Skin cancer dangers are very real

Wautoma woman battling dangerous aggressive form of cancer

Summer’s strong sunrays may be gone, but that is not stopping Delores Andre of Wautoma from getting out her message that people need to protect their skin when spending time outside.

Andre, who is now in her 70s, spent a lot of time out in the sun when she was younger and also owned a tanning bed business with a friend. She admitted to overusing the tanning bed and spending a lot of time outside at the family’s pool – “I was always in the sun.”

About 40 years ago, Andre developed skin tags and asked a doctor to remove them. Her doctor told her she had skin cancer and should stay out of the sun.

Andre was diagnosed with two types of skin cancer – squamous and basal cell carcinoma – and was related to sun exposure and ultraviolet radiation.

“I never listened. I did not take it serious enough,” she said.

In April, Andre’s family physician – Steven Blaha, MD, of ThedaCare Physicians-Berlin – noticed additional signs of skin cancer. He referred her to ThedaCare surgeon Horace Lo, MD, who discovered Andre had Merkel Cell Carcinoma, an aggressive rare type of skin cancer. He made a 5 ½-inch incision to remove the cancer and took out 18 lymph nodes, including 16 that tested positive for cancer. Andre admitted she was shocked.

Dr. Lo sees about five patients a month who need skin cancer surgery. He said people need to know there are several types of skin cancer – they can be very aggressive and are almost always related to sun exposure and ultraviolet radiation.

Although people know about skin cancer and the relationship to sun exposure, Dr. Lo said the number of skin cancer cases continues to increase.

“Despite the increased awareness, many people are electing not to use sunscreen,” he said. “People tend to get more burns and more damage is done to the skin every time with a sunburn.”

As for SPF rating in sunscreen, Dr. Lo said anything SPF 30 and above is best. He advised people reapply sunscreen every couple of hours and cover exposed skin areas with hats, long sleeves or pants.

“It is very important to remember that once damage is done to skin it is permanent. Burns are cumulative,” he said.

After surgery, Andre had 28 days of radiation since she was too weak for chemotherapy. A recent PET scan discovered the cancer has spread throughout her body and is in her hip bones, spine, lungs and liver. She is undergoing additional radiation treatments to protect her spine and prevent paralysis. Andre has a life expectancy of two to six months.

Andre is not in pain right now besides a few aches and twinges in her hips. She said she’s thankful she had a great life and makes the most of everyday.

Andre appreciates her friends and family who have provided her with support and said she has one thing on her bucket list – seeing her seventh great-grandchild, who is expected in January.