Ann, a former surgeon and cancer survivor, is very familiar with both sides of a surgeon’s scalpel. To celebrate being 5 years cancer-free as of June 28, 2017, she swam in her first Tri for a Cure last year, and will return to the all-women inspirational event again this summer.
Ann, who had taken time off from being a surgeon for her higher calling to raise her 4 girls, was turning 50 and ready to dive back into the medical field. She was going through the re-credentialing process when she noticed she just wasn’t feeling great. She brushed it off for a while, chalking it up to working too hard, but the feeling persisted until she ended up in the emergency room with a life threatening hemorrhage. After a long 6 months of misdiagnosis and continued tests with no improvement, she was diagnosed with cancer. To follow came genetic testing which led to another life altering diagnosis: Lynch Syndrome.
Lynch Syndrome is a hereditary, genetic condition that brings with it a high risk of developing a number of cancers: endometrial, pancreatic, uroepithelial, colorectal, ovary, stomach, small intestine, urinary tract, brain and skin, to name a few. Lynch syndrome has historically been known as hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC), and it is estimated that 3 out of every 100 colon or endometrial cancers are caused by Lynch syndrome.
Ann fought through her treatment, suffering a few serious complications. It was one year after her treatment when she was out gardening in her yard and she noticed a spot on the back of her hand. She thought she may have been bitten by a bug and treated it topically, but it didn’t go away. She was then diagnosed with low grade squamous cell skin cancer, first on her hand, and then spots to follow on her chin and leg. When a pre-cancerous spot does appear on her skin, her first treatment is a topical ointment that essentially burns the spot off and recreates new skin.
Ann believes that her skin cancer diagnosis is twofold, partly because of the genetic syndrome, but also because she could have taken more prevention as she was younger to take care of her skin. Ann is freckled and fair skinned, but never used to worry about sun exposure. Now, she takes full precautions as recommended by the CDC; she stays in the shade, wears clothing that cover her arms and legs along with wide brimmed hats and sunglasses, and always applies sunscreen. She is engraining this habits into her 4 young adult daughters as well. She states that “As Mainers, I think we all have a false sense of security about the sun and sun safety. We wait all winter long for the sun, and when it is comes out, we don’t take the proper precautions to enjoy it. Skin cancer prevention can work.”
Ann knows that the Lynch syndrome may very well mean another cancer is in her future, but while she is feeling good today she is channeling her energy into educating others of cancer prevention.
Maine Cancer Foundation is doing the same – targeting more than $100,000 in sun safety programs across the state since 2015. You can find our sunscreen dispensers at Hadlock Field while enjoying a baseball game, at the Casco Bay Lines ferry terminal, and at several ski areas.