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,

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