I have known for a long, long time, pretty much all of my life, that my skin was going to give me trouble. Growing up with stories of your grandfather’s battle with melanoma, a battle which ended in his death in his 30s, has a way of sticking with you, and you tend to wonder if you will have the same problems.
My mom was always slathering on the sunscreen, warning us of the dangers of going without. But as I got older, I often went without anyway, and on occasion was burnt to a crisp. It’s shameful, I know, but I was a stupid teenager. A stupid teenager caving to massive peer pressure to be tan. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
By the time I caught on and started taking better care of my skin, I suppose it was already too late. They say most of the skin damage that can cause cancer happens before you turn 18 years old.
When I was 25, I was at the gynecologist’s office of all places, when I mentioned I hated the mole that I had at the very top of my right leg. She said she’d be glad to remove it if she had everything she needed in the office, and she did. She said she’d send it off for a biopsy, “just as a standard practice”. That came back showing signs of precancerous cells, so she referred me to a dermatologist, who took more skin from my leg around that mole, and also two moles from my back.
Everything came back looking normal, but he told me, “I don’t want you to leave here thinking everything’s fine.” And instructed me to see a dermatologist about every 5 years.
During my pregnancy with Bowie, my skin went through some crazy changes, which is pretty normal apparently, but it freaked me out. So, I went in for a skin check, having to look for another dermatologist because we had moved. Finding a new doctor is always a huge pain in the pa-too-tie, and finding a specialist, even more so. That visit didn’t amount to much of anything, except that I was able to have the ugly, disgusting, annoying skin tag that had sprouted in my armpit removed. But, no spots were cause for alarm.
I didn’t much care for that dermatologist’s bedside manner, and I had made a mental note to find another one. The years went by, and every so often, I’d think about it. “I really ought to get another skin check. But then I’d have to find another doctor, UGH.” So, like most things in life, I put it off as long as I could.
During my pregnancy with Ferris, my skin freaked out again. Most things still looked normal, based on what my second dermatologist had told me, except for this small mole on the right side of my right thigh. It had changed shape, and had turned a strange color. It wasn’t all that big, and didn’t hurt or itch, but I just didn’t feel right about it. So, I put on my big girl panties and found myself a new dermatologist.
She came highly recommended on Yelp, and was in a semi-convenient location, so I made an appointment. When I was there, I pointed out the mole in question right away. She kept her cool, but I could tell by the way she honed in on it that she didn’t like the looks of it either. “We’ll go ahead and remove that one.”
She took it that same visit, unexpectedly leaving me with three stitches in my leg. It was a bit painful, and pretty inconvenient, but worth it where my health is concerned, obviously. And she sent me on my way with instructions to come back in two weeks to get the stitches out and get my biopsy results. But she’d call me if she heard anything “earth-shattering”.
With all of my history, it should not have surprised me at all when she called me just four days later. I was at the Academy of Sciences, admiring the fish with Bowie and Ferris when I got the news.
Like I said, I shouldn’t have been surprised by any of this, but when she told me it was melanoma, it hit me like a 300 pound linebacker. I felt completely blindsided, standing there in the middle of that dark aquarium, with people milling about all around me.
It was one of those moments where you suddenly don’t hear anything but the beat of your own heart. I could barely even hear her. Bowie was screaming at me to move to the next exhibit, and I didn’t hear him until he tugged on my arm. People must have thought I was the worst mother in the world, standing there chatting on my phone while my kid screamed bloody murder for me to pay attention to him.
That’s what’s happening.
The dermatologist is very optimistic, we caught it very early, and the sample that was biopsied pretty strongly indicates that it was all removed. More skin will be removed as a precaution, and tomorrow I’m going in for blood work and a chest x-ray, standard with this diagnosis, just to be sure things are fine. I promise to keep my bloggy friends updated.