Skincare as Self-Care: Important Learnings from Getting My Moles Checked and Removed
Life is generally busy. And most of the time it’s a beautiful mess with plot twists popping up here and there, just for fun. There's also a lot of pressure (from yourself and from others) to get things done; to optimize your time. Yet, taking preventative care of your health doesn’t seem to make it to the top of that to-do list. It needs to become urgent before becoming a priority.
Picture a visit to the emergency room because you neglected that cramp in your lower abdomen for the past week and now you can barely walk. Or a last-minute call to your therapist’s office because you kept re-scheduling that appointment and now you’re calling mid-cry on your lunch break.
Trusting that you’ve gotten my point, let’s hold space for self-reflection. Have you been putting off (or continuously canceling) a health-related appointment because there’s usually something more important that just can’t wait? I’ll be over here raising my hand too.
In case you also need the friendly reminder: scheduling, and actually showing up for that medical checkup, is another form of self-care. Even I, who consider myself a borderline hypochondriac, would delay going to the doctor in favor of doing something that according to my current priorities, is more important now. All depending on my perceived level of urgency. But when you think about it through the lens of common sense, what’s more of a priority than taking care of your health, right? (Right.)
The Perceived Level of Urgency
I knew I had a pending skin health checkup; for my moles, that is. And I’ve had it pending for the past 10 years…at least. The last dermatologist who checked my moles was pretty laid-back because none of them presented any warning signs, and since I was in my mid-twenties, she sent me off with a come-back-in-five-to-seven-years note. Thanks to this interaction, my perceived level of urgency for any skin-related checkup, was two on a scale of one to 10.
Fast forward a decade, and I noticed a slightly red-ish spot appearing near my hairline every time I came back from jogging. I blamed it on the sun leaving its mark on me, even with my visor and my exaggerated amount of sunblock protection—think Cam in Modern Family’s lake episode. Looking at myself in the mirror, the thought: “I need to get that checked,” popped up. And like the subtitles in a movie, it quickly moved along.
On top of the recurring red-ish spot, I started feeling a pimple-like mass on my upper ear, close to the skin on my face. That did it. I grabbed my phone and scheduled an appointment with a new dermatologist for the following week.
As life happens, the red-ish spot faded as did the pimple-like mass. And what did I do? I canceled the appointment. To give myself some credit, there’s one medical checkup I religiously book in advance and wouldn’t dare to miss: the one with my ObGyn, which was coming up.
During this visit, my doctor noticed a mole on my left breast. I didn’t freak out because I thought: “I’ve had it since forever.” But his reaction, prompting me to get it checked today made me question my own self-awareness: “Have I really had that mole there for that long?”If my ObGyn told me he’s concerned about this mole, and encouraged me to get it checked ASAP, you can understand how my perceived level of urgency rose from two to nine on the scale of one to 10.
By the time I got to my car, I had rescheduled the appointment with the new dermatologist.
Getting my Moles Checked and Removed
I found Dr. Michele Quelquejeu through an online search (thank you, internet). I checked out Instagram accounts, watched some educational videos on moles and preventative skincare recommendations, and I was sold. Considering this was a healthcare professional I’ve never met before, she seemed approachable and genuine.
I’m glad to report my first impression was correct. I felt in good hands and as comfortable as one can feel lying on a medical chair half-naked while being meticulously examined.She performed the most exhaustive mole checkup I’ve experienced in my life. When she was done, only three moles raised a flag so I scheduled another appointment to get them removed.
Mind you that this was the first time I was getting a mole removed. The doctor explained the basics and I really didn’t have any more questions at that point. And my mind, who has the annoying hobby of crafting obsessive concerns out of thin air, was also at ease. The doctor mentioned that after the procedure it was preferable I didn’t sweat, and she recommended I refrain from strenuous physical activity for at least one week (I wasn’t thrilled about this). She also noted that my sutures would need two whole weeks to heal. “It’s only three tiny moles,” I thought to myself.
The day came and it was time for my procedure. I lay back in the medical chair and after a pinch of local anesthesia, the first mole came out. And so did my first thought: “one week without yoga? Pfft. This is nothing.”
After she was done with the next two moles which were slightly larger and located in my upper back and below my left glute respectively, I thought to myself: “Ok this was not nothing.” Spoiler alert: moles run deep.
When two days had passed and it was time to take off the surgical patch covering my wounds, I got a glance at the sutures on my back. Only then I got it, and said to my husband: “Wow, this is a big deal.” He nodded.
Fortunately, the doctor called me a few days after the procedure to let me know the results came back OK. And since I wasn’t expecting her to call so soon, my mind didn’t even have time to catastrophize. It was beautiful.
What I Learned From This Experience (and What Might Benefit You)
Two weeks later I was back getting my stitches removed, and to avoid focusing my attention on feeling that, I got chatty. So, I took the opportunity to ask the doctor if I could interview her. A few questions came to my mind after the procedure, and I thought I’d share the answers with you.
Actually, if I’m being super honest, the first thing I learned is that the medical term for mole is nevus (or nevi if plural). Here’s the rest:
COMMON RED FLAGS Dr. Quelquejeu calls these the A-B-C-D-E of melanoma (a type of skin cancer). Pay closer attention to your moles and if you notice any of these, it might be a good idea to visit your dermatologist. — Moles are usually round or oval-shaped, so watch out for asymmetry. — Borders should be smooth and regular. Look for uneven or curved ones. — The color should be brown. If they show black areas, dark dots, or areas with blue, gray or white, pay attention. — Notice their diameter, and keep an eye out for larger moles. — Look for evolution or growth. if you notice a mole changing or growing rapidly, or if you realize you have a new mole after 40, perhaps it’s time to schedule that appointment. — Other important warning signs to keep in mind: bleeding, itching, or crusting.
ANNUAL SKIN HEALTH CHECKUPS: START THEM YOUNG According to Dr. Quelquejeu, complete dermatological checkups can start as early as 16. In the case of younger patients, a pediatrician could refer them to a dermatologist if they consider a mole needs attention depending on its size, characteristics or its location.
REMOVING A MOLE FOR MEDICAL REASONS VS. AESTHETIC REASONS I never gave much thought to this until it was relevant to me. And the main difference is that when removing a mole for a histopathological study (to determine if there’s a skin disease), it must be removed completely and thoroughly. When a mole is removed for aesthetic reasons, and depending on the type of mole, the dermatologist can perform a superficial shave, which results in a less visible scar. Post-surgical care for a sutured wound (with stitches) includes keeping the wound dry and covered, at least for the first 48 hours,” explains Dr. Quelquejeu. She also recommends avoiding alcohol consumption to prevent bleeding, and plenty of rest. After the bandages come off, cleaning the wound daily with soap and water, and applying a lubricating ointment will suffice. The care for a superficial shave, would only require the latter.
Back to Self-Care
It’s easy to resent whatever gets in the way of doing the important things. I know.
But you wouldn’t be able to do any of them, if you are not well. Whenever you find yourself postponing a medical appointment, a therapy session or anything else that supports your physical and emotional health, I encourage you to take a deep breath, and put yourself first.
This piece was written and contributed by:
Jit is a PR & marketing person trained in journalism, health coaching and yoga—writing about most things wellness. She helps entrepreneurs PR the ef out of their superpowers, specializing in content strategy, copy makeovers and spotting PR-able angles.
She finds joy in a cup of coffee, in a nourishing read or an inspiring podcast, and in rediscovering paradise in her native Panama—where she lives with her husband, his son and their Shih Tzu, Valentina.