have it tested to be sure it wasn’t cancer. I consented to the biopsy, feeling confident that I would have the same diagnosis as before – a sunspot with a freckle in it. About a week later, I was at my office getting ready to go into a meeting when I received the call from Dr. Dapprich’s office staff. It was Melanoma. There was good news though; it was caught early, so early in fact that it wasn’t staged. I was shocked and overwhelmed. I was on the phone for a long time with the office staff. She was explaining the surgical procedure and how important that it was that I get in as soon as possible and keep both appointments. The procedure was called Mohs surgery. The first appointment was to surgically remove the cancer. Once the area was free of cancer cells, then the incision would be closed by a cosmetic eye surgeon, Adam Hassan, MD, of Eye Plastic and Facial Cosmetic Surgery in Grand Rapids.

Additionally, I was told that it was very important from now on to have every doctor check every orifice because Melanoma can reappear anywhere once you’ve been diagnosed. I learned that atypical moles also have a familial link. Therefore, I needed to make sure that my immediate family got a baseline skin cancer mole check and that they advise their physicians of the family link. Ugh! This was so much information to
absorb! I was still trying to get over the initial shock, and my meeting was waiting for me! It was difficult to hold back the tears.

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The surgery was scheduled within two weeks of the diagnoses. The initial surgery was on a Monday, and I went home to rest that same day. I felt confident that the margins would be clear, and I would be stitched up on Friday. Tuesday, I got the call that there were still cancer cells present, which meant another surgery on Wednesday. Again, I was shocked – that was not expected. I was still sore from Monday’s surgery, but the nine shots I received in my face hurt much worse than the second surgery. On Friday, the surgery to close the incision performed by Adam Hassan went very well. He recommended pushing the skin together and stitching rather than a skin graft because the facial skin is difficult to match.

On Sunday, I began to feel terrible. I was running a fever and my face was swelling up. I had a very painful staph infection! I had a minor virus before the surgery that somehow spread to the site. I remember lying in the hospital thinking that I was going to die. I said goodbye to my children. I was given antibiotics and a drain was inserted for the infection. I was sent home to recover.

While recovering at home, I noticed on the morning news that MSU was having a Gran Fondo 80-mile bike ride to raise funds to fight skin cancer. This was it! I could ride my bike and raise funds to fight this terrible disease. Then I realized that the ride was too soon for me to participate in 2013, so I planned to ride and raise funds in 2014. I have ridden the Fondo in 2014, 2015 and am planning to ride in 2017.

Protect your skin!

I made poor choices when I was young. I wanted that golden glow. I was caught several times in the sun too long without sunscreen. I’ve learned there are several easy steps that can be done to protect our skin – the biggest organ comprising our body.

  • Don’t let your skin burn! Teach this to children.
  • Seek shade between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  • Use clothing and broad-brimmed hats to cover up skin and sun blocking sunglasses to protect eyes.
  • Apply 2 tablespoons of broad spectrum UVA/UVB sunscreen to your entire body 30 minutes before exposure with an SPF of 30 or higher and reapply often.
  • Examine your skin head-to-toe every month.
  • Have a baseline skin cancer mole check performed by a qualified dermatologist.

Thanks to the persistence of a dedicated optometrist and two very excellent surgeons, I am celebrating my fourth year cancer-free.

If you’d like to support Cindy in the 2017 MSU Gran Fondo on June 24, visit her participant page,

A monster called melanoma

Author, Michigan State University alumnus and MSU Gran Fondo participant David L. Stanley shares excerpts from his memoir “Melanoma, It Started with a Freckle.”

Stanley Book CoverExcerpt from Chapter One

“This is the face of cancer,” I thought as my virtual image stared back at me from my bathroom mirror. I looked in my eyes. When I gazed at the right side of my face, I could see laugh lines around my blue eyes. My forehead was relaxed. Wrinkly, as befits a fifty year old man, but relaxed. I could watch my breath ruffle my nostrils and fog the mirror as I worked my shaving brush around my nose. The right side of my face looked fine. It was shaved. It was clean. It was… my face.

But the left side; that was not my face. The left side of my face was a patchwork quilt woven by a surgeon’s exquisite touch. I turned my head so I could see my face’s left side and studied the image in the mirror. Terror and disgust stared back at me. I wanted to smash the mirror. I wanted to form a fist and drive it through the looking glass, through the drywall, and out the other side, cuts and broken knuckles be damned.

The left side of that face – that side of my face now belonged to a monster; a monster that would take over its host’s body and quite willingly rot it out from the inside. A monster called melanoma.

Melanoma starts out easily enough. A small clump of your skin’s pigment cells break free from their genetic on/off switches. Much like an anthill, little goes on that can be seen from the surface. Yet, below the skin’s upper boundary, your wayward melanocytes are busy as they tunnel about below the surface. A tumor five millimeters across may harbor dozens of tunnels, each ten times longer than the tumor, as the tumor readies itself to spread throughout your body.

My first glimpse at the face of cancer barely rattled me. A needle stick and a surgical scrape, followed a short time later by another needle stick and a snip of skin, plus two stitches and a band-aid. Easy. Painless. Done.

My second glimpse at the face of cancer brought the terror of cancer home like a leather-masked man with a chainsaw in a grindhouse movie. This cancer was back and it was angry.

This cancer brought its own set of biopsies. From the first biopsy, there were red and blue tattoo scars. There were forty small, neatly tied sutures, in a square one and one-quarter inches directly in front of my ear.

From the second biopsy, there was another larger square which emanated out from that first square in an odd optical illusion. There were sixty more stitches, still small and neatly tied, marking the territory like a firebreak. More tattoo dye, still alternating red and blue, underlay the needlework.

The third biopsy drew another line further out around the original lesion. This limit was nearly as long as any two of the other tattooed lines combined.

Stanley race at Waterford

In his early years, Stanley frequently raced. He’s shown above (#279) at the Waterford Sports Car Course in 1988. He’ll be riding the MSU Gran Fondo on June 24 in Grand Rapids.

I was unable to shave around the operative site. Grizzled hair sprouted at odd angles in, around, and over the nested squares. That face resembled a farmer’s cutover corn field in October; the remnants of cut down corn stalks, nibbled and shredded by deer and raccoon, bewhiskered and dead brown.

That face. That face was not my own. That face belonged to melanoma and I was driven to reclaim it as my own.

My melanoma started with a freckle. I had a freckle on the left side of my face. I couldn’t see it. My wife, my lovely Cath, R.N., B.S.N, M.S.N. noticed it one September evening in 2005.

“You got a weird thing on your face,” she said.

Stay tuned for more excerpts. David L. Stanley, B.S., M.A., is a Michigan-based writer, voice-over actor and audiobook narrator. He writes regularly for DadsRoundtable.com on cancer living and care. Stanley’s freelance work has appeared in Bridge.com, JTA, Peloton, ROAD, Stand, and Velo magazines. Follow him on Twitter @dstan58.