CureTalk Interviews David Stanley, Author of Melanoma: It started with a Freckle
David Stanley’s book on Melanoma, ‘It started with a Freckle’ is one of the most poignant and factual stories of cancer that I have come across. He brilliantly illustrates his melanoma journey thereby revealing and educating many who may have similar experiences. His powerful story would definitely play its role in doing away with common misconception of taking melanoma less seriously!! I had the opportunity to interview him about his book recently via email and you can read the same below.
Q. Congrats on your book! Is this a memoir? And if so, what inspired you to share your story?
This is a memoir, a memoir told by a science guy. I am a story-teller by nature. As a high school teacher in the sciences and English, storytelling about the day’s lesson is how I drew my students into the topic at hand. Why tell this particular story? I had no choice. My melanoma occurred in 2006-07. In 2010-12, my younger brother battled, and lost, to a highly virulent strain of oral squamous cell cancer. Both of us started with lesions just smaller than a pencil eraser. I’m lucky. I lived.
Melanoma is alone amongst common cancers. Since 2000, it’s the only cancer whose incidence is on the upswing. I needed to tell the story. I had to.
Q. I particularly find the title very interesting… ‘It started with a freckle’ – what’s the story behind the freckle.
The title speaks to how the story unfolded. My wife, a nurse with a MSN, noticed an odd looking ‘thing’ just in front of my left tragus, the little nubbin of tissue at the opening to one’s ear canal. It was a freckle, but not quite. She insisted I get it looked at, and I’m alive to tell the story.
Q. On your melanoma journey, what were some of the things that surprised you with respect to people’s behavior and our general assumptions?
As my degrees are in the sciences, there is science in the book- enough to teach and explain what is going on; within the cell itself, within the tissues, and within the body as a whole.
However, the real story is the human story. The real journey for Melanoma takes place inside my head. If you’re familiar with Mr. Rogers from children’s public television, he told this story:
When I was a little boy and I was scared, my mother always told me to look for the helpers. When things are scary, there are always helpers.
When I had melanoma, I was scared. What I learned is that when you have cancer, nearly everyone is a helper, if you let them.
Q. Can you share some details of your treatments, maybe clinical trials you participated in, current treatment regimen, hurdles in treatments, side-effects etc. for our readers.
Perhaps one-third of the book details the treatments. My tumor was originally in situ. I underwent a biopsy and a subsequent excision in the office. When the lesion recurred one year later, I underwent a square procedure at the University of Michigan’s Multidisciplinary Melanoma Clinic. This entailed about 5 hours of biopsy work, over the course of 3 visits, to establish clean margins. Following that work, I underwent a four-hour procedure to remove the lesion and the “runners” that were tunneling under my face. At the time of my procedure, there really weren’t any other treatments available. Plus, at stage 2, I wasn’t wrestling with any metastatic issues. Thankfully. As I mention above, the science is a part of the story, not the main story.
I’ve had two minor scares since, but they were benign. I practice good sun hygiene, but at age 57, with 6 years as a professional bicycle racer in my twenties behind me; no sunscreen, Fitzpatrick skin type II-III, 3-6 hours a day in the sun from February to September, the damage is there. Now, we watch.
Q. What are the three things you would advise people newly diagnosed with melanoma do?
Three things? One, read my book. As one reviewer put it, “your book is like a melanoma version of the pregnancy book “What to Expect When You’re Expecting.” You’ll learn how to let people help you. You’ll learn how manage the health care system. You’ll learn that panic shows up when you least expect it. Mine showed up about 4 or 5 times, all told in detail. Funny detail, in retrospect.
Two) Don’t spend too much time doing self-diagnosis on the internet. Every case is unique. You spend too much time online playing doctor, and you’ll work yourself into an un-needed lather. Ask your care team. They’re the experts in your case.
Here’s a quick story. My brother-in-law is an orthopedic surgeon. He saw a patient, did the exam, ordered the tests and scans, made the diagnosis. Patient returns to meet with him. In walks the patient with a sheaf of papers detailing all of his research about his problem. My brother-in-law riffled through the papers, handed them back and said, “Man, that’s bad stuff. Good thing that’s not what’s wrong with you.”
Three) Develop a mindfulness practice. Melanoma, all cancers, whether they are Stage 1 or Stage 4, are scary. For a few minutes, a few times a day, you can learn to quiet your mind, and truly be at peace. I wrote about it for the blog Dads Roundtable.com in an article titled Be Here Now: You Can’t Be Anywhere Else.
The book has been published by McGann Publishing of McMinnville, OR. It is now available on Amazon.com. Just [Click Here!].