A skin biopsy brings another Parkinson’s ‘wait and see’ scenario

The results of a writer's yearly skin cancer screening aren't what she hoped

Lori DePorter avatar

by Lori DePorter |

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Parkinson’s disease involves a series of wait-and-see scenarios.

Which part is worse: the waiting or the seeing? If you’d asked me that question before my Parkinson’s diagnosis, the clear answer would’ve been seeing. For me, ignorance was bliss.

Fast forward a decade, and my answer has changed. I’ve now experienced several medical limbo moments where the waiting was excruciating. My Parkinson’s diagnosis was the granddaddy of them all, but my most recent wait-and-see scenario followed a test for skin cancer.

The journey to a Parkinson’s diagnosis

While the number of movement disorder specialists and advanced practice providers is growing, the Parkinson’s patient population seems to be growing faster. Before our diagnosis, we might wait months or years for an appointment. During this time, we may have questions, such as the following:

  • Why do I shake?
  • Why do I move slowly?
  • Why do I act out my dreams?
  • Why can’t I smell things?
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But once we finally meet with a specialist, things start falling into place. Our consult and neurological exam may lead to a diagnostic DaTscan, and we wait again. It may take a lot of waiting, but once we finally “see” what’s going on, we can begin educating ourselves about Parkinson’s symptoms.

  • The shaking is likely due to tremor, a common motor symptom.
  • Slow movement, including walking, is known as bradykinesia. To be diagnosed with Parkinson’s, a person must experience bradykinesia in conjunction with resting tremor, rigidity, or balance issues.
  • Acting out dreams can be an early sign of Parkinson’s.
  • Loss of smell can be an early symptom of Parkinson’s.

Skin cancer crashes my Parkinson’s party

While early appointments with my movement disorder specialist seem like a blur, there are times when I vividly remember certain moments. A few weeks ago, I recalled my specialist saying, “Have you ever had skin cancer? It’s prevalent in people with Parkinson’s. Please get a yearly skin check with a dermatologist.” I’d never had skin cancer, but I faithfully followed through with my annual checks for 10 years.

I faced yet another wait-and-see scenario when my most recent skin check required a biopsy. Waiting for answers stinks, but fortunately, it didn’t take long to get my results.

While I didn’t have melanoma, the most common type of skin cancer associated with Parkinson’s, it turned out that I did have basal cell carcinoma, a slow-growing type of skin cancer. This latest uninvited guest had to leave the party, which would involve a “scrape and cauterize” procedure to remove the growth.

However, I’m not too fond of procedures that involve needles. This created additional anxiety as I awaited the procedure. By the time a nurse called me back, I was anxious and tremoring, but at least I was in the home stretch.

With my anxiety in overdrive, I turned to my best coping strategy — humor. Near the end of the procedure, my doctor apologized for the smell. I smiled and said, “It’s OK. I can’t smell much. Lack of smell is common in Parkinson’s, so my burning flesh isn’t a problem right now.”

Amused at my attempt to spread awareness, he chuckled, and with a few more waves of smoke, the cancer was gone.

While I’ve used bits of humor throughout this column, I want to emphasize that skin cancer is serious. If you don’t have a dermatologist, please get one — now. Don’t wait. Dermatologists are busy, too.

Sometimes ignorance can be bliss, but knowledge is always power.

Note: Parkinson’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Parkinson’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Parkinson’s disease.


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