Skin Diaries This is Brave

This is Brave: Coolibar’s Chad Novak Learns to Prioritize Doctor Check-ins

By: Chad Novak, Director of Studio Photography at Coolibar

On January 1st, I moved from a high-deductible pay-full-price-out-of-pocket-for-everything insurance plan to a low-copay and no-referral-needed plan. It was exciting for me. I felt like Andy in that episode of Parks and Recreation where Andy and April realize they have medical insurance and go to the doctor for literally everything. I felt that free.

My first doctor visit with my new insurance was to a dermatologist. This was my first visit to a dermatologist in more than a decade. I had no prior visits to this doctor and I was unfamiliar with this doctors process. I remember feeling a little surprised at how many medical professionals were in the room with me (5 to be exact). They stepped out for a minute to allow me to change into a gown, and then they all returned a moment later (all 5 of them). I was overcome by modesty in the presence of all these strangers, but the doctor put me at ease and began her full-body check.

From head-to-toe, armpit to fingertip, she examined all of my moles. “Nothing strange”, about any of them she said, except one. She asked me about a mole on my back, and I said, “What mole?” I had no idea there was an odd-shaped multi-color mole on my back. And how would I, I don’t have a way to look at my back regularly and certainly not something smaller than a pencil eraser. She asked if she could biopsy the mole and send it to a lab for testing. Of course, I agreed. And I was on my way.

A few days later I received a call from my dermatologist. I learned that I results from the lab test revealed the mole was melanoma. I was shocked. She explained that it was Stage 1A and asked for me to schedule an appointment to have it removed right away. I asked if I could just “let it go”, to which she replied, “That is not an option”. I couldn’t help but feel scared in that moment. That went from zero to serious fast. My mind raced with fears about the cancerous cells spreading, and I felt unsettled about the fact that if I had not chosen to go to the dermatologist when I did, I could be facing a life-threatening situation.

Here is an alarming fact: It’s possible for melanoma cancer to spread to your entire body in as little as 4-6 weeks. 45 Days – and you might be terminal. I had no idea things could go so bad so quickly and I would not feel a thing in my body. It’s hard to wrap my head around that. But it’s real. And it opened my eyes to the dangers of letting things go. Or just acting like I’m fine.

My diagnosis opened a pandoras box. I have full body exams scheduled every 90 days for the next 5 years, I have had multiple treatments on my incision area to reduce scarring, and I just learned that my life insurance was dropped. It feels like a lot. It became a bigger deal than I wanted. But had it gone differently, I may not be writing this story.

Here’s what I know. The decision I made saved my life. I think about that once and while to remind myself that I’m not invincible like I think I am. This experience taught me an important life lesson: It is not a sign of weakness (as a man) to go to a doctor.

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July 7, 2022

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