Skin Cancer Personal Stories: Liz

Liz Cratty

American author and former sun worshipper Liz Cratty lives each day with the fear that her melanoma may have spread to other parts of her body. She knows that if that happens, there's virtually no chance of a cure.

"The median age of a melanoma patient at diagnosis is 57 for men and 50 for women. I was 52. There is no cure for melanoma, save surgery, and even that is only considered a cure when it's malignant melanoma in situ, i.e. self-contained.

According to my oncologist: "We only consider a melanoma patient to be cured of melanoma when they die of something else."

Well. With that attitude, it's no wonder that comparatively little research is being done to uncover a cure for this beast. It is much heroic to be able to cure a young mother of breast cancer. It's much easier to raise money for pink ribbons than black ribbons. And yet. isn't breast cancer curable these days? Melanoma is not. I'm sure any doctor would rather give a patient the good news of curable breast cancer than incurable melanoma. "Nothing more we can do.go home.quality of life.blah blah blah."

My melanoma began as a large freckle on my ankle, the size of a dime, with a small flat black mole on the bottom edge of it. The pair had been there since I was a teen sun worshipper in the Hawaiian Islands , slathering on baby oil to gently sauté my skin to a golden brown in the tropical sun.

Fast forward thirty-some years to a Jazzercise class in Eugene , Oregon . No threat of a tan here. It was the first spring class where I had put away my leggings and worn shorts. At the end of class we were stretching and I had my face down by my ankle for a close view. The freckle was puffed and pink, now the size of a quarter. The flat black mole was raised up tall and at the top of the freckle was a little pink nodule with a vein clearly visible in it. Not to my liking.

The next morning the freckle was as brown and flat as ever but the mole was still tall and the little nodule still there. When I scratched lightly on the freckle, it puffed up pink.

Since research is my middle name and my skin full of moles (I've had over a dozen small squamous cell carcinomas cut or frozen off my chest, face and forearms over the years), I went to the Internet to look at photos of melanoma. Good grief, those photos were ugly! Mine didn't look anything like that. But, I reasoned, could it eventually?


I went to my family doctor who said he was certain it was nothing but he biopsied not only the tall black mole but the little nodule. In doing so, he cut right through the freckle. The mole came back malignant melanoma, Breslow's .9mm, Clark 's level IV. The nodule came back melanoma in situ. No clear margins.

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