My skin cancer ‘could have definitely been prevented’
Two-time cancer survivor reflects on skin cancer diagnosis
Kristine Olson, a Fargo resident and Essentia Health employee, was nearly five years in remission from breast cancer when she found out the unthinkable.
She had skin cancer.
It was during Olson’s yearly skin check that Essentia Health dermatologist Natalie Kollman, MD, found two spots that looked irregular: one on Olson’s hairline and one near her nose.
A biopsy determined that one of those spots – the one near her nose – was basal cell carcinoma, the most common form of skin cancer.
Olson says that her skin went cold hearing “the ‘C’ word.”
“I initially thought to myself, ‘Are you kidding me? I survived breast cancer and now skin cancer is going to take me down?’ ” she recalled.
“I was sensitive to this diagnosis because of my history, but Dr. Kollman was so kind and reassuring,” Olson added. “She explained to me that I would need Mohs surgery, and I would not leave that surgery until they got all of the cancer out.”
Mohs surgery is a precise surgical technique used to treat skin cancer. During this procedure, thin layers of cancer-containing skin are progressively removed and examined until only cancer-free tissue remains.
Olson’s diagnosis came in late April, and she was scheduled for Mohs surgery with Essentia dermatologist Amanda Beehler, DO, in early May.
Dr. Beehler was able to remove all the skin cancer, and Olson had high praise for her focus and attention to detail. She notes that while most health care facilities have a plastic surgeon close the wound after the Mohs procedure, Dr. Beehler does this herself because her stitching technique is so amazing.
“During the procedure, I actually asked her if she was a quilter because of how carefully she stitched me up,” Olson jokes. Incidentally, Dr. Beehler is an avid quilter.
“Of all the health-related things I had to worry about in my life, I never imagined that skin cancer would be one of them,” Olson says.
But skin cancer is the most common of all cancers, and Olson recalls how busy Dr. Beehler was that day. She remembers that there were eight other skin cancer patients in the waiting room, all waiting to have this same procedure done.
“If there were eight patients in the waiting room just that day, I can’t imagine how many skin cancer patients Dr. Beehler sees in a year,” Olson said.
A self-described “former sun chaser,” Olson is now incredibly vigilant about protecting herself from the sun’s harmful rays. She is always wearing SPF sunscreen as well as sun-protective clothing, and even has an app on her phone to track the intensity of the sun’s UV rays.
She has also passed this vigilance along to her family.
The mother of two has brought each of her children into the dermatologist to check their skin. She also made her husband go in for a skin cancer check, where he had a precancerous portion of skin on his thigh removed.
Olson says that she and her family will continue to go in for skin checks and cautions everyone to be proactive about protecting their skin.
“Getting breast cancer was pretty much out of my control, but my skin cancer could have definitely been prevented,” she said. “Take care of your skin and if you have concerns, make that appointment to get your skin checked.”
Detect skin cancer early:
Skin cancer is easier to treat when caught early. Check your skin every month for warning signs, such as:
- Skin growth that increases in size.
- Mole, birthmark or spot that changes color, size or texture.
- Spot or sore that itches, hurts, crusts, scabs or bleeds.
- Open sore that doesn’t heal within three weeks.
To make an appointment for your skin check, call Essentia Health at (701) 364-8900.