A dermatologist was diagnosed with skin cancer twice. Here’s what she learned.

Dermatologists understand how to deter and treat skin cancer better than anyone else. That’s why a dermatologist based in New York was appalled to find out that she had been diagnosed with skin cancer, two different times.

Ellen Marmur, MD, was diagnosed with skin cancer for the first time in 2006 after she noticed a pimple on her nose. The pimple was hard, but it never came to a head, so she asked a colleague to perform a biopsy for her. Marmur informs Yahoo Lifestyle when she discovered that it was basal cell carcinoma that she was “in shock.”

According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), Basal cell carcinoma is the most prevalent type of skin cancer. Basal cell carcinoma generally develops on the skin, that has been exposed to the sun and often forming on the nose, according to the AAD.

“I just wanted the cancer off my face,” tells Marmur. She underwent Mohs surgery, a sort of procedure she conducts in her practice where the visible portion of skin cancer is removed by a dermatologist as well as the cancer cells that are not visible to the naked eye. One layer at a time, the cells are removed and examined under a microscope, says the AAD. This procedure continues by a doctor until no more cancer cells are found.

Marmur’s surgery was extensive and took almost half a day. Even with everything that was done there was barely a scar noticeable on her nose. “After the Mohs surgery, I felt clean and safe,” she said. “And then a few days later, I had a mini existential crisis.” Unfortunately, Marmur would get skin cancer again.

Another pimple on her cheek appeared three years later. She thought it was a zit and asked for a colleague to treat it. But the “pimple” returned and remained. At that stage, Marmur said she suspected it was another basal cell carcinoma, and when she received the formal diagnosis, she was not surprised. She was still frightened.

“The second time was actually a bit harder to handle because I began to worry that every spot on my face was cancerous,” she explained. Marmur was subjected to another Mohs surgery and laser treatments to assist with diminishing scarring.


Photo courtesy of Ellen Marmur

Marmur is now diligent in shielding her skin from the sun, but admits, she hasn’t always been that way. When she was a kid, she encountered “blistering” sunburns, went to tanning beds before school dances as a teenager and tried to get as much of a tan as possible using baby oil.

Certainly, her sun habits have been changed. “I avoid super intense sun when possible and also invest in all kinds of sun protective clothing,” tells Marmur.

EltaMD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum sunscreen SPF 46 ($26 at Walmart) is the regular sunblock for Marmur. Also useful for individuals susceptible to acne, rosacea and skin discoloration is the lightweight, moisturizing sunblock suggested by the Skin Cancer Foundation. But when it comes to defending against the sun, nothing beats physical barriers. Marmur’s favorite hat is Comhats UV Protection Sun Hat, which can easily be packed, and a Johnny Was Parker Surf Shirt with UPF 50 + UPF garments. She also launched a Skin Cancer campaign, Take a Hike! — An annual walk that promotes individuals with sun protection to live their life to the fullest.

Marmur is now diligent in looking for more signs of skin cancer by inspecting her skin regularly. “I examine it every day and have my board-certified dermatologists commonly examine my face,” she says.

While her experiences were frightening, Marmur claims it has changed how she interacts with patients for the better. “Patients know that I empathize and understand the fear, pain, and experience,”  she claims. “It eases the stress.”

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