As a young girl, I remember looking out the kitchen window and watching my father sunbath. He’d hold up a piece of aluminum foil under his chin and the sun would bake his fair, freckled face. The only thing that looked a bit out of place was that it was February and my father would be sitting in a foot of snow.
Years later, my very handsome father was having cancerous growths cut away from his nearly perfect face.
As teenagers we would go to beach, pour baby oil all over our hair and bodies and cook. And we would be told that we looked healthy. I rarely got sunburns because I assumed that while I had my father’s surname, I had my mother’s Italian skin.
When I first moved to San Francisco I got what I called “a sun and wind burn by the bay” and it was beyond painful. I think I had a 3 inch square of skin that was not on fire and I had to try to sit and sleep while balancing on that patch of skin. And I waited for the blisters to abate so I could go to Golden Gate Park and play Frisbee and tempt the sun god once again.
Once I was settled back in New York City, my friends and I developed a ritual where we would mock the people with the real dark, unnatural looking tans. We were fashionable mole people who believed that the pasty, sickly look was healthy. And we were saving our skin but only traveling at night. I wasn’t sure if we were bats or vampires.
Two years ago, I made my way to my dermatologist’s office for my yearly, “I will show you my skin and you will tell me everything is fine” dance. I had this little growth that my seat belt was rubbing against and it was annoying me. My doctor took a little snip and assured me that it looked pretty harmless.
I had what is called squamous cell carcinoma. And it needed to be removed. When I got off the phone with my doctor, I googled skin cancer and according to eHealthMD: Squamous cell carcinoma is more serious because it does spread to vital organs inside the body. Spread occurs in a few cases in every 100. It does so slowly. At first cancer cells tend to spread only as far as the nearest lymph nodes structures, which filter out and trap the cancer cells. If spread has occurred, the affected lymph nodes can be removed before cancer spreads to vital organs.
I was kind of freaked out but hopeful because this cancer moves slowly. And I thanked my seat belt for making me notice what I thought was nothing. That “nothing” could have really messed up my life.
I was in my doctor’s office two days later and as I laid there on the table he asked me how I was. My response was that I had had so many traumatic things thrown my way. I had dodged a few life bullets, had suffered from physical and verbal abuse, had lousy bosses, really bad dates and for those reasons alone I thought I would not be visited by Cancer. How dare it mess with me. I looked up at him and said, “I have cancer. Damn.”
He had to cut deep into my collarbone and got it all. A lovely little scar is the headstone for what was my cancer. RIP because I don’t plan on you winning.
But I feel 100% confident that cancer and I will meet again one day.
I think that is why the universe gave us dermatologists. Don’t assume that odd little growth or that maddening age spot that wasn’t there before is harmless.
Mine was not harmless, but I came out the winner. This time.