It was about the size of a pencil eraser, and about the same color pink. At first I thought it was a little blemish. I always thought pimples were for teenagers…unfortunately that is completely untrue. At 29 I was still getting them occasionally, and I assumed this was one. It was right on my upper cheek, beneath my eye but close enough to my nose to be considered in the t-zone. Tried to treat it, but it wouldn’t heal. Hmmm. I was probably messing with it too much. Weeks went by. I tried to leave it alone, but that dang thing just wouldn’t go away. Before my beloved Grandma passed away last year, we used to talk weekly on the phone. I happened to mention the little blemish to her and she immediately said something which I still consider some of the best advice I have ever received…”if you have anything on your body that won’t heal, get it checked out right away.” I was about to turn 30, and hadn’t had a physical since it was required for high school sports (oh yeah, badminton state champs, 1992!). I also hadn’t been to the doctor for anything since my kids were born. I was busy. I was young. I was healthy. But something about turning 30 was nagging at me…I really should make an appointment. Make sure everything is okay, be responsible and such. But in the back of my mind I still had a teenage feeling of being indestructible. Nothing could possibly be wrong, so with a certain amount of naivete, and to please my Grandma, I made an appointment with my GP. Everything was fine…a bit of high cholesterol, but the ratios were good so no problem there. A little low on iron, too, but nothing a good iron pill couldn’t fix. The next appointment was for the dermatologist. Went in, armed with my family history of ailments and personal history of laying outside under the summer sun at 15, with nothing but baby oil on my skin and a spray bottle of water to keep me cool. My friends at I used to lay out and try to get sunburned. Both so it would fade into a nice tan, and to keep our skin clear (how little did we know then???). The dermatologist was interested in the little blemish and did a biopsy. Don’t worry, he assured me. Just wait for the results and we will go from there. 5 days later (the clock ticks slowly when you are waiting for any kind of test result) the results came back. Basal cell carcinoma. What???? Skin cancer? Are you kidding me? I was 29! The dermatologist assured me that this wasn’t going to take one moment off my long life. That if you are going to get skin cancer, this is the kind to get. Treatable, slow-growing. I was referred to a surgeon and a week later I was in his clinic, getting prepped by a very nice nurse, who kindly responded to each of my chatty, nervous questions. My face was numbed up pretty good. I wasn’t going to feel a thing. The surgeon came in (I noticed he had the whitest skin imaginable...I guess that’s how dermatologists roll). The procedure was simple. Cut a big chunk out, look at the margins. If they are clear, we’re done. If not, cut some more. Luckily, it only took one time to get clear margins. He took a picture with a digital camera and showed me my face, just to give me an idea of how much flesh was missing. Whoa. I am not squeamish but it made me very queasy, looking at what amounted in my mind as a gaping hole in my cheek. He sewed me up and sent me on my way. I had a big bandage and sort of a black eye for the next few days. Many weeks after it healed, I went back for some cortisone injections which smoothed out the scar. Today, I can’t even tell where it was.
What did I learn from that? 1) None of us are indestructible. Know your family history. Check your skin monthly. If you notice anything new, or a mole seems to be changing shape, get it checked out. If something gets your spidey-sense tingling, listen! Get anything suspicious checked out. 2) Wear your sunscreen. Reapply as necessary. Even in the winter. I’ve gotten red on a sunny day in February. Sunscreen is relatively cheap, sweatproof, and plentiful. No excuses. Wear it everywhere, and don’t forget the top of your head. 3) Get a mirror, or have your spouse/partner help you check your skin monthly. Get to know your skin. See your dermatologist if anything is changing shape, looks funny, doesn’t heal, or if you have any questions. Better to be safe! 4) Sunscreen on the kids, and check them, too. Our job as parents is to learn from our mistakes so our children don’t make the same ones.
Be Healthy, Train Smart, Have Fun.