It was supposed to be just another lunch. For the past 20 years, John Murphy and Carol Lammers have occasionally had lunch together since becoming colleagues at Mayo Clinic. Then Lammers made a remark that not only changed the course of their meal, but potentially, Murphy's life.
According to a story on the Sharing Mayo Clinic blog, near the end of their lunch, Lammers told Murphy she thought an age spot on his forehead looked different than it had in the past. Lammers knew Murphy's family had been affected by melanoma, and although Murphy had had full skin checks every year, she suggested he have it checked out. "With this disease, time matters, so it's good to get checked, get checked frequently, and go to the dermatologist if you see a change," Murphy says.
So he did, scheduling an appointment with Mayo Clinic dermatologist Catherine Newman, M.D., a few days later. At that appointment, on a Tuesday, Dr. Newman performed a punch biopsy of the lesion to send to pathology for evaluation. "I was asked to come back on Monday to have the stiches taken out," Murphy says. "Dr. Newman said hopefully the pathology report would be back by then."
The following Monday, after his stitches were removed, Murphy was walking back to his office when his cell phone rang. "It was Dr. Newman," he says. "She told me it was, in fact, malignant melanoma. She scheduled the excision of the tumor for the following morning."
Told of the diagnosis, Lammers was shocked. "I thought for sure they would say it was nothing, that I was overreacting," she tells Sharing Mayo Clinic. "Or if it was anything, it would be squamous cell carcinoma. I was just hoping it wasn't melanoma. But I am very grateful it was found."
And found early, which Dr. Newman says is critical with all skin cancers. "John's tumor was thin, so he has a very good prognosis," she says. "Tumor thickness is the most important determinant of prognosis, so if you have a thin lesion and you catch it early, it is very treatable."
That is the message Murphy tells us he wants to get out by sharing his story. He says the response he's received from colleagues and friends has been both humbling and surprising. "The reaction has been heartwarming," he says. "There's of course been the Mayo Clinic Values-themed response of healing and compassion for my personal health. But most surprising has been the response of courage — in contacting a physician immediately, in telling my story, and in Carol bringing the issue to my attention. It's a reminder to be bold in our care for each other."
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