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Woman recounts 'pimple' that turned out to be skin cancer: 'No one even noticed'

Kari Cummins thought the mark on her chin was "some type of underground pimple" — it turned out to be cancer.
/ Source: Today

At first Kari Cummins thought the mark on her chin was just a pimple. She was pregnant, and wrote it off as just another pesky symptom of her raging hormones. But when it started to grow, she realized it could be something much more dangerous.

"No one ever noticed the little bump on my chin," Cummins, 35, of Lake Arrowhead, California, told TODAY. "It looked like some type of underground pimple at the beginning, and then it started to grow and change shape."

Kari Cummins
Kari Cummins reveals what her chin looked like after surgery to remove the cancer (left), and what it looked like when it started to heal, two weeks later (right).Kari Cummins

That's when the mother of five knew she needed to see a doctor. Her dermatologist confirmed that what she had originally mistaken for a zit was actually squamous cell carcinoma, a common form of skin cancer. And it wasn't the first time: The year before, some red bumps on her forehead had turned out to be basal cell carcinoma, another form of skin cancer.

While squamous cell carcinoma is easily treatable and not usually life-threatening, Cummins' story still appears to be making an impact on people who were shocked to learn about how it happened: How could something that looked like a zit turn out to be cancer?

"It's very common," Dr. Cameron Rokhsar, a New York City-based, board-certified dermatologist with the American Academy of Dermatology, told TODAY. "I always tell patients that if you have a pimple that doesn't go away after a month or two, it's probably not a pimple."

Kari Cummins
Now Cummins is encouraging others to wear SPF and get regular skin checks, so they don't experience what she did. Courtesy of Kari Cummins

Cummins' story went viral after she shared photos on social media of her chin after having the cancer removed. While the photos are from 2015, she recently posted them to raise awareness of skin cancer prevention. And the gaping wound on her face, a result of surgery, is a reminder to everyone to get regular skin checks, she said.

"I just wanted to bring awareness to how important it is to take care of our skin," Cummins said. "These types of things are actually preventable."

Rokhsar, who was not Cummins' doctor, recommends people visit a board-certified dermatologist every year, more if they have a history of skin cancer. (Checking your own skin in between appointments is a good idea, too, and Rokhsar's website details the different types of skin cancer and what they look like.)

While Cummins is now an advocate for skin cancer prevention and runs a wellness consulting business, she admitted that she wasn't always so vigilant. She used to visit tanning beds and recalled a childhood filled with days spent in the sun.

"I grew up near the lake," she said. "I spent my summers there. My mom is an avid sunscreen user and she always made us put it on as kids, but you know, you get older and you get a little less responsible, and you do what you want to do. I was more concerned with being tan (as a teenager). I was a little irresponsible."

Now Cummins hopes others can learn from her mistakes.

"We need to be careful and treat our skin like it's more valuable than we sometimes think," she said.