Mary Lynn Brunemann spent her childhood and adolescence outside and under the sun, including as a competitive swimmer and lifeguard. So when her mom was diagnosed with melanoma, Mary Lynn, a practicing nurse in occupational medicine, knew she had to take extra steps to monitor herself for skin cancer.
“I’d always gone to the dermatologist once a year, but I began going more after my mom’s diagnosis,” says Mary Lynn.
Mary Lynn had several lesions removed over the years. But last April, just weeks before her retirement from St. Elizabeth Foundation, she noticed a very small red spot on her face. Her dermatologist, Kristen Ahern, MD, recommended a biopsy, which found the lesion was cancerous.
Given the location of the lesion, Dr. Ahern referred Mary Lynn to Nicole Warner, MD, for Mohs surgery. This procedure spares as much healthy tissue as possible, leaving patients with less scarring than other surgeries. This procedure spares as much healthy tissue as possible, leaving patients with less scarring than other surgeries.
Mary Lynn spent a career in nursing before joining the Foundation to fundraise for the St. Elizabeth Cancer Center and Heart and Vascular Institute. “Having worked in healthcare, I know the value of a good referral and what it means to trust your care team,” she says. “From the very beginning, I wasn’t worried because I trusted Dr. Ahern’s referral.”
Dr. Warner scheduled the surgery within a month of the diagnosis.
During Mohs surgery, a surgeon removes cancerous cells, which they then analyze immediately in a lab to check for healthy borders. This immediate feedback ensures surgeons remove all cancer with minimal impact on healthy cells. During Mary Lynn’s procedure, she underwent four Mohs layers before Dr. Warner was able to remove all cancer from the lesion.
“The care I received was fantastic,” says Mary Lynn. “The team was very supportive and sensitive.” Mary Lynn opted not to see the scar the day of her procedure, choosing instead to see it for the first time the following day when she changed her dressing. “I knew with Mohs surgery, the scar would be a little longer than I expected. And not only was I dealing with the emotional aspect of a cancer diagnosis, but I was also very aware of the scarring on my face.” Mary Lynn says she put that fear aside because of her trust in her doctors and the care team. “It was still traumatic when I saw the scar on my face,” says Mary Lynn, “yet I had a sense of calm because I trusted my care team.”
The ultimate diagnosis of tumor stage 3 squamous cell carcinoma skin cancer resulted in a referral to the St. Elizabeth Cancer Center and radiation oncologist Bradley Huth, MD and the radiation oncology team. Over the following months, Mary Lynn’s care continued. A team of multidisciplinary experts worked to evaluate the need for additional treatment.
“No one wants to undergo skin cancer surgery, but our Mohs surgery team at St Elizabeth strives to provide the most comfortable and pleasant experience for patients on their day of surgery,” says Dr. Warner.
“While I still see the scar when I look in the mirror, my friends are gracious enough not to notice it,” says Mary Lynn. “Dr. Warner did an incredible job, and I feel very fortunate that she was my surgeon, and we got the outcome we did.”
Mary Lynn still visits her dermatologist every three months for complete skin checks. “Although there is no way to remove a skin cancer without a scar, the best surgical outcomes often come from early detection with routine skin exams by a board-certified dermatologist and continued preventative measures with diligent sun protection,” says Dr. Warner. So, while she spent much of last summer indoors, this year, she looks forward to being the old Mary Lynn and enjoying the outdoors (with proper sun protection, of course). Now, she can finally enjoy her retirement, spending time with her husband, children, mom, grandchildren and dogs.
“I’m looking forward to getting back to life, just taking extra care and being extra vigilant,” says Mary Lynn. “I’m very grateful for everyone who helped to make the Cancer Center happen – the doctors, nurses, caregivers and donors throughout St. Elizabeth Healthcare.”
“I was a little fearful after my diagnosis. But having been involved in fundraising for the Cancer Center, I knew St. Elizabeth was building a special place,” she says. “For others going through this diagnosis, the more you understand, trust and feel comfortable with your care team and treatment plan, the more it helps you manage your emotions. So, look for the best team, and remember, we have them in our backyard!”
Learn more about Mohs Surgery at St. Elizabeth Healthcare.