Passionate About Boston
and the Moms Who Live Here

How a Rare Pregnancy Side Effect Saved My Life

skin cancer - boston moms blog

If something that happens to one out of every 200 women were to happen to me, why couldn’t it be winning the lottery?

No, instead of gaining a couple thousand dollars in my bank account, I was the one in every 200 pregnant women to suffer a side effect called PUPPS — pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy.

It feels like the chicken pox times 16, but you’re pregnant and unable to take anything for it. I am not a crier by any means, but PUPPS reduced me to tears multiple times. What I wouldn’t have given for painkillers and the hardest anti-itch medication out there. It usually dissipates right before or upon giving birth, and mine did.

But then I hit the jackpot again: I became one of the even fewer women who relapse a few weeks after her child is born. Taking care of a newborn isn’t a challenge enough, apparently — I had to do so with itchy and painful symptoms.

I trudged into my six-week checkup with my obstetrician with a rash on my arms and legs that made the nurses cringe and my doctor’s eyes widen.

“This isn’t normal PUPPS,” he said as he shook his head. “You need to see a dermatologist.”

I hadn’t been to a dermatologist save for a required skin cancer check three years before. Up until my pregnancy, my skin had been problem-free. My teenage years had been acne-free, and I had never been a beach bum. That initial visit had turned up no problems, and I hadn’t gone again because I didn’t think I needed to go regularly until I was older.

I almost ignored my obstetrician’s suggestion, but I was in enough PUPPS agony that I made an appointment with a dermatologist as soon as I could. When I arrived, the dermatologist looked at my PUPPS and, for lack of a better term, geeked out. It was the worst he had ever seen. He was going to have to take photos and write a paper.

And then he saw something else.

“Do you ever look at your back?” he said.

I admitted that I hadn’t.

Five minutes later, my back was numb and he was removing what would turn out to be a large and misshapen pre-cancerous mole. After it was tested, I learned that had I left that a year more, it would have been fully cancerous.

I never thought of myself as someone who could ever develop skin cancer. Besides three misguided teenage trips to the tanning bed and one bad sunburn watching the 2005 Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony, I didn’t think I had any reason to worry.

It turns out I did. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, one in five Americans will develop skin cancer during their lifetime. I was on my way to becoming one of them until PUPPS brought me to the dermatologist’s exam table.

My dermatologist and I now see each other every six months. Since that initial removal, I’ve had two more moles removed. I now religiously wear hats, high SPF sunscreens, and long sleeves, and so does my year-old son.

So while I didn’t hit the real lottery, I hit a proverbial one. Had I not gotten PUPPS (which is rare), and had it not returned after my son was born (even rarer), the mole on my back would not have been discovered until it was too late. This lottery win means a lot more than any amount of money could.

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