Gibson Miller didn’t think anything of the pimple-like bump under her left eye when she first saw it last year.
“I noticed a little raised, pearlized bump on my cheek, but I wasn’t really worried about it at first,” Gibson, a 24-year-old middle school teacher from New York City, tells Health. “I let a year go by, and when I realized it was still there, I figured I should probably get it checked out, considering I spent so many years playing tennis in the sun.”
Miller, who first told her story on Today.com two weeks ago, explains that a fellow tennis player convinced her to take action and see her dermatologist.
“One of my tennis teammates in college was from Arizona—she was much more aware of sun damage because of where she grew up—and had a similar situation,” Miller recalls. “She had a spot on her face, too, and she got a biopsy and it ended up being fine.”
Miller called her dermatologist and asked to have the spot biopsied. Her dermatologist informed her she had to get a full-body skin cancer screening before she could get a biopsy.
“I didn’t even know that was the typical protocol,” Miller says. “I had just called and said I wanted a biopsy, because I didn’t even know full-body skin cancer screenings were a thing. No one really talks about them.”
Miller made an appointment in mid-April for the screening, and her dermatologist agreed after seeing it that the spot on her face needed to be biopsied, which happened that day. A few days later, she learned she had stage one basal cell carcinoma.
Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer, with approximately 4 million new cases diagnosed each year in the United States, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. It starts in the basal cells, which line the epidermis (the outermost layer of skin). A history of sun exposure is a main risk factor, along with having fair skin.
“I was in the middle of grading finals when I got the call from my dermatologist telling me that it was cancerous,” Miller says. “I didn’t even really process it emotionally at the time, all I was thinking was, So what’s the next step?”
After a few months of searching for a surgeon, Miller had the cancer removed on July 20. A day later, she had reconstructive surgery to close up the hole where the malignant spot had been.
“The went layer by layer, testing to see how deep the tumor went,” she says of the surgical team. “Mine had what they called 'fibrous materials' on the ends of it, so they were careful to make sure the whole mole was removed and that the cancer hasn't spread any further."
Miller’s surgeon successfully removed all the cancerous tissue via Mohs surgery, a form of treatment for basal cell carcinoma that involves removing the cancerous tissue layer by layer so nothing malignant remains. It’s performed in stages, with each layer of skin going to a lab to be immediately tested by pathologists.
Now, two weeks after surgery, her stitches are gone and the skin that once surrounded the cancerous spot continues to heal.
Miller went public with her story and photos to let others know how prevalent skin cancer is and that it can strike almost anyone. “I want people to know how important it is to get screened for skin cancer,” she says. “If we don’t talk about how real this is, no one’s ever going to know about it.”
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