Catherine Lewis first saw the mole on her foot that would eventually turn into stage 4 melanoma and spread throughout her body, she didn’t think anything of it. Over time, though, Catherine watched it grow. During this time, she was looking for a new primary-care physician, who could help refer her to a dermatologist. In Maine, where she lives, a referral was necessary to get in with a derm. But she couldn’t find anyone to help or anyone to listen.
“I'm very aware that my body is telling me something's very, very wrong,” she says of that time in her life. “And I'm trying to listen to it, but no one in the healthcare profession will listen to me.”
She eventually went to urgent care, only to get turned away by professionals who, upon seeing the growth on her foot, told her they didn’t treat warts. “I think it's skin cancer, it's not a wart,” Catherine told the staff. “And she said, 'I'm sorry we don't deal with that here.'”
So Catherine finally went to the hospital, where it took six days for doctors to remove the growth from her foot and tell her what she already knew in her gut: It was cancer. It took her nine months from the time she found the mole on her foot to get the diagnosis.
Catherine, who is still battling her cancer today, is not alone in her experience. Thousands of Americans live in areas across the country where it’s hard to get an appointment with a dermatologist. We call them derm deserts, areas where dermatologists are lacking in hospitals and private practices. Though there are about 55,000 practicing pediatricians, 40,000 gynecologists, and 38,000 psychiatrists across the U.S., there are just 10,845 dermatologists.
With one in 68 individuals likely to get melanoma in their lifetime, waiting to get into your doctor is not an option, Catherine says. Get a dermatologist now, advocate for yourself, and tell the staff you’re talking to how afraid you are that it’s melanoma. Watch the video above to see more of Catherine’s story.