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Success Story

Skin cancer - my wakeup call.

Each month the College of Southern Idaho (CSI) in Twin Falls recognizes and promotes a health and wellness theme through our Employee Wellbeing Program. Themes vary based on the wellness wheel: spiritual, emotional, intellectual, physical, social, environmental and financial. Additionally, some months are dedicated to larger health issues like breast cancer awareness, heart health, diabetes, and the like. We have seasonal events like skin cancer screenings in April and No Fry Day the weekend of Memorial Day. And…and that’s how I discovered my basil cell carcinoma and got my wake-up call.

I had noticed a brown spot on my shoulder that had hardened over time. It just wouldn’t go away. I honestly didn’t think much about it. I have lots of freckles and moles from my youth on the farm. We were always outside as kids and I started driving truck and tractor for my dad at age 12. I would wear long pants in the fields but was fond of tank tops in the heat. We never thought to use sun screen. That’s when the damage started.

Back to the Employee Wellbeing of CSI’s past board members is a dermatologist who has volunteered his time each spring for an employee skin screening check. It’s one event that also draws the men. We have lots of grounds crew, softball coaches, and summer farmers who come by for a face, neck, and ear check. I recall Dr. Scholes telling me that one of the worst things to happen with skin cancer is the change over time from hats with full brims to baseball caps.

I have helped Dr. Scholes with the employee skin screening event for years in my role as Coordinator of the Employee Wellbeing Program. Which is, frankly, the laughable part of my story because I have seen the fliers and pictures of skin cancers time and again but didn’t recognize my own spot of cancer.

When the doctor showed me the picture of the basil cell carcinoma in his flier I could see that it clearly matched the spot on my shoulder. He recommended I come to his office for a biopsy. That involves cutting away the spot plus tissue below and around it to capture all the cells in one sweep. That way if the biopsy proves positive they can also tell if the edges of the skin and tissue removed are clean and free from cancer. Then the cut is stitched and covered while it heals. My test came back positive for carcinoma, but the edges of the tissue were clean.

About the same time this was going on, my family physician announced during my annual exam that she no longer liked how the mole on my chest looked. She had diligently checked on it each year and this year she noticed a difference. Looking at it every day, I never saw the change that she did but another biopsy proved her right. Because of the placement of the mole I was sent to a plastic surgeon for the removal and have hardly a scar today. 

I can’t tell you how grateful I am to all these doctors who were looking after my health and able to recognize signs of cancer that I could not. If you have moles or irregular freckles or other spots that have odd shapes, coloring, or feel hard to the touch, I recommend you see your dermatologist or your regular doctor. Health Fairs at work or in your community sometimes offer this service free of charge. It’s good for your health and peace of mind! For more information see the resources on Sun Safety.

Judy Heatwole
Employee Wellbeing Coordinator
College of Southern Idaho
Twin Falls Idaho

Are you a State of Idaho Employee, Retiree, or spouse with a Success Story to share? Email Health Matters.

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