You wouldn’t think something as the size of a pencil eraser could turn your world upside down, but for Rachael Fluhart, that’s exactly what happened.
Fluhart attended a Riverside skin cancer screening in October of last year. She was referred to a dermatologist after a small spot on her back, about the size of a pencil eraser, began to bother her. The suspicious spot was removed and sent for testing. She was shocked to find out that at 21 years old she had skin cancer. Melanoma.
“After that, things moved very quickly,” Fluhart said.
There were additional procedures to remove more tissue, helping to ensure they had gotten all the cancer cells and a biopsy of her lymph nodes. She then received even worse news. The melanoma had spread. She had invasive nodular metastatic melanoma.
So just as Fluhart was graduating from nursing school and taking her nursing exams, she was also dealing with a major health crisis. Her treatment included removing all of the lymph nodes on her left side, and now she’s undergoing targeted immunotherapy at the Riverside Shore Cancer Center.
Fluhart remains upbeat despite all the setbacks caused by that tiny little spot. “Staying positive has been a goal of mine through all of this. I feel like the mental part is half of the battle of a cancer diagnosis.”
The first step in diagnosing skin cancer is a visual examination, and Fluhart encourages everyone on the Shore to have a skin check by their primary care provider or at the free screening held Tuesday, November 13 at the Riverside Shore Cancer Center from 4:30 pm to 7 pm. Appointments are required and can be made by calling 302-2600.
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer according to the American Cancer Society. In fact, each year more people are diagnosed with skin cancer than all other cancers combined. Basal and squamous cell cancers, which are the most common and treatable forms of skin cancer, are typically found on areas most exposed to the sun, like the face and hands. Melanoma, though not as common, is more likely to spread to other areas of the body.
While Fluhart’s melanoma had a genetic cause, by far, most skin cancers are caused by exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays, either from the sun or tanning beds. To decrease exposure to UV rays, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends using a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 for everyday use and an SPF of 50 for outdoor activities. Limiting sun exposure when the rays are strongest, typically between 10 am and 2 pm, also goes a long way at minimizing sun damage.
Other risk factors for skin cancers include: being fair skinned, and having freckles or light hair. Age also plays a role, as most skins cancer occurs in older adults, though that is changing. Melanoma is one of the most common cancers in people under 30.