American television journalist Jeff Rossen, now chief national consumer correspondent for Hearst Television, was diagnosed with melanoma in 2012. However, without the sharp eyes of his wife, Danielle, that diagnosis might have come much later.
“I was a typical guy about it. I thought I was invincible,” Rossen says. “You hear about people getting cancer and you think, no way that’s going to happen to me, that’s going to happen to someone else. But then my wife noticed a mark just below my belly button.”
Rossen describes the small, brown mark near his navel as being pinhole sized — seemingly too small to be worried about. He dismissed his wife’s concerns at first, but two months later the issue came up again when the mark changed color.
When Danielle saw the mark again, she told Rossen it was time to go to the dermatologist. “I told her to stop being so dramatic, but she told me, ‘You’re making an appointment.’ And I finally go to see my dermatologist and he says, ‘I’m so glad you came in. This looks bad. We need to do a biopsy.”
For Rossen, hearing the word ‘biopsy’ finally put everything into perspective. This wasn’t just a tiny mark; it could be something far more serious.
“I remember standing in the office, saying to myself, could this be happening right now?” Rossen recalls. “He did the biopsy, and then days had to go by. It’s the waiting that gets you. At least when you know, you can get a battleplan together. Instead, I was sitting around waiting to get news about my life that was completely out of my control.”
After waiting for a few days, Rossen final got the results. It was unfortunately the worst kind of news. The dermatologist confirmed that Rossen had melanoma, and procedure was required to get a clean reading with zero cancerous cells on the skin tissue.
“I remember the blood rushing out of my face, and just standing there not knowing what to think or what to do,” Rossen says. “I frankly started tearing up because when I heard ‘cancer,’ I instantly started thinking about my kids. Will I get to walk my daughters down the aisle? All of those things pop into your head and you think, how stupid am I that I had some ridiculous meeting I had to get to, and I thought I was too busy to come in two months ago?”
Luckily, despite waiting those two months, Rossen avoided having stage III or IV cancer, and all thanks to his wife’s persistence. “If not for my wife, that thing would’ve been the size of a quarter,” he says. “I would have kept saying, ‘It’s fine! I don’t have time to go to the doctor! I’m so busy and important and I have things to do and people relying on me!’
Recent studies show that men still go to the doctor less than their female counterparts. A Cleveland Clinic survey found that only three in five men go to the doctor for an annual physical, and a little over 40 percent of men go to the doctor only if they think they have a serious medical issue.
“I can’t speak for my entire gender, but I think men may see [going to the doctor] as a sign of weakness,” Rossen says. “I’m somebody who is a control freak, and I want to handle everything myself. Ceding control is uncomfortable. But it saved my life. Early detection saved my life.”
Skin cancer sometimes gets written off as a ‘lesser cancer,’ but it is nonetheless the most common cancer in the United States and worldwide. One in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 70, and more than two people die of skin cancer in the United States each hour. Rossen notes that the phrase “early detection” has become something of a cliché, but he stresses that it without a doubt saved his life.
“Chances are that right now, as you read this article, there is something on your body that you’ve wondered about,” Rossen says. “My advice is to make an appointment and get checked out. I have stood at fundraisers of people losing their parents and losing their children from skin cancer. What you don’t want is to be kicking yourself afterwards, saying there’s more that you could have done. That will haunt you for a lifetime.”