Cancer’s Gifts with Love & Hope

When Bob Heffernan walked into my office six years ago with a little bump on the top of his head, he figured it was a pimple. Bob wasn’t a big sun worshipper. He came to me for yearly mole checks. But he hadn’t given the spot much thought—partly, perhaps, it wasn’t staring him in the face when he looked in the mirror.

Anyone who read this recent Hartford Courant article knows Bob actually had stage-four melanoma, which wound up spreading to his lymph nodes and lungs as he underwent multiple surgeries—and then finally took a chance on a grueling experimental treatment at the National Institutes of Health.

Bob’s story should remind all of us to check our own bodies for possible skin cancers once a month. Use the ABCDE criteria: If you have a mole that is asymmetrical (with one side larger than the other), has an irregular border, exhibits uneven color, has a diameter greater than six millimeters, or is evolving, see a dermatologist to rule out melanoma. Basal cell carcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas are more easily treatable but can also be serious. Spots that are scaly, painful, oozing or bleeding for weeks without any sign of healing should also be checked. Meanwhile, ask your dermatologist how often you should book skin cancer screenings—the answer will depend on your skin type and personal- and family history of the illness.

I’m happy to report that Bob’s experimental NIH treatment was a success. He’s been in remission for three years, and his new book, Cancer’s Gifts with Love & Hope, explores how his battle against an illness that many doctors said could kill him, wound up giving him a new appreciation for life.