A Learning, Albeit Scarring, Experience
Once a year I actually get to see my primary care physician. I think it is some kind of law otherwise I doubt I would even know what he looks like.
This year I was all
prepared with a years worth of inquiries and observations about my aging body all written down lest I forget something. Failing memory was at the top of the list.
My doctor is young, cute, and as luck would have it, very professional. My fantasy of a Lifetime movie based on an inappropriate dalliance was quickly squashed.
After the usual flirting (OK, he asked me if I had any problems, complaints, questions) I reminded him of the small pimple/bump between my nose and eye that was preventing me from being a super model. I had pointed this out to him the year before but he said that removing it would cause a scar that might be more unflattering than the bump.
This year I wasn’t having any of that. This “thing” was ugly and was it my imagination or had it gotten bigger? Sure, no one had ever noticed, but I said hello to it every morning and attempted to keep it hidden with make-up. Enough! Time to see a dermatologist and have it sucked off my otherwise perfect face. My doctor agreed easily to the referral.
When I followed up with my dermatologist, she looked at me for about 10 seconds and said, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, Carcinoma.” I do not intend to compare a diagnosis of skin cancer with a more serious cancer, but hearing this caused a bit of an out-of-body experience. This happened once before. During a routine ultrasound for my second pregnancy the technician said, “I see two babies.” For just a moment you tune out while your body adjusts to the news. I guess it is better than screaming at the top of your lungs and scaring everyone in the reception area.
The doctor did a biopsy and told me she was quite certain I would need surgery. I tried to be cool. I thought of Lance Armstrong. I thought of my mother who had survived breast cancer and her sister who hadn’t. I remembered a friend’s child who had fought a losing battle with cancer and realized how brave people can be. I told myself to listen and not get hysterical. I told myself this could be my moment! I needed to be cool and calm and a shining example. I am proud to say I held it together and made all the necessary arrangements.
The surgery was a couple of weeks later. The procedure was relatively simple. I was conscious but felt nothing. Everyone at the hospital was wonderful. I was texting my kids at various times and actually took a picture of myself at one point.
While any surgery requires a recovery period this wasn’t too bad. Some swelling, black eye, a bit of pain, but within a week or two most of that had disappeared. I now have a small scar that is easily covered with make-up. (Actually, I kind of like my scar.)
When I first went to the dermatologist the assistant asked me some questions. Among them was whether I had ever gotten a sun burn that had caused blistering. Vivid memories of painful summers on Long Island came flooding back. When I was a kid there was no such thing as sun block. When you felt like you had too much sun you simply put on a t-shirt. More than once my sister and I covered ourselves in Noxema to try and cool off our bright red skin. Despite the pain we knew in just a few days it would turn to tan. We had no idea the damage we were doing to our skin and certainly cancer was not a thought.
I have not “tried” to get a tan for close to 25 years, but as with most things we tend to pay the price for our youthful ignorance as we get older. Mickey Mantle once said, “If I knew I was going to live this long, I’d have taken better care of myself.”
My daughters tell me they will no longer go tanning so that makes this all worthwhile. I know that at “20-something” it is easy to believe that “50-something” is a hundred years away, and that looking good is far more urgent than a possibility of skin cancer or blotchy, leathery, sun-damaged skin.
Such is the nature of life. We learn through experience. Here are some pictures of my experience. Use your sun block!