Michael Wittig is a nationally recognized bodybuilder, fitness trainer, actor, stunt professional, bass player, husband and father of four. He’s worked on movies with stars like Leonardo DiCaprio, been featured in more than 50 magazines and was nominated for a Grammy as part of the Christian rock band, Pillar.
After being constantly on the move and in front of the camera for years, Wittig was stopped in his tracks in 2018, when he noticed a spot on the skin of his chest.
“There was a mole that I started noticing on my left pec. It was one color, almost perfectly round. It wasn't too big. Didn't think much of it,” said Wittig. “Cancer never crossed my mind.”
Wittig visited his primary care provider, who referred him to Lisa Mask Bull, M.D., who is double board certified in both dermatology and dermatopathology. Dr. Bull diagnosed Wittig with invasive melanoma.
“When a patient comes with a lesion, they are clearly worried about, it should always be taken seriously,” said Dr. Bull. “Most people picture melanoma as a dark, irregular spot on the skin, but melanomas can also look like essentially any other skin blemish: spiky warts, pink bumps, small fleshy bumps, skin tags, cysts, scabs, vitiligo and infinitely more presentations.”
Lisa Mask Bull, M.D.
Wittig spent considerable time in tanning beds and in the sun to prepare for fitness competitions, where a darkened complexion is used to define muscles for judges.
“If you ever see pictures of bodybuilders, they’re always really dark," said Wittig. “You typically get a base layer by laying in a tanning bed to get your skin dark. Then, before the competition, they spray you real dark. Like darker than you ever want to be. This is so that when you're on the stage and the bright lights hit you, they don't wash you out.”
“Tanning beds are not safer than outdoor sun. Approximately 7.8 million females and 1.9 million males use tanning beds,” said Dr. Bull. “Nearly 70% of tanning bed patrons are young women, and melanoma is the leading cause of cancer death in women aged 25-29 years old.”
Melanoma is the third most common form of skin cancer, but it is the deadliest. According to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 7,990 people will die from melanoma in 2023. Wittig says tanning beds that raise melanoma risk are completely optional for fitness competitors and should be avoided.
“I'm telling these younger competitors, use the self-tanning lotions, don't go into beds,” said Wittig. “You don't need the base for the spray tan.”
All immediate relatives of melanoma patients should be screened at least once for a baseline exam. Wittig had his four children checked for any signs of skin cancer.
“My biggest advice is to get your skin checked. If there's anything that looks off or concerning, don't take it lightly,” said Wittig. “Take care of your skin if you have concerns, and if you do have spots or a history of it, bring your kids and have it checked. It could be genetic.”
Aside from any genetic predisposition, many children's risk factors for melanoma are already in place by the time they’re 18 years old.
“Up to 80% of your acquirable risk factors for melanoma occur by the age of 18,” said Dr. Bull. “Avoidance of sunburns and tanning beds is a must, but especially during that crucial time.”
As part of his follow-up with Dr. Bull, Wittig will require yearly full-body skin exams for the rest of his life, so any more instances of melanoma can be detected early.
“A yearly ocular melanoma screening is also recommended,” said Dr. Bull. “Ocular melanoma is the second most common location for melanoma, most commonly arising in the posterior uvea, which is a thin layer of tissue in the middle layer of the wall of the eye, between the sclera and the retina.”
Wittig says he has recommended Dr. Bull to friends who had skin concerns. He’s happy to have a knowledgeable, professional dermatologist in his corner to help him through any future diagnoses.
“Dr. Bull is awesome. She's very professional, very friendly and I think she must be a genius,” said Wittig. “She's extremely good at what she does I've been nothing but impressed. Anybody asking me for a dermatologist in the Tulsa area, and I get asked a lot, I definitely recommend her.”