Special Assignment: Skin Cancer

News 12 First at Five, August 16, 2007

AUGUSTA, Ga.---Not too long ago, my brother-in-law noticed a mole on my back that didn't sit too well with him. He works for a dermatologist, so he removed it.

I didn't think too much about it, until I learned a former News 12 anchor, about my same age, died from melanoma.

I started calling my friends and family, begging them to get checked.

Then, I thought about all of you.

Usually I'm a reporter or a patient. Never have I been both at the same time. I invited News 12 cameras into my first appointment at the Medical College of Georgia.

Dr. Francis Florentino immediately noticed that I have a ton of moles. I've always called them my polka dots. These polka dots actually put me at a higher risk for skin cancer.

Combine that with my fair skin and naturally blond hair, and you've got a powerful combination.

I even took it one step further as a teenager, laying out in the sun covered in baby oil. Dr. Florentino calls that "the smoking of our generation" because no one really knew how bad that was for our skin.

Even with my risk factors, I figured Dr. Florentino would check the mole I already knew was bad, and I'd be on my way.

Then came the surprise.

My one bad mole suddenly became six, and all of them had to go. A pathologist would then check the biopsies for cancer.

Cancer.

That was hard for me to swallow, but chances are, I'm okay. I might have a second chance here.

Others aren't so lucky.

I never got the chance to meet Cindy Pleasants, but from what other people tell me, her last name describes her perfectly. She was full of life, working here at News 12 as the Midday anchor.

She always had a smile on her face, and that didn't change when she was diagnosed with melanoma.

Everyone who worked with her says she was a fighter, but in 1992, she lost her battle. She was just 30 years old.

If doctors had been able to catch it early, she might still be with us today.

Cindy's story is fresh in my mind as I go in for my procedure. The whole thing takes about an hour and half. It's uncomfortable but not painful.

First, the doctors attack my back. After some numbing, they scrape off 3 of my polka dots.

The two on my front are a little different. They are cut out. In the end, I had 13 stitches.

I had to wait two weeks to find out the news. I don't have melanoma, just some places that could turn into it. I'll have to watch my skin, and so will my doctors at MCG.

Now, it's your turn.

Make that appointment.

Have a doctor look at your skin, especially if you wear lots of polka dots, like I do.

It's actually not over for me. I have to get some more cut out of my back...but what's a few stitches to stay cancer-free? I wanted to share my story with you because you can prevent and even cure this type of cancer. But you have to catch it early...and I hope all of you will give yourself that chance.

Here's a tip when you check yourself. The most common place for melanoma on men is the back. For women, it's the back of the calf. That's why you should never just look, say, on your chest or shoulders.

Also, take the time to memorize your moles. If they change, that's a bad sign. If you notice new ones, you need to call your doctor.


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