What’s that spot on your back?

By:  Robert Avsec


Not representative of community pool, but close.

This next one is from the file “None of Us are Getting Any Younger”.  As I set to work on this next blog I was looking out the window of my new bedroom/office in our new apartment at Presidio of Cross Lanes, WV.  It’s a great view of the community pool that’s only 40 yards away; it’s good practice for your eyes to break from your computer screen and look into the distance every 15-20 minutes or so.

While doing this I couldn’t help but think about the men, women and children out there–some for hours at a time–and if they understand the health risk of exposure to the sun’s rays.  Which prompted me to remember a blog post–with the same title–that I wrote almost a year ago on my personal blog.  I hope you don’t mind a little recycled material (It is for a good cause!).  So here goes…

Originally appeared September 19, 2012


Not me, but close representation.

About a week ago, after I finished showering, Mrs. Avsec was standing nearby (everything is nearby in our “comfy” one-bedroom apartment here in Alexandria) and she asked, “What’s that spot on your back?”  I rotated my upper body to get a closer look at the object of her attention and didn’t like what I saw: a small brownish spot, roughly the size of a shirt button, on the medial edge of my right scapula about 4 inches posterior…it was on the edge of my right shoulder blade about 4 inches from the top of the blade.  Needless to say—Why do we say that when we’re going to say it anyway?—this spot wasn’t there before.  (Actually, it wasn’t merely a spot, upon touching it Mrs. A said that it was raised a bit, almost like a scab.)

How can I be so sure that it wasn’t there before?  Because I look for such things on a regular basis.  See, the original Mrs. Avsec, my Mom, has had a long running battle with skin cancer spots on her face; it seems like it’s been years since I’ve not seen her with a band-aid on her face protecting a recent removal by her dermatologist.  So when I had my annual physical exam this past February at the competent hands of my primary physician, Dr. Victoria Murphy, and she was concerned about a reddish spot on my scalp, I immediately took her counsel and got an appointment to see a dermatologist she recommended.

[Update: Back in March of this year, me Mum had to have a procedure done on her scalp to excise another cancerous growth.  Her surgeon had to make several “scoops” before she was able to obtain clear margins.  Mom was left with an 8+ inch incision that required roughly 100 staples to close.  She’s still recovering, slowly but surely.]

I saw Dr. Bruce Glassman a couple of weeks later and after giving me a full body examination to establish a baseline, he more closely examined the “spot of concern” on my scalp.  His exam helped him determined that it was probably not cancerous, but as a precautionary measure he “blasted it” with a healthy dose of liquid nitrogen (Talk about “brain freeze”!  A Slurpee from 7-Eleven has nothing on that stuff!).  He said everything would be fine in couple of days and said come back and see him in a year.

So when we discovered the “spot of concern”—which happened on a Saturday, of course—I placed a call to Capital Dermatology first thing this past Monday morning.  Dermatology is obviously big business these days as the receptionist informed me that the first appointment I could get with Dr. Glassman would be October 18th.  Not exactly the timeframe I was hoping for, so I asked if there was another physician I could see more promptly.  As luck would have it, an appointment for the following day—Tuesday—at 11:00 a.m. had just opened up with another doctor, Dr. Simoneseborrheic keratosis McKitty, which I took without hesitation.

When Dr. McKitty looked at the “spot” she immediately diagnosed it as seborrheic keratosesSeborrheic keratosis (seb-o-REE-ik care-uh-TOE-sis) is a common skin growth. It may look worrisome, but it is benign (not cancer). These growths often appear in middle-aged—yours truly!—and older adults. Some people get just one. It is, however, more common to have many and they are not contagious. (Whew!  That was a relief!)

Dr. McKitty excised the growth and sent it away for testing just to be on the safe side, and then patched me up.  She also took a good look at my scalp and saw another little spot, like the one Dr. Glassman had treated, and took the opportunity to give me another “brain freeze”!

So what are the “take-aways” from my experiences, especially for you guys out there—because too many guys don’t pay close enough attention to their health, do they ladies?

  • Get a physical exam by your primary physician every year.  This is vitally important because your physician needs to know you, especially what you look like from head to toe, so that subtle changes can be noted and addressed appropriately.  You’re not going to get that “level of understanding” by suddenly “popping in” for an office visit because you have a “spot of concern” and you’ll likely get no more that 15 minutes of your doc’s time.
  • This is especially true of skin cancer.  Even the same type of skin cancer can look very different from person to person. This makes it hard to look at a picture and tell if you have skin cancer.  The best way to tell if you have skin cancer is to see a dermatologist.

      So, if you don’t have that patient-physician relationship with your doctor, get to it!  ‘Cause none of us are getting any younger.

About Robert Avsec, Executive Fire Officer

Battalion Chief (Ret.) Robert Avsec served with the men and women of the Chesterfield County (VA) Fire and EMS Department for 26 years. He’s now using his acquired knowledge, skills, and experiences as a freelance writer for FireRescue1.com and as the “blogger in chief” for this blog. Chief Avsec makes his home in Cross Lanes, WV. Contact him via e-mail, [email protected].