As a dermatologist who specializes in skin cancer, I’ve been trained to spot abnormal lesions. Like a well-trained bomb-sniffing dog, it’s difficult for me to turn off this function. As a rule, I keep to myself in public, and my role as a dermatologist is nearly always performed within the clinical setting of Vanguard Skin Specialists.
However, when a chance encounter with a stranger at a movie premier raised concerns, what could have simply been a pleasant exchange of conversation turned into the treatment of potentially life-threatening cancer.
Meeting Kent at the Minari Red Carpet Event. Could This be Melanoma?
In April of 2021, Vanguard hosted a red carpet event because we wanted to thank our community’s essential heroes. It was a festive occasion bringing together healthcare professionals, first responders, and community leaders. We were screening the movie Minari, written and directed by my brother-in-law, Lee Isaac Chung, and depicting the story of my wife and Vanguard co-founder, Leisle Chung. The day was full of celebration with a red carpet, champagne, cheering “fans” and a step and repeat photo wall.
Amidst the excitement, I happened to meet Kent, a local man whose fiancée—who works in the medical field—had been invited to attend the movie screening. At one point we happened to find ourselves in a group conversation. After noticing an abnormal lesion on Kent’s right temple, I pulled him aside and expressed my concern, strongly advising that he make an appointment to meet with a dermatologist in the area.
A couple of months after the event, Kent decided to look me up. He came to Vanguard to see me and I recommended a full-body skin cancer screening. This is something I recommend for everyone, as skin cancer can develop anywhere on the body, including locations that are difficult for us to examine ourselves—such as the back and scalp.
After performing a biopsy of the mole on Kent’s temple, I performed a second biopsy of a mole on his back and sent the samples off for further testing.
A week after Kent’s biopsy, he and his soon-to-be wife were in South Carolina preparing for their wedding. Three days prior to their wedding day, I called Kent to deliver the news: the mole on his temple had tested positive for melanoma.
Not surprisingly, this was difficult news for both Kent and his bride-to-be. After deliberating whether they should interrupt their wedding plans for a last-minute flight back to Colorado for further treatment, they decided to go ahead with the celebration, keeping the troublesome news to themselves.
Kent returned to Colorado and came in for further treatment of his lesion. The remaining area was removed and biopsied, and the second sample tested negative.
Annual Skin Cancer Screenings
Kent’s story is a happy one. Circumstances placed the two of us at the right place at the right time, and as Kent is quick to say himself, his story could have been told very differently a few years down the road if we hadn’t met.
In telling his story, it is also important to Kent that we stress a few things about his lifestyle and background. First, Kent is an active and healthy man with access to health care. Secondly, his wife works in the medical field. And finally, Kent happens to be adopted, which means he doesn’t have access to family medical histories.
These factors help illustrate that skin cancer can happen to anyone at any time, regardless of our backgrounds or lifestyles. And just because you and your loved ones haven’t noticed anything questionable yourselves doesn’t mean you should postpone your annual skin cancer screening. A 30-minute appointment could make all the difference in the world.
Thank you to Kent for sharing his story and helping to inspire others to seek skin cancer screenings and treatment.
Vinh Chung, MD is a board-certified dermatologist and a fellowship-trained Mohs surgeon. He specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of skin cancer at Vanguard Skin Specialists. Dr. Chung sees patients in Colorado Springs, Pueblo, and Woodland Park. His life story is told in the memoir Where the Wind Leads.
Vanguard Skin Specialists offers dermatology, plastic surgery, Mohs surgery, dermatopathology, and aesthetic services.