IN THEIR WORDS

Neil Feldman

Melanoma At 47

It was three days after the 2018 Boston Marathon, and my wife and I were driving to New York City for a vacation.

We were somewhere along the Merritt Parkway, talking about our son who was going through a few health concerns. I must have looked left at just the right time, because my wife made a comment that I should get “that” looked at. “That” being a spot on the back of my right earlobe.

I’m covered with freckles and moles, and used to keeping an eye on spots, but never looked at the back of my earlobes. I said “I should and will” get the new spot checked out, and that was that.

We had a great time in New York, and on Monday I was back at work. I rarely get lunch breaks as I’m often running behind in late morning, but that day I happened to be done with my morning patients around 12:15 p.m.

For whatever reason, the thought of having my ear checked popped into my head for the first time since the previous Thursday. I texted the plastic surgeon in my building (who is also a friend) and asked if he could take a look.

He happened to also be on his lunch break at the office, and was able to see me. He looked at the spot on my ear, thought it was a basal cell carcinoma and recommended just taking it out right then and there. Done! Or so I thought…

The next day, I got a call from the doctor. The pathology results from the spot revealed a 1.9-mm-deep malignant melanoma. The doctor mentioned things like “margins,” sentinel node biopsy, depth being a little more than he would have liked, and probably some other things, but I was pretty much numb at this point.

After I had some time to process, I told my wife what I just found out. Though she was immediately shocked, I’m sure it didn’t sound as bad or dangerous as cancers of other organs, and I’m not sure she realized how deadly skin cancer is. I did. It hit me like an anvil, making me dazed and questioning my own lifespan.

Over the next few weeks I had multiple tests to check for cancer cells still in the area. Thankfully, everything came back normal. A 2 cm wedge was taken from my ear to limit the chance of local recurrence.

Three weeks later, the ear no longer hurt unless touched, though I’m still somewhat frightened of people hugging me. The last part of every hug is your head pressing against someone else’s head, and that still hurts!

I will have the scars of a different ear for the rest of my life. I will be numb in part of my ear and chest forever as well. I will need to have my skin checked often, and be more than diligent with sunscreen, but there is no chance of me giving up running or being outdoors.

I’ve learned a few things from this experience. First, when your wife tells you to do something, LISTEN!!! Actually, this story turned out amazingly well due to a number of factors:

  1. My wife and I had some undistracted time together.
  2. As I was driving I looked away at the right time so my wife could see behind my ear lobe AND she said something about the spot, which also, thankfully, was on my right ear!
  3. The thought of texting the doctor just popped into my head. I happened to text him, and he happened to be free, so I happened to act on it immediately!

If I had waited, then God knows how this would have turned out. I probably still wouldn’t have known the spot was there, or perhaps it would have been too late. At 1.9 mm, if the cancer wasn’t caught when it was, the prognosis AND the margins removed from the area surrounding the lesion would have been much worse.

I’ve never been a guy who plays the “what if” game, or likes to dwell or obsess about hypotheticals, but I’m just so thankful that I was able to detect it early.

Obviously you have to be proactive and self-check moles, freckles, bumps, et cetera, so I will start having my wife look at the areas I can’t see, or use a mirror to do a thorough self-exam. If something doesn’t seem right, or if a friend, stranger or loved one tells you to get something checked out, then DO IT! If you get a random thought to follow through on checking about a health change, that’s karma talking, and you don’t mess with karma.

"I've never been a guy who plays the 'what if' game, or likes to dwell or obsess about hypotheticals, but I'm just so thankful that I was able to detect it early."

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