Sunshine casts shadow on USASMA Soldier’s life
USASMA Public Affairs:
Fifty-six year-old Master Sgt. Jim Barnes had spent 21 years as a military police Soldier searching for and arresting bad guys. But it was his wife’s investigative work that just may have spared him from becoming the victim of a deadly killer.
“Jim didn’t have his shirt on because he’d just finished some yard work and was cooling off for a minute,” said Tammy. “I saw it under his arm and knew right away. That mole was very bad.”
The MP turned doctrine developer for the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy knew his wife’s discovery of a discolored and misshapen skin mole warranted further investigation. He called the doctor the next day.
“I got an appointment two days later and saw my primary care manager Dr. Henry Hutteman,” said Barnes. “He referred me to Dr. Craig Maddox, a dermatologist at William Beaumont Army Medical Center.”
Barnes said Maddox took one look at the mole and said it needed to be biopsied. But the doctor also told him he knew it was melanoma.
“As soon as I heard his words, Scooby Doo came to mind,” said Barnes. “I thought, ‘Ruh-roh!’”
Melanoma cells are melanocytes – skin cells in the epidermis that produce and contain the protein pigment melanin, which gives skin its color. When ultraviolet light damages melanocytes, they begin to grow out of control and form tumors. Statistics compiled by the American Cancer Society indicate more than 76,000 people in the U.S. will receive a diagnosis of melanoma in 2012, and 9,000 will die from the cancer this year.
In early May, Barnes checked into WBAMC and had one centimeter of skin cut from under his arm where his wife had found the mole. A biopsy confirmed what Maddox had predicted. It was melanoma.
“I had to go back and have additional surgery to remove the cancer,” said Barnes. “And when Maddox went in, he didn’t just make a longer cut; he cut very deeply, too.”
That’s because to find out just how far into the body cancerous cells have grown, a surgeon must slice deep though the epidermis and dermis. Barnes said if blood vessels deep down in skin layers are accessed by invading cells it’s pretty serious because that means the cancer can spread to major organs. But Maddox got all the cancer, and Barnes said hearing that news was a big relief.
“I didn’t need chemotherapy, but it was something we discussed just in case it was warranted,” said Barnes. “I’m very lucky.”
Barnes isn’t completely in the clear yet, though. He has another small area barely visible on the right side of his face that is also cancerous. But he said unlike his previous surgery, he won’t have to undergo general anesthesia and be put to sleep. Instead, his face will be numbed and the surgeon will cut a flap, peel it back and see just how deeply the cancer cells have invaded. The whole process takes about four hours.
Given his diagnosis, Barnes said he’s not pulling any punches. He’s scheduling a colonoscopy and a check for prostate cancer as a precautionary measure.
“The melanoma has me spooked, and I’m a plan-ahead kind of guy,” said Barnes. “Cancer isn’t something you want to play around with.”
According to the American Cancer Society, damage to the DNA of cells can be genetically passed down through a family. Barnes said his younger brother had three or four melanoma moles removed, but that his own diagnosis still came as a shock.
“I’ve been deployed and out in the sun a lot,” said Barnes. “But as a Soldier you’re pretty much covered from head to toe in body armor, so I thought I was OK. I’ve always been cautious about covering up and taking cover from the sun – especially growing up in Hawaii,” he said. “I remember my mom urging me to wear protective clothing even as a little kid.”
It’s because of what’s he’s going through that Barnes said he’s echoing his mom’s words and strongly urging parents to take more responsibility for educating their children about the sun’s harmful rays. But he’s taking his message a step further and urging senior leaders to make educating Soldiers about the deadly effects of the sun a regular part of Army safety briefings.
“Don’t drink and drive, wear a helmet when you ride your motorcycle – you hear the same things all the time,” said Barnes. “But why don’t you ever hear Soldiers being regularly reminded to wear sunscreen? I think it’s important we address the issue like any other safety briefing topic.”
Barnes’ surgery for the removal of the melanoma on his face is scheduled for later this month. He said if there’s one message he wants to convey to everyone it’s that you must protect yourself because the sun’s rays can kill you.
“Start enforcing preventative measures with your kids when they’re young, and practice what you teach them by wearing sun block and protective clothing,” said Barnes. “Melanoma is nothing to mess around with. It truly is a matter of life and death.”
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