A woman who thought she only had acne and insect bites turned out to have skin cancer nine times.
Molly, who goes by HR_Molly on social media, at first thought she simply had a bug bite on her leg. But seeing that she did not disappear, she sounded the alarm.
“I was actually starting to get a knot in my stomach that this could be skin cancer,” she said in a series of TikTok videos in July, which has more than a million views.
Molly sought help from a dermatologist, who claimed she had nothing to worry about. But when she mentioned a spot on her lip that wouldn’t go away, the diagnosis changed.
Molly, who goes by HR_Molly on TikTok, shared a series of videos this summer detailing how she thought the blemishes on her skin were just acne or bug bites. She turned out to be skin cancer.
“It’s probably skin cancer,” he said. “I wasn’t mentally prepared to start taking electric shocks to my face, to have a biopsy done,” Molly said.
“It was terrifying and kind of mentally traumatizing.”
Since then, she has had basal cell carcinoma, the same cancer that first lady Jill Biden had earlier this year, removed nine times from her face, ears, back, legs, chest and stomach. This form of skin cancer is highly treatable and rarely fatal.
Molly now warns others not to “skip the dermatologist,” regardless of skin tone or level of skin exposure.
“You don’t have to have a lot of sun exposure to get skin cancer,” he said.
“Regardless of your skin complexion or family history, see a dermatologist if you have access to one.”
Although sun exposure is the leading cause of skin cancer, Molly said she has only used tanning beds a few times and spends almost no time lying in the sun.
She believes her ancestry, which is part German, Irish and Native American, may have predisposed her to this condition.
Skin cancer is more common in white skin, although a 2022 study in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology showed that American Indians and Alaska Natives had significantly higher rates of skin cancers such as melanoma compared to other minority groups.
“Your genetics load the gun and your environment pulls the trigger,” Molly said.
About 5.4 million cases of skin cancer occur each year in the United States, and the disease kills 9,500 people.
Molly’s cancer, basal cell carcinoma, is the most common cancer in the United States, with 3.6 million cases annually.
Molly has had basal cell carcinoma nine times in various locations, including her face, ears, back, legs, chest and stomach.
These are formed from the uncontrolled growth of basal cells, which are found in the lower part of the epidermis, the outermost layer of the skin.
In Molly’s case, her cancers appeared as acne or insect bites, but they can take various forms. In most cases, basal cell carcinoma appears as a slightly transparent bump on the skin.
It may also look like a brown, black, or blue lesion, a scaly patch, or a scar-like lesion, according to the Mayo Clinic.
“Not all skin cancers look like mine,” Molly said.
After her dermatologist detected her first case of skin cancer, Molly underwent Mohs surgery that lasted six and a half hours.
Mohs surgery is performed on an outpatient basis and usually takes a few hours. Many patients remain awake during surgery, which only requires local anesthesia to numb the area.
The goal of a Mohs procedure is to remove as much cancerous skin tissue as possible while causing as little damage as possible to surrounding healthy tissue. It is a gradual process and the layers of skin are removed in steps.
First, the surgeon uses a scalpel to remove cancerous skin tissue at the surface, understanding that there may be more cancerous tissue below the surface. Skin cancer is like an iceberg. Most of it is usually hidden beneath the surface.
The surgeon determines where in the body the cancerous tissue was removed, takes that tissue sample to the laboratory, stains it, and cuts it into sections. Specialized technicians place these tissue samples on slides to investigate them under a microscope.
The doctor carefully examines the edges of each section of tissue for evidence of remaining cancer. If the surgeon finds cancer cells under the microscope, their location is marked on the map.
The process is repeated until the doctor finds no evidence of cancer in the sample tissue.
Mohs surgery is performed in more than 876,000 tumors every year in the US. It is successful 99 percent of the time.
Molly’s cancer has returned eight more times in various areas of her body. To reduce scarring, she uses microneedling, laser treatments, facials and Botox.
“Since then, I’ve had a lot more skin cancers,” she said. “It’s always like, ‘Is it a pimple? Is it an insect bite? Is it an ingrown hair?”
She avoids going outside during peak UV radiation hours, which tend to be between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., and always wears sunscreen outside.