When 43-year-old Capital Bank Vice President Michele White first noticed an unusual growth on her upper lip, she thought it was just acne or a minor irritation from being out in the sun. A few weeks passed and it didn’t go away, so she visited her dermatologist to get it checked. After an initial appointment and biopsy, White was diagnosed with a rare, aggressive form of squamous cell carcinoma skin cancer.
“From the time I first made an appointment to the time I got my results, the growth more than doubled in size,” says White. “I was told I need surgery as soon as possible and was rushing to find a surgeon to help.”
White underwent two surgical procedures to remove the tumor, but it rapidly re-grew and her doctors worried that it may be spreading to the tiny nerves in the skin and her lymph nodes. She had two options: radiation therapy or radical removal of the entire upper lip and lymph glands.
The attending dermatologist and surgeon were very astute in making quick, clear judgments to get her treated quickly and she was promptly seen at 21st Century Oncology in Key West. To avoid an additional surgery, a treatment plan was organized that included radiation therapy using a highly targeted treatment called Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy, along with chemotherapy.
White’s Radiation Oncologist, Anesa Ahamad, M.D., noted, “This cancer was particularly aggressive. We collaborated with a team of specialists that included her dermatologist, plastic surgeons, head and neck surgeons and a medical oncologist. Because of the rarity of the cancer, we sent her for second a opinion at a large academic center and that team agreed with the plan created by her doctors in Key West.”
According to Dr. Ahamad, the treatment course was very aggressive, with side effects on par with a bone marrow transplant. “Michele was exceptionally brave,” says Dr. Ahamad. “She followed every step in detail and adapted to the unpleasant changes. She had impressive support of her inner circle and made it through therapy and recovery with great dignity.”
“Dr. Ahamad was wonderful and spent a lot of time with me,” White says. “She told me everything she could and even recommended I get a second opinion. It all sounded pretty scary, but the entire staff was very helpful, supportive and kind.”
Now, well over a year has passed and White is all clear.
“A lot has changed since then, and my outlook on life has changed,” White says. “I’ve always been a positive person, but I realized that I don’t know what tomorrow can bring. I try to make the most of every day, every opportunity and everything I do.”
White is sharing her story in hopes of spreading the message of prevention and early detection for skin cancer.
“It is very important to protect yourself,” she says. “Skin cancer is a real thing. It’s easy for people to not think about sunscreen, especially so for those who live in Florida and are used to the outdoor lifestyle. Now, I encourage my friends to put on sunscreen, and take care of their skin because you never know if it could happen to you.”
For more information about 21st Century Oncology services, visit www.21cOncologyKeyWest.com or call 305-296-0021.