Hey you guys,
As a fair skinned woman with light eyes, I’d always heard about the risks of skin cancer. It seemed like something that wouldn’t happen to me because I was careful with applying sunscreen … well… let’s be honest. I wasn’t really that careful until my 30s hit. My childhood, teens, and 20s were a disaster as far as sunscreen protection goes. When I was growing up in the 70s & 80s, I don’t think my family knew what sunscreen was. I’m not even sure if it was used at all back then.
Looking back now, I can easily catalogue several disastrous and painful sunburns that left me blistered and peeling. Some of my earliest childhood memories involve my mom applying cold Noxzema to my sunburns after a day at the pool or running around playing with my friends. The sunburns continued through middle school when I laid out in the sun with my girlfriends, listening to our favorite hair bands, baking to a crisp and using Baby Oil to “tan.” BABY OIL for fucks sake! Have you seen me? My friends would get that “healthy” golden tan that I envied, and I would be lobster red. Eventually the lobster red would fade and I’d develop what my wife lovingly refers to as the freckled “blonde girl tan.” Then in early high school, I discovered tanning beds. Yep. Definitely burned my ass off in those too many times to count. Luckily, by my late teens I had discovered sunscreen and would actually use it but I didn’t learn the importance of actually reapplying the sunscreen until I had a few more painful burns under my belt. Like that time when I was at Lollapalooza, partied in the sun all day and left with blisters on my forehead after I had only applied sunscreen one time in 8 hours. Or that other time when my bff and I were on vacation in Puerto Vallarta, and we went parasailing. I remember being so proud of the “healthy” tan that I acquired on that trip. I also remember being diligent about reapplying sunscreen but once we got up on that parasail, those guys let us ride it over and over again. I left that trip with amazing memories and another round of blisters on my forehead. Then there was that time in my late 20s, when we were doing our annual tubing trip down the Salt River in Arizona. We’d be floating down the river for 5+ hours which is a very long time in the hot Arizona sun. At this stage in my life, I thought me and sunscreen were trusted companions. I had it all figured out! I was dutifully reapplying throughout the day, but I kept maneuvering my legs in and out of the tube and the water. So basically I was rubbing the sunscreen off my legs every time I did that. Later that evening, I was vomiting due to a friendly case of sun poisoning. I’d developed another case of blisters, this time on my shins, from second degree burns. The doctor at the immediate care clinic was not impressed with my assurances that I had used sunscreen all day long. In my defense, I wasn’t burned anywhere else! Those blisters turned into a brand new freckle pattern on my legs. At 40 years old, my body is like a walk down memory lane of various trips and random events that left me burned. Oh look! That freckle pattern across my clavicle? I owe that one to that 4th of July Nats’ game a few years ago when I was baking in the sun for seven innings straight, and I missed a spot with my sunscreen.
The moral of the story is that I was irresponsible with my skin and sun exposure for a very very long time. However, I eventually got responsible yet still had some accidental burns along the way. My wife, bless her, is always looking out for me and concerned about me burning in the sun. Whenever we go to the pool or beach she always packs an extra white t-shirt and is always on me to cover up. She and my friends, bless them too, constantly remind me to cover up and warn me if they think I’m getting red. All in all, I felt I had mastered my relationship with sunscreen. I was proud of my new sun habits.
Part of these new sun habits included scheduling my first ever annual full body scan with a dermatologist about 4 years ago. If you’re not familiar with the exam, they carefully check every inch, and I mean every inch, of your body. They cover you with a sheet and move it to the side as they inspect various body parts, like when you’re getting a massage. They even look between your toes, at your lady bits, through your scalp, and some doctors even spread your ass cheeks for a quick peek. The first time I had an exam I was nervous, embarrassed, and shocked by the attention to detail but mainly I was glad that I was finally doing something proactive. I was happy that the doctors didn’t see anything that needed to be checked out. Phew. I was safe! After all of those horrible and painful sun burns, I was in good shape.
So then a couple years ago we rented a beach house with some friends, and it was right after that trip that I noticed a light pink spot on my leg. It was new. It’s on the front part of my leg, below my knee to the left of the shin bone and above that freckle pattern from the tubing incident. At first I thought it was some sort of mosquito bite. We’d been hanging outside all week, after all. I was due for my annual full body scan at the dermatologist the next month so I figured I’d wait to see what they said. At my appointment, the spot was still there. I met with the PA, because it’s always hard to actually see my doctor. The PA told me that it was too soon to tell anything and I should keep an eye on the spot because wounds on legs take a long time to heal due to constant exposure in the summertime. She told me to come back in about four months if it hadn’t gone away. And like the slacker I can be, I did not follow-up in four months. I figured she wasn’t concerned about it and I’d just wait for my next body scan. Well then the next year happened and things got crazy at work, and I didn’t take the time to go to any of my doctor appointments that year because work is much more important than my health, clearly. I know. This is ridiculous and irresponsible, but I honestly wouldn’t think of it too often. And you know what? That damn spot never went away. To me it was just one more mark on my skin. Another way to remember that epic beach trip. I’d think of that spot on my leg occasionally, usually right before I’d fall asleep. I’d think, shit, I need to remember to call the dermatologist tomorrow. And then tomorrow would come and I’d promptly forget about it. I’d always remember at inopportune times. I’d notice it when I was shaving and think, ok, I’m going to call today. And I never would. I know. It’s lame and there’s no excuse.
About a month ago, I was shaving and I noticed the spot as per usual, but this time it was different. It had actually fucking changed. Apparently overnight! There was a darker spot inside of it. I nearly had a panic attack right there in the shower. When I toweled off, I sat there shocked. I thought I gave myself skin cancer and I was sick over it. I wanted to call my wife, but I knew she was on the train. I also knew she’d go into worse panic mode than I would, and I wasn’t ready to do that to her just yet. I took some deep breaths, and immediately sent my bestie a picture of it. She started doing Google searches instantly, comforted me, and gave me a great pep talk as besties do. We agreed I’d call my doctor immediately once I got to work, schedule the appointment, and then call my wife. I knew I had to have the appointment booked before I talked to my wife. She’d be worried sick, and I didn’t want to make it worse. I got to work and called within 30 minutes but my doctor was booked solid for the next month, and even with the panic in my voice they said it would still be a month before I could get in. I know you’re thinking that I’d already been waiting nearly two fucking years because I’m an irresponsible slacker so what’s one more month, but I needed to know now! I found another dermatologist on my insurance list and they were able to get me in the next day. I called my wife, told her not to freak out, that I had a doctor appointment, and it was all going to be fine. Then I closed my office door and cried.
Throughout that day and the next, my wife and my bestie were so amazing and somehow knew exactly what to say. I wasn’t comfortable saying it out loud or voicing my fears to anyone else, so I just talked to them about it. I didn’t do any research until later that evening. To be honest, I was afraid of what I would see. I just kept thinking that it was all my fault. This was a mantra in my head. If I had acted like a responsible adult and gone to the doctor they would have fucking cut it off or whatever they do and it’d be nothing. The next day I told a few more close friends that I was going in to have it checked out. Everyone told me it would be okay and whatever it ended up being, the doctor would be able to take care of it. That’s right! Fist pump and She-Ra power! This spot had nothing on me! At my appointment, I was seen by the PA. He was really friendly, super cute, and put me at ease right away. He was amused by my lack of official skin cancer vocabulary. I was all, “I’m sure this is one of those things that you can just cut off or whatever you do and I’m just here as a precaution.” I was trying to act tough, but I was terrified. He told me we’d need to do a biopsy but due to insurance rules, it couldn’t be done on my first visit with them because the insurance might kick it back. So I’d have to wait two more weeks for the biopsy. TWO MORE WEEKS. Are you people kidding me? I managed to survive those two weeks. They somehow dragged yet flew by and my wife and I talked about it a lot. I told a few more friends and family members that I had a biopsy scheduled. I assured them all it was going to be totally fine, while inside I was still scared shitless.
Biopsy day came and my wife asked if I wanted her to accompany me to the appointment, but I told her I’d be fine on my own. Of course, I’d want her there if I actually needed an official treatment. That morning I was nervously chatting with my bestie and we were talking about the funniest things. She had me laughing when I wanted to cry because I was nervous, dammit! I’ve never really had a medical procedure done before so this was a big deal, you guys. So anyways. I got my same sweet PA. I told him my wife had wanted to come, but I told her not to and now I was seriously regretting it. He told me it would be okay and the procedure would just hurt for a second, just a pinch for the shot that numbed the area. We talked about the upcoming Pride events in the city, the benefits of taking Amtrak instead of the bus to NYC. He was doing what my bestie did, talking about anything to get my mind off of that fucking scraping he was doing on my leg. I looked down once and saw a pool of blood. I quickly looked away and continued prattling on about buses. He bandaged me up, told me I’d get the results within two weeks and sent me on my way. Another TWO WEEKS! Are you people crazy? I wanted instant results, but I knew that in two weeks I’d get the answer and it would all get sorted. I sort of felt relieved. Now I just had to wait. In the meantime, I was in NYC a few days after the biopsy and I was meeting up with some author friends and another friend, all of whom I adore. All day, I was walking around with this Band-Aid covering a hole in my leg from the biopsy and I had this strange compulsion to blurt out to each of them that I had a biopsy done. It was like biopsy Tourette’s. Don’t worry, I held it in!
Then it happened. This week, I got the call earlier than expected. The sweet PA told me he was really glad we did the biopsy because it turns out, I do have skin cancer. The “good” kind as he put it. It’s basal cell carcinoma. It’s not melanoma, thank god. Basal cell is the most common form of skin cancer and it doesn’t metastasize. Luckily for me it’s still superficial. That means it hasn’t gotten deep into the tissue because we caught it early enough. I go back next Wednesday for a follow-up consultation to discuss my treatment options. Yes, my wife is most definitely coming with me. The options are 1) excise which is where they cut the whole thing out, and 2) ED&C which involves scraping it away until the only the healthy tissue remains. It really depends on how big the cut would need to be I guess, so the doctor will check me out and will make the decision from there. I will keep you guys posted on the treatment.
When I got the news, I was having a rough day with people piling things on me, and stressing me out. I just wanted to yell, “Leave me alone! I have skin cancer, you assholes!” Don’t worry, I didn’t. I’m a professional, dammit! … That is until I blurted it out to a colleague when we were at a work cocktail reception later that day. He asked how I was and I word vomited something like, “Oh fine. I have skin cancer, but it’s the good kind.” I could no longer control my biopsy compulsion. I realized that maybe I needed to talk about this. I’m a talker after all. So that’s why I’m here today telling you all about my skin cancer, the good kind. I know I’m making light of my skin cancer by saying the good kind, but humor gets me through everything in life. I’ve lost loved ones to cancer, and comforted my best friend when we lost her mom way too early. I have friends that are strong, beautiful, breast cancer survivors. I know how deadly and serious this disease is. That’s not a laughing matter. I hate the C word with a passion. I know that I’m very lucky because I do not have melanoma. I’ve had this weighing on me for a month, and I’ve been scared. Really fucking scared. This sort of thing makes you conscious of your own mortality and makes you reevaluate your life. I think I finally need to start getting healthy again, you guys. Treat my body like the temple it is and all that. I guess this means no more Hohos for dinner, no more unprotected sun exposure, no more unnecessary stress or drama, and most importantly, I need to look out for number one. And so do all of you.
If you read this blog post, please, please, please, take the time to make that appointment and get a full body scan with a dermatologist. I recently read that skin cancer is the most common of all cancers and everyone is susceptible to it regardless of skin color. Please take the time to get yourself tested, put on that sunscreen, and hell, just make those follow up doctor appointments that have been weighing on you. I promise you’ll feel so much better after you get the answers, and of course, early prevention is key.
In the end, cancer, the good and most especially the bad kind, can fucking suck it.
P.S. I want to give a special thanks to my Dirty Girls and Jen McCoy. Your love and support mean so much. Candi, Paula, and Tarah, you girls made me cry when you made these skin cancer avis for the blog. And then Jen went and asked for one and made me cry even harder. I don’t know what I’d do without each and every one of you and your friendship. And Psuka, our sticker dance parties were a bright shining light on some dark scary days, my Boo. Beep Beep, I’m on the way! Thank you for your epic research skills. And so much love to all my girlfriends scattered all over the country, you know who you are. Your calls and texts and check-ins meant everything. I want to see you all soon and give you big hugs.
Finally, I’m really blessed to have the best wife ever. I love you this much. Don’t worry you guys, she’s already planning my entire SPF body suit for future beach trips.
Here’s a link to donate to the American Cancer Society if you are in a position to do so.