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