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A Dermatologist Approached a Man on a Train & Told Him to Get the Spot on His face Checked Out. It Turned Out to Be Cancer

ReachMD Healthcare Image
07/05/2023
insider.com
  • In November 2022, two dermatologists on a train saw a stranger with an abnormal spot on his face.
  • They spoke up, and the man, Chris Meffen, ended up going to a clinic to get it checked out.
  • The mark turned out to be early-stage melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.
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Aboard a Christmas-themed train excursion with her family in Texas, Dr. Chelsey Straight felt her husband's foot nudge hers. Her husband, Dr. Christopher Chu, was also a dermatologist. He had noticed a man sitting behind them and wanted to discuss what he just saw.

Because her back was turned, Straight reached back to adjust the blinds so she could take a covert look at the passenger herself, she told Insider.

She noticed a "dark, irregular shape," on the man's left cheek. After discussing it with Chu, they decided to wait until the end of the two-hour train ride to approach the man, who was also there with his family. The two dermatologists were worried that the man might have an undiagnosed form of deadly skin cancer — and they turned out to be correct. 

Straight asked the man if he'd ever gotten the spot checked out

Chris Meffen, pictured with what turned out to be a sign of early-stage melanoma.
Chris Meffen

Once she decided on the right moment near the end of the ride, Straight spoke to the man, Chris Meffen, about the spot on his face.

"I know this might seem weird, but I just am a dermatologist," she recalled saying. "I wondered if you'd ever had anybody look at it?" Meffen said he hadn't, but his wife overheard the conversation and said she'd been telling him to get it looked at.

Meffen told Insider that he first started noticing the mark around 2017. Doctors he'd seen for other concerns had also asked if he'd gotten it checked out, but he never did.

When Straight asked how long he had the mark, he estimated three years. "And then my wife was sitting in the row of seats over and she had her ears perked and said, 'No, it's longer than that,'" Meffen said.

Straight had recently opened a dermatology clinic in Austin, Texas with her husband and offered to see Meffen for a biopsy. Her office called him to set up an appointment two days later.

Meffen had early-stage melanoma

At the appointment, Straight spoke to Meffen and his wife about the possible results of the biopsy, including a melanoma diagnosis. A few days later, she confirmed that he had melanoma in situ or early-stage melanoma, which is treated by surgically removing the lesion.

Chris Meffen after getting the lesion removed.
Chris Meffen

Straight said that this kind of melanoma is often called "stage zero" because it's "confined to the top layer of the skin" and doesn't require chemotherapy. After surgery, patients just need to attend follow-up appointments and practice caution around sun exposure

According to Meffen, who said the news was a "big relief," 75% of the lesion was taken out from the biopsy alone, and he went to two more appointments to get the rest removed. 

"I feel like he was just grateful to have it diagnosed and addressed before it was anything that had spread through his body or caused him any long-term trouble or issues," Straight said.

Meffen is now cancer-free and getting skin cancer screenings

According to Straight, Meffen has been doing "really, really well" after the surgery. Meffen has seen her for multiple follow-ups and, at the time of the interview, he said he and his wife planned to get free skin cancer screenings that week at Straight and Chu's clinic.

Chris Meffen and his wife on a cruise after his recovery.
Chris Meffen

"We all have health things that come up from time to time that we put off," Straight said. "Life is busy. And so I think that was his situation, but I think in the end he was really happy that he had it addressed and is grateful that it was able to be treated."

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