Health First Medical Group APRN Kathleen Verpaele’s Early Skin Cancer Diagnosis Saves the Day


Dr. Vanessa Johnson removed skin cancer with specialized technique to preserve healthy skin

LINDA OTT (left) enjoys a moment on her daughter’s wedding day. Health First’s Dr. Vanessa Johnson removed skin cancer from Linda’s cheek about eight months before the wedding. (Image courtesy of Linda Ott)

A Health First Dermatology patient’s melanoma recovery is an important reminder that we all need to make time for regular skin checks. Because identifying cancer is about more than your health – it’s about being there for your family’s milestone moments.   

BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA – Linda Ott knows how important regular skin checks are. With a history of melanoma in her family, and having lost a grandfather to skin cancer, Linda has been diligent about annual visits to her dermatologist. 

A few years ago, that diligence paid off. During an examination with Health First Medical Group’s Kathleen Verpaele, the Dermatology APRN observed a small brown spot on Linda’s cheek. The mark stood out, having a darker area about the size of a pencil point.

Kathleen immediately took a tissue sample and, unfortunately, it turned out to be melanoma.

That’s when Kathleen introduced Linda to Dr. Vanessa Johnson, a dermatologist with Health First Medical Group, who discussed with Linda her diagnosis, and that she could remove this type of skin cancer with a specialized technique to preserve as much healthy skin as possible while ensuring the cancer was completely gone.

During an examination with Health First Medical Group’s Kathleen Verpaele, the Dermatology APRN observed a small brown spot on Linda Ott’s cheek. The mark stood out, having a darker area about the size of a pencil point. (Health First image)

“I was born in 1950, when there really was no sunscreen,” Linda said.

“I pretty much grew up in my dad’s fishing boat – I was out on the Chesapeake Bay every weekend growing up as a kid – so I was the perfect candidate to get something like this. Luckily, it was at stage 0 and just starting to grow.”

While the cancer was caught early enough, Linda still had concerns about how the diagnosis and treatment would impact an important celebration on the horizon – her daughter’s wedding.

It was eight months away, but the thoughts swirled about in her mind. Sure, being treated was a given. But how would this affect how she looked on her daughter’s big day?

That’s when Dr. Johnson confessed something to Linda – she was a perfectionist. It’s a standard the entire team maintains, in fact.

“It was valuable real estate she would be working on,” Linda recalled of their conversation. “She said, ‘I am going to make sure you look wonderful for your daughter’s wedding.’ ”

And she did.

LINDA OTT snaps a selfie showing her scar after treatment to remove an area of skin cancer on her cheek. Linda’s melanoma was removed in five separate treatments, the last one spanning about 90 minutes. She followed up with a petroleum jelly treatment every day and then used scar pads for about three months. (Image courtesy of Linda Ott)

Linda’s melanoma was removed in five separate treatments, the last one spanning about 90 minutes. She followed up with a petroleum jelly treatment every day and then used scar pads for about three months.

“Kathleen and Dr. Johnson took great care of me, and everything turned out awesome,” Linda beamed, who looked picture-perfect for the wedding – and the lifetime memories of photos.

While Linda’s story is a happy one, it’s also a reminder to be vigilant as you continue to explore the outdoors in Brevard.

Whether you’re enjoying the Space Coast’s parks, beaches or other activities that coincide with sun exposure, Dr. Johnson said she wants everyone to be smart about skin cancer. It’s on the rise, especially in women, who have seen the greatest increase in both basal and squamous cell-type skin cancers.

So, here are some skin cancer facts to be mindful of: 

■ Skin cancer can affect any race. Research shows patients with skin of color are more likely to be diagnosed at later stages. The biggest risks on a body include palms of the hands, soles of the feet, and the inside of the mouth. Skin cancer warning signs include changes in size, shape or color of a mole or other skin lesion, new growth on the skin, or a sore that doesn’t heal.
■ Having red hair, 50 or more moles, a history of tanning bed use or extensive sun damage – and a personal or family history of skin cancer – all help determine how often a patient needs a skin exam. If a person has lots of risk factors or a history of melanoma, they may need to be seen every three to six months. If a person has low risk factors, it’s good to get an exam every 12 months.

Whether you’re enjoying the Space Coast’s parks, beaches, or other activities that coincide with sun exposure, Dr. Vanessa Johnson said she wants everyone to be smart about skin cancer. It’s on the rise, especially in women, who have seen the greatest increase in both basal and squamous cell-type skin cancers.

May is Skin Cancer Prevention Month – Health First Dermatology also advises:

■ To cut down on sun exposure while driving, have a clear window tint installed on your vehicle. Using protective tint on the windshield, as well as the windows, blocks 99% of harmful UV rays. Sun exposure from driving is the reason most of the skin cancer on the face in the U.S. is on the left side.
n Artificial sun, like tanning beds, can increase the risk of skin cancer, including melanoma, by 20%, squamous cell carcinoma by 67%, and basal cell carcinoma by 29%.
■ Skin cancer prevention can include a supplement called nicotinamide or a prescription Vitamin A medicine called acitretin. Self-skin exams at home are also important.

Treatment for skin cancer varies according to the location, size, the aggressiveness of the cancer and the patient’s general health. It can mean a topical cream, laser procedure, superficial removal of the skin cancer, radiation, surgical excision, or MOHS micrographic surgery.

To schedule your skin cancer screening, call 321.361.5607.





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