A true California girl, 33-year-old Noel Lopez-Freeman grew up in the sun. She lived in Los Angeles for most of her life before relocating with her husband Roberto Lopez-Freeman, MD, to Cincinnati in 2008 for his emergency medicine residency.
"I can’t even attempt to estimate how many severe sunburns I experienced as a child,” she recalls. "Despite having faithfully received annual skin cancer checks since my late teens, I never really thought I would get skin cancer, at the very least, not melanoma.”
In the fall of 2011, after getting a "shoddy skin cancer check,” she decided to get a second opinion with UC Health Dermatology. Lopez-Freeman was concerned about skin pigmentation changes and a new mole that developed following her recent pregnancy.
"The mole didn’t meet the ABCD guidelines (asymmetry, border irregularity, color, diameter) we always hear about as warning signs of cancer, but it was different enough to cause concern. Something just told me to get it checked out,” she adds.
A biopsy by Adam Ingraffea
, MD, a UC Health dermatologist and clinical assistant professor at the University of Cincinnati (UC) College of Medicine, confirmed Lopez-Freeman’s suspicions: It was an atypical melanoma. The diagnosis was made on a Friday. Within a couple of hours, she had an appointment to see UC Health surgical oncologist Jeffrey Sussman
, MD, the following Tuesday. Sussman is the surgical oncology division chief at the College of Medicine.
"I was amazed at the quick coordination of care,” adds Lopez-Freeman. "The diagnosis sent me into a complete spiral. Both Dr. Sussman and his nurse, Stephanie, were so amazingly helpful throughout the process. I was scheduled for surgery within a week of the diagnosis.”
A sentinel node biopsy during surgery confirmed stage 1 melanoma. Fortunately, the aggressive cancer was caught early enough that no additional treatment was needed.
The experience reaffirmed Lopez-Freeman’s belief in the power of preventive medicine, and she says no one should discount the importance of regular checkups. Fair-skinned and with a family history of melanoma, she knew she was probably at an increased risk to develop skin cancer during her lifetime.
"It’s such a cliché to think: ‘Oh, it won’t happen to me, especially at my age.’ But what is the worst that can happen from getting a skin check? I truly believe committing to preventative care saved my life because if I had delayed seeing the doctor, the outcome may have been different,” adds Lopez-Freeman.
According to the National Cancer Institute, more than 70,000 Americans are diagnosed with melanoma each year and an additional 1 million are diagnosed with non-melanoma skin cancer. The organization estimates that up to 50 percent of Americans who live to age 65 will develop non-melanoma skin cancer at least once. Less than 2 percent will develop melanoma.
» To learn more about UC Health’s multidisciplinary skin cancer team, a part of the UC Cancer Institute, visit cancer.uc.edu
» To schedule a skin cancer screening, call UC Health Dermatology at 513-475-7630.
» For surgical oncology, call UC Health Surgical Oncology at 513-584-8900.