Doctors often urge patients not to delay getting the medical care they need, but during the coronavirus pandemic, the guidance changed. As a result, many Americans have put off getting important health checkups and screenings including mammograms, pap smears, prostate exams and skin checks.
While you may think it's safer to stay home, Dr. Jill Hechtman, an OB-GYN in Tampa, Florida, says it's crucial not to put off some doctor's visits.
The 50-year-old doctor's world turned upside down during the pandemic because she ignored a beauty mark that had developed on her face last year. What looked like a small freckle turned out to be invasive melanoma. Now, she's bravely showing her facial scars to urge the public not to postpone getting checkups and treatment.
Watch TODAY All Day! Get the best news, information and inspiration from TODAY, all day long.
"It literally looked like a little freckle and it didn't change for the longest time and I was like, oh, I've developed a beauty mark," Hechtman told Kerry Sanders on Weekend TODAY Saturday. "And over the last, I would say six months, I started to notice it a little bit more."
Hechtman had a telemedicine visit with her dermatologist who told her that the mark on her right cheek was no big deal. She herself wasn't too concerned but just to be certain, she went in for a biopsy.
"I was very confident until that phone rang at 4:58 on a Tuesday afternoon," Hechtman recalled.
"And she said, 'I don't even know how to tell you this but it's invasive melanoma.'"
Hechtman's story is not unusual. According to a recent study by the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, cancer screenings have dropped by more than 75 percent in the first few months of the pandemic.
Dr. Toni Choueiri, an oncologist at Dana-Farber told TODAY it's likely that cancers are being diagnosed at a later stage due to a drop in screenings during the pandemic. "In theory, there is a fear that some of the cancers, I wouldn't say as much missed as perhaps would have been diagnosed at a later state," he said.
The surprising thing about Hechtman's story is that she herself is a physician and is married to a surgical oncologist. "I am a doctor, but I'm also a human, and I made a mistake," she said. "And I want my mistake to not be other people's mistake."
She hopes showing the scar on her face will remind others not to put off seeing their doctor when necessary.
"I think it tells a bigger story," Hechtman said. "I want someone to look at my face and say, 'Oh my gosh, like, could she have done something different had she gone in earlier?'"
Hechtman was fortunate in that her cancer measured .4 millimeters. If it been .3 mm larger, she would have needed to undergo chemotherapy. Still, her scars will remain for life.
"If I can help one person get into the doctor because I did this story, I'll be happy," she said.
If you've been using the pandemic as an excuse to skip medical visits, Sanders says there's one thing you should take away from this: "No more waiting, guys. Time to go in and get that checkup."