STANTON — It was just a sunspot. Perhaps a new freckle, so she told herself. But even after two dermatologists told Cindy Partlo it was not cancer, a small concern still lingered and grew, as did the spot over the years.
Last spring, Partlo, 51, an administrative assistant at Mid-Michigan District Health Department, was strongly encouraged by her eye doctor, Renee Martin of Martin Eye Care in Greenville, to seek a third opinion for the spot on her nose, a spot she first noticed in 2000.
“I kept telling myself that it was going to be nothing,” Partlo said.
Partlo visited Dr. Daniel Dapprich of Dermatology Associates of West Michigan in Grand Rapids.
“When the dermatologist looked at me, I could tell immediately he had a concern,” she said.
As Partlo went through a biopsy, she still felt confident it was nothing … until she received a call from Dappich’s office later.
“I was at my office. I was headed to a meeting when I got the call,” she said. “It was very overwhelming. I was a mess. I was in complete shock.”
Partlo’s family was touched with cancer before. Her husband’s cousin, Jodie Gietzel Mansfield, succumbed to melanoma in 2006, and Partlo’s father, Richard Borchert, was diagnosed with skin cancer last year. A third family member, Clyde Partlo, her father-in-law, is recovering from cancer, too.
After more than 12 years of wondering, Partlo finally was facing and taking on her fears.
One hurdle after another
For Partlo, a third time to the dermatologist wasn’t a charm, but a life-saving blessing. After her diagnosis, a two-part surgery was immediately planned.
The first part was to remove the spot, a one-hour procedure. Four days later, she would undergo a one- to two-hour procedure to close the opening left from the first surgery.
But for Partlo, it wasn’t that simple.
The first surgery went seemingly well, giving Partlo confidence the process, though painful, would go smoothly. But two days later, doctors told Partlo she would have to go under again as there were residual cancer cells found. Still sore from the first surgery, Partlo was back under two days later.
“The injections to numb my face was probably the most painful,” she said. “I ended up getting like nine shots.”
After the second procedure, Partlo had only one day to recover before going to the second part of the process, which was sewing up the opening left from the first part of the surgery.
Though surgery went well, a staph infection set in days later, causing Partlo’s face to swell to the point her stitches were coming apart.
“We went to Carson City Hospital because my face blew up so big. It was so painful that I actually didn’t think I was going to make it,” Partlo said. “I actually told my family goodbye at that point. It was so awful.”
Partlo survived the traumatic and painful infection, which she believed she got before surgery. Since then, she has been making regular check-ups every six months and, after September, if all is clear, her check-ups will be only once a year. After five years, with no issues, her cancer will be considered in remission.
“Sometimes you look at yourself and you might see something, but you aren’t worried,” Partlo said, knowing many people like her dismiss small concerns. “But it’s important to go through a pre-skin cancer check at that point.”
Dr. Adam Hassan, who performed the first part of Partlo’s surgery, said he has seen in increase in patients with skin cancer.
“With each passing year we are finding an increasing number of patients with sun exposure related skin cancer,” he said. “These cancers are also occurring in increasingly younger patients. We know that improved efforts on prevention will help countless numbers of individuals avoid significant surgery which can sometimes be disfiguring.”
Partlo now has a strict routine, putting sunscreen lotion on regularly.
“I treat sunscreen like deodorant now. I always put it on in the morning,” she said. “I try to have bottles with me wherever I go, but if I don’t for some reason then I at least know I have some on from the morning.”
Team Partlo to Ride the Gran Fondo
Last year, during her recovery, Partlo’s emotions were high. She needed some kind of support. Beating cancer in her own body wasn’t enough for her. She had more fight in her.
So she went online and found Michigan State University College of Human Medicine’s Gran Fondo bike ride fundraiser. Having picked up biking as an exercise two years prior, she got excited when she saw the event as it was just what she was looking for.
Recovery prevented her from participating in the 2013 bike event, a fundraiser for research on skin cancer, but this year, she is more than determined to participate in the Gran Fondo, which is Saturday in Grand Rapids.
“I was looking to challenge myself,” she said. “I started planning in December. I think I was one of the first ones to sign up.”
Riders can choose to ride a 12-, 25-, 40- or 80-mile course. Partlo and her team are doing the 40- and 80-mile course. Her team includes her husband, Ronald, her daughter, Melissa, 24, and her friend, Montcalm County Commissioner Betty Kellenberger.
They are dedicating their rides to Partlo’s father and father-in-law, Jodie, and a friend of Partlo’s mother, Eileen Filter, who is in the middle of a battle against skin cancer.
“This is a great way to be involved and raise awareness of skin cancer,” Partlo said.
The Gran Fondo event will include a festival, which will offer fresh tasting Michigan-sourced foods, a Herman Miller Brickyard Criterium and a Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital kids race at 3 p.m.
Go to msugranfondo.com to go to Team Partlo’s fundraising page or for more information.