'It scared me': Sparrow doctor shares battle of skin cancer

LANSING, MI. (WILX) - One in five Americans will get skin cancer before they are 70 years old, according to the American Cancer Society.

Doctor Joel Cohn is a cardiologist at Sparrow Hospital, those years of medical school would eventually help save his own life in an unexpected way. (Source WILX)

Doctor Joel Cohn is a cardiologist at Sparrow Hospital. And all those years of medical school would eventually help save his own life in an unexpected way.

"I grew up in the Los Angeles area on the beach, and I'm a fair-skinned person, and I took a lot of sun exposure as a young person," said Dr. Cohn.

All those years of catching rays were taking a toll on his body.

"When I was in my late 20s, I had a mole on my thigh, and I went to a dermatologist to remove it."

That doctor visit started a process of getting checked every year.

"In the early stage, I was in my 30s, I had a couple of basal cell carcinomas removed from my back."

Flash forward to a vacation with his family in northern Michigan 14 years ago.

"I went back to the dermatologist, and I went back to the dermatologist and he said that is not a basal cell this time. This one is more problematic, " Dr. Cohn said.

It ended up being melanoma.

"It scared me," he said. "He explained to me it was stage one, very early, no infiltration, you just need to keep coming back for follow up visits. And I continued to do that for years."

But then, nearly three years ago, he realized something was not right again.

"I showed the doctor another lesion on my belt-line that I thought was a bruise, he looked at me and said, that's not a bruise, that's melanoma."

"That night I arranged for my own MRI on my brain and a CT scan at about 8 or 9 o'clock. By 10 o'clock at night, I knew I had widely metastatic disease, lungs, liver, brain, adrenal glands, and in my thighs," Dr. Cohn told Barrett Tryon.

The cancer was in stage four and Doctor Cohn was preparing for the worst.

"I lined up palliative care here at Sparrow, I lined up Option of Death with Dignity in my home state of California, I went to see my financial advisor, I went to see a psychologist who helped me mentally. I went to see my lawyer. I went to plan my estate."

An immunotherapy treatment option worked almost instantly.

"All of a sudden, within four to six weeks, everything scanned was remarkably smaller, and within three to four months, my lesions were gone."

And now, he's healthy as ever.

But he may have never been here, without paying attention.

"Going to see your doctor and getting a skin exam is important because you can only see half of your skin. "

Being here in Michigan, many people overdo it during the summer because of the months without it, like right now during the winter.

The signs of sun damage are not always noticeable right away, which is why going to a dermatologist is so important.

Barrett added that he feels pretty lucky about his own situation.

"I have basal cell on my neck and nose, which is not only the most common, but both treated with surgery."

Barrett added that anyone who's not sure, should get checked and wear sunscreen.

You can follow along on Barrett's journey on his Facebook page.

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