Daily Limit: Hanselman has melanoma removed

After he had a melanoma removed from the back of his neck last week, Ray Hanselman Jr. is advocating outdoorsmen protect themselves, check for skin abnormalities and see a doctor quickly once discovering one.

The third-year Elite pro is home in Del Rio, Texas, recovering after the dime-sized cancer was removed in a “scoop” of skin about four times that size.

“It was some extreme weight loss,” Hanselman quipped. “They had to take some meat out. The spot was about the size of a pinkie fingernail. He took out a chunk you could almost put your fist in — probably 4 inches wide and 3 inches tall and several layers of skin deep.

“The mole surgeon was back there digging around and I was like, ‘Dang.’ I saw him walk around with the piece he took out — ‘Holy cow!’ But they got it all.”

Before getting 30 stitches to close the wound, Hanselman said he had to wait four hours for pathology reports of “clear margins,” which means there were no cancerous cells remaining. The photo he sent shows cotton in the wound while the tests were being run.

“So far, so good,” he said, adding it was shallow and hadn’t spread. “Today I have to change my bandage. I haven’t seen it since he stitched it. I’m kind of anxious to see it. You’re going to have some scarring. I couldn’t imagine something on the front of your face, that’d just mangle you.”

Hanselman said the area feels tight when he turns his head but he’s told the skin will loosen back to normal. The stitches come out in 14 days, but the worries will last a lifetime. Melanoma, the world’s most common cancer mostly caused by sun exposure, can be deadly. Nearly 7,000 are estimated to die from it this year, but if caught early, it is almost always curable.

Having a light complexion and spending a lifetime in the outdoors, including guiding for more than 25 years, Hanselman, 47, began to experience skin issues about 10 years ago. With regular visits to a dermatologist, he’s had several precancerous spots removed since.

“When this COVID hit, people just aren’t going to the doctor,” he said. “I missed my April appointment and just kind of lost track. I had a little bit of a crusty raw spot on my neck for a few months then kind of went away. I looked at it with a mirror right before we went to Michigan, and it was a really dark freckle that was smaller than a dime, with kind of a black mole in the middle.”

He sent a photo of to his doctor, who told him to come in immediately for a biopsy. Hanselman had made it to the YETI Bassmaster Elite at Lake St. Clair when the doctor called to inform him, scheduling the procedure on his return.

“Glad he didn’t call while I was driving or I would have had a wreck,” he said, understandably concerned to hear the word cancer. “It was not the easiest practice. I have a friend who is struggling with the same thing, fighting it for 3 years with chemo down at MD Anderson. I’ve had other people I know, family members, die of it. It’s one of those deals, grit-your-teeth mad, that something as natural as the sun can kill ya.”

Besides six-month checkups, which looks “between my toes to the top of my head and everything in between,” Hanselman is using gobs of sunscreen and covers up with AFTCO hooded shirts with facemasks. (See Daily Limit’s story on sun protection) He runs Ray Hanselman Outdoors, guiding for bass on Lake Amistad and hunts in the region. Averaging 200 hunting and fishing trips each year, he said he’s considering guiding more half days and making sure he’s covered anytime outside, like cutting the grass.

Hanselman is relating this incident to help sound the alarm and bring more awareness. More than 100,000 in the U.S. are expected to be diagnosed with melanoma this year, according to cancer.net. Death rates from melanoma were rising in the U.S. starting in the 1980s, but a study conducted from 2013 to 2016 found a decline in deaths because of new treatments. Anglers remain prime candidates, and if untreated and spreads, it can cause death in as few as six weeks.

“If I wouldn’t have looked, this could have gotten into a blood vessel and it’s over that quick,” Hanselman said. “If you have anything suspicious on you, anything crusty, those things turn into bad things in no time.

“I grew up in the 80s, started guiding in ‘93. That wasn’t too awful long ago, but it wasn’t really that thought of then. There’s so many more kids out there fishing now, and that’s where we need to start. Back when I was a kid, you were cool when you had the raccoon eyes, but you’ll be regretting that when you’re about 35, 40.”

There are five signals of melanoma, the ABCDEs:

  • Asymmetrical shape
  • Border with uneven or irregular edges
  • Colors that include brown or black but can be mixed with white, gray, red, blue or red or even a loss of color
  • Diameter is often around a quarter inch
  • Evolution of the melanoma means there can be change

“Just don’t be, ‘Aw, it will go away,’” Hanselman said. “Stay ahead of it. Freezing off is just a little sting, but if you wait 6 months then you have to get it cut out. Be aware. Take a photo and check for differences, then have a dermatologist look at it.”