My Skin Cancer Diagnosis Story
Schweiger Dermatology’s Jarrett Kaczmarski PA-C talks about his brush with skin cancer and how it was the catalyst behind his career in dermatology.
The impetus behind my ultimate transition as a Physician Assistant into the field of dermatology was in part, inspired by my experiences years ago when I was diagnosed with a precancerous mole.
The visit leading up to my diagnosis began very innocently. I had made an appointment with a dermatologist for a mole on my lower back that I had had for many years. Over the years, because of its location, it would easily become sore and irritated from activities and clothing. I finally had enough and wanted it removed.
During the examination of the mole in question on my lower back my dermatologist observed a spot on my back that caught her attention. I hadn’t noticed it, not only because of its location but because I felt no pain, itching, bleeding or discomfort. Because of the visible irregularities with the spot my dermatologist recommended I have an excisional biopsy. I agreed and after a few short minutes the procedure had been performed. Aside from a minor pin prick from the anesthetic and a few sutures, the procedure was quick and painless. There was minimal downtime and I was able to continue with my usual daily activities.
Two weeks later, I followed up with my dermatologist to discuss the results of the skin biopsy and have my stitches removed. It had been the longest two weeks of my life. For the first time in my life I was the patient and on the other end of the exchange. It was not something PA school ever prepared me for.
When the dermatologist walked into the room and explained the diagnosis–a precancerous mole with highly atypical features–I was relieved to not hear the words melanoma. But I was not totally out of the woods. We talked at length about the implications of my diagnosis. Turns out I was at an increased risk for more abnormal moles and skin cancers as well. My family history did not include any close relatives with skin cancer, but I did spend a lot of my teen years and early twenties in tanning booths, soaking up the sun on the beach unprotected from it harmful effects. My love affair with tanning booths, and lack of protection from the sun ended that day. The diagnosis was my wake up call for change.
Although I have little effect over the genetic cards I was dealt at birth which are factors that increase my risk for skin cancers (light skin complexion, blue eyes and blond hair) there are things I can do to protect myself from one of biggest risks, unprotected sun exposure and use of tanning beds.
Since then, I never again stepped into a tanning booth and I am very diligent about wearing sunscreen (30 SPF with a physical blocker such as Titanium or Zinc), applying and reapplying from head to toe when I am out in the summer sun or to exposed areas regardless of whether it is summer or winter. Every month I perform a skin examination looking for any changes in existing moles such as change in size, shape, color, or new onset elevation. In addition, I see my dermatologist routinely every year for a full body skin cancer screening examination (which takes only a few minutes to complete) because I know that when skin cancers are detected early on the chance for a complete cure is highly probable. Since my last full body skin examination several months ago I have been fortunate. My skin has been clear and I have not had any further issues with any moles.
As a dermatology physician assistant, I have used my personal experiences and brush with pre-cancer to motivate and empower my patients both young and old to employ simple and easy to follow healthy skin care practices, sun protection and yearly skin cancer screening examinations.
During Skin Cancer Awareness Month this May, Schweiger Dermatology is offering free skin cancer screenings around the New York metro area.