DOUGLAS, Mich.--- The weather is getting warmer and it seems everyone is making plans to enjoy the outdoors. But remember to use your sunscreen.
Skin cancer rates are on the rise; nearly two million people will be diagnosed this year.
"If you looked at me you wouldn't think that anything was wrong," said Tammy Kerr of Douglas, who couldn't believe it when she was diagnosed with skin cancer. "I was shocked, it was horrible."
Unlike most skin cancers, Tammy didn't have any of the classic signs. "I never even thought to go get it checked because I thought it's not a sore, it's not a pimple, it's not bleeding, it's not a mole -- all the things you would think would be associated with skin cancer."
It was just a spot on the end of her nose that could only be seen when she touched it. "I noticed it when I was putting on my makeup. I pushed on my nose and the end of my nose turned white. And I thought that's kind of weird, I've never seen that before." explained Kerr.
Later that summer Tammy's nose was peeling from sunburn and that's when she knew something was definitely wrong. "I went to take a piece of skin off and it took the whole chunk out, the whole end of my nose."
A diagnosis revealed Tammy had a form of basal cell skin cancer and had probably had it for several years. Her dermatologist told her in order to get all the cancer, he would need to remove the entire end of her nose. "I freaked out and I was crying," she recalled.
Dr. William Cullen, a plastic surgeon with Elite Plastic Surgery in Grand Rapids, reconstructed Tammy's nose. "The technique I chose was what is called a perimedium forehead flap." It's a two step process that Dr. Cullen says would leave Tammy disfigured for about three weeks. "We borrow skin from the forehead and attach it to the area that's missing on the nose. We leave it attached at the inner eyebrow where there is a vessel to keep that skin alive temporarily while it keeps that skin in position."
For three weeks Tammy walked around with that flap of skin running from the tip of her nose to her eyebrow. At times it obstructed her vision. After the skin made a healthy attachment to its new home, Dr. Cullen reconstructed her nose.
"She's in a phase now that's kind of frustrating, it takes six months to a year for them to really look their best." Dr. Cullen said.
It's only been a few months since Tammy's surgery. In time, the scar will fade and you can already hardly notice that the entire tip of her nose was replaced, but there is a side effect from the surgery that Tammy will have to get used to: her new nose is just for looks. "This had no feeling and still has no feeling," she described. And it probably never will.
That's one of the valuable lessons Tammy learned about skin cancer early detection. "Now I know if I see any changes in my skin I am going to the dermatologist." That and being diligent about sun protection, "And I have a lot of hats."
Dr. Cullen says he performs at least two of these types of skin cancer surgeries every month.
Two years had passed from the time Tammy first noticed the discoloration on her nose and when she got a biopsy. Dr. Cullen says if she had gone in right way, she wouldn't have had as radical a surgery.
Just another reminder to get checked and get to your doctor if you notice any unusual changes with your skin.