‘Be aware of changes’: Spot on man’s thumb turns out to be rare cancer

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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) — What started as a seemingly small spot on a Virginia man’s hand has turned into an unexpected diagnosis. A rare cancer was found in Eric Russell’s thumb in March 2019, and over the last four months, he has undergone several surgeries.

“Be aware of changes – I ignored something," said Russell. “I didn’t think anything about it, it didn’t seem super unusual and who thinks about cancer starting in your thumb?”

Russell says he was encouraged first by friends to go to the dermatologist about a spot on his forehead. It was later removed, but his surgeon then asked about a few dark lines on his left thumb.

“She asked, ‘how long have you had those lines?’ and I said ‘probably four to five years.’ I didn’t really think anything about it," he said.

Russell says a biopsy of his thumb found a rare melanoma deep in the tissue, and part of his thumb was recently removed to treat it.

“I am still in the early process of this. I still haven’t had a full CAT scan, which will happen a few days from now,” said Russell. “We have to see, since they have gone so deep into the tissue, did it migrate other places in the body.”

Russell is also a photographer, known by the name “Pop My Flash.” He is passionate about telling the stories of the LGBTQ community through capturing moments. With so much still unknown, Russell is focused on readjusting, and getting back to what he loves most.

“Cancer may have taken my thumb, but not my smile," he said. “I will put the camera on the tripod if I have to – it’s not going to stop me, I love doing it."

Loved ones have started an online fundraiser to help with medical and everyday expenses during Russell’s recovery. He says he is grateful for the support, and grateful for his diverse community helping in any way they can.

“On the March 18, 2019 visit to my dermatologist, some black lines on my left thumbnail were observed which led to a biopsy. A rare cancer was discovered which has ultimately led to the amputation of my left thumb on June 28, 2019. During this time I am unable to work and have no return-to-work date. Next is a full body scan to see if the cancer has spread to other parts of my body. Chemo treatments have not been determined at this point. I need your help to cover living expenses and medical bills. I have insurance through The Marketplace, but isn’t it sad in America that I must rely on GoFund Me because my insurance doesn’t cover my mounting bills. I have already exhausted my savings and am currently not drawing paychecks. Soon I’ll be starting PT and OT to regain use of my left hand so I can hopefully return to my work as a cook at Barcode and continue making amazing food for ya’ll. I want to return as a book seller at Barnes & Noble so I can resume Saturday morning storytimes and Lego events. I miss documenting our Richmond LGBTQ community through my photography, and want to get out and continue being part of our amazing RVA community.”