Wife's 'Nagging' About Tattoo May Have Saved Her Husband's Life

Author: Leslie Toldo

There was one detail in George Goetz’s tattoo that his wife had a big problem with.  Amy Goetz was fixated on a mole near the center of the body art featuring Native American Chief Keokuk.

“My wife always noticed the mole and said it was changing and that I should get it looked at,” George said.

For ten 10 years, George’s wife watched his mole for changes, insisting he have it looked at. And, for ten 10 years, it seemed to slip George’s mind when he visited a doctor. That is, , until December 2022.

“My wife was at the doctor’s office with me and, right in front of him, she told me to show him the mole,” George said.

Much to his surprise, a biopsy revealed George had melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.

“I wasn’t thinking it was cancer, George said. “I have a lot of moles. My back looks like a constellation.  I just didn’t notice or pay attention to them. “

Fortunately for George, Amy was paying attention.

If you have moles, you should follow Amy’s lead and keep an eye on them. 

What you want to watch for are what the American Cancer Society calls the ABCDEs of skin cancer:

  • Asymmetry: one half of a mole does not match the other.
  • Border: irregular, ragged, notched edges. Normal moles are round or oval-shaped.
  • Color: could be uneven, including shades of brown or black, or have patches of pink, red, white, or blue.
  • Diameter: larger than 6 millimeters across.
  • Evolution: the mole changes in size, shape, or color.

Melanoma forms in the melanocytes, which are skin cells that produce the pigment called melanin. As these cells grow out of control, they form cancerous tumors.  As is the case with most other skin cancers, melanoma is caused by both long and short-term exposure to the ultraviolet (UV) rays that come from the sun and artificial sources, like tanning beds.

“Cancer shows up long after the sun causes damage to the skin – even decades later,” said Karmanos Cancer Institute at McLaren Flint Surgical Oncologist Dr. Scott Kizy. “While having light-colored eyes, fair or freckled skin that burns easily, and blonde or red hair can put you more at risk, just about anyone who has moles and spends time in the sun can develop skin cancer.”

George, a self-described “sun God”, rarely used any type of sun protection when he spent extended periods of time catching rays. That ultimately landed him in an operating room, with Dr. Kizy doing the honors.

“He’s a very personable guy, a nice guy. I really like him. He has a good sense of humor,” George said. “Dr. Kizy did a great job; he even saved my tattoo.”

At a post-surgical follow-up, however, Dr. Kizy made an unsettling discovery that would send George back into surgery.

“He noticed another suspicious mole on my head that he removed,” George said. “It was biopsied and came back positive.”

Since then, George has had a third melanoma-positive mole removed from his arm.  He’s been through two surgeries and had lymph nodes removed from his neck and armpit. He will have to closely monitor his skin for the rest of his life.

“The good news is that, when we catch these cancers early, we significantly improve a patient’s likelihood of survival,” said Dr. Kizy. “That means being aware of your body and changes in your skin, and having those changes checked out. They could be signs not only of melanoma, but other forms of skin cancer, like basal or squamous cell.”

George never had a doubt he would come through this battle, but it changed his life dramatically.

“We have a pool. I didn’t even open the pool last summer. I was afraid of the sun for a while– until I knew for sure I was going to be okay,” George said. “Now, I wear UV shirts, sunblock. I wear hats. I don’t sit in spots where I am getting beat by the sun. I am conscious of what I do outside. If you are playing in the sun and not protecting yourself, it will catch up with you.”

For information about the comprehensive cancer care available at Karmanos Cancer Institute at McLaren Flint, visit  karmanos.org/flintcancer. There you will also learn more about our dedicated team of providers.