The Big C
I am missing a big chunk of my leg this week. No, I didn’t get bitten by a shark or attacked by some criminal with a knife.
I saw my dermatologist.
As many of you know, going to the doctor in general isn’t one of my favorite things to do. It seems like whenever I go to a doctor I end up with something smashed, something violated, or something involving needles or x–rays.
I do not like going to the doctor. I cringe when I hear “This will only hurt for a little bit.”
I don’t want anything to hurt. Ever. Not even for a little bit.
I’ve discovered with age that I seem to be allergic to pain.
Years ago I had a zit on my nose that wouldn’t go away. The more I tried covering it up with makeup, the more it seemed to say “Look at me – I’m not going away!!!”
After about a month of mashing it, I decided to go to the doctor.
He was 150 years old and had glasses so thick that it made his eyeballs look freakishly enormous.
“Hmmmm,” He said. “I think we need to take this off. It’s not a zit. Looks like skin cancer.”
I was only 24 years old. Okay, YES, I had used baby oil and iodine at times to get a tan, and YES, I had gone to the tanning bed when I was younger, but skin cancer? Don’t only old people get skin cancer?
He numbed my nose with a needle that was the size of a railroad tie and felt like it was coming out the back of my head. Then he performed what is called “Mohs” surgery, where they scrape a layer of skin off and then check it for cancer cells. They repeat the process until all of the cancer cells are gone and they have hit clean skin.
He scraped, and scraped, and scraped, and I was afraid I was going to end up with a third nostril.
Finally it was over and there was nothing more that needed to be done. Turns out it was Basal Cell Carcinoma, which wasn’t deadly, but it meant I would need checkups from that point on.
Fast forward 15 years. I’ll admit I became a little lax about going to the dermatologist EVERY year. Who has time for that? My life was too busy.
Then my father was diagnosed with cancer and that changed my thinking.
So I scheduled an appointment with a new dermatologist, this time with someone other than Dr. Kevorkian.
Dr. T is 5’ tall and weighs less than a fifth grader, but she is super sweet and incredibly smart.
She looked me all over and I mean ALL OVER and said “The only thing I’m concerned about is this little mark on your leg.”
“It’s been there for as long as I can remember. I always thought it was a freckle,” I said.
“It’s never changed?”
“Well, if it were ME, I’d recommend getting it removed. Since you’re not having any problems with it, it won’t be covered under insurance (of course not!) and will be considered an elective excision but I’d do it if I were you.”
Elective excision? That’s me ASKING to be stuck with needles and cut on?
Hmmm. I’m gonna have to think about that.
So my husband and I talked about it and he said that we’d better be safe than sorry so we scheduled it on the calendar.
The day of the excision, I took a Xanax because as I stated earlier, I am allergic to needles. I also doubled up on my blood pressure medicine. Okay, okay. I might have doubled up on my Xanax also.
She circled the spot on my leg, which was about the size of my pinkie fingernail. The circle, however, was about the size of a golf ball.
Then she pulled out a needle.
“This is only going to hurt for a second.”
It did only hurt for a second. But then she stuck it in again, and it hurt for another second. And as she stuck me with the needle ALL THE WAY AROUND THE CIRCLE – about 25 times and I felt it EACH TIME. So for me, that “only hurt for a second” actually lasted over 25 seconds. Just a second. Yeah right.
I couldn’t watch. I stared and focused on Dale and squeezed the blood out of his hand.
Finally it was over. I went home and went to sleep.
Two days later I was allowed to remove the bandages and finally got a good look at it.
Holy cow. When I said golf ball size, I didn’t realize I meant golf ball size deep too. It looked like Hannibal Lector had taken some of my leg for a skin suit.
And the stitches? Clearly, my doctor has never studied plastic surgery. Was she blindfolded when she stitched me up?
My irritation quickly dissipated when she called to say that she had “good news and bad news,” which is something you NEVER want to hear from your doctor. (“The good news is we were able to perform your lobotomy. The bad news is that you were in here for an ingrown toenail.”)
For me, the good news was that she got it all.
The bad news? It was Melanoma.
Oh. Dear. God.
I don’t think I’ve ever been so terrified of a doctor in my whole life. Not even with one brandishing a needle at me.
Melanoma? No, it’s not a country in Europe.
Wow. All of those days out in the sun with no sunscreen on had finally caught up with me.
But I got lucky. God answered my hysterical prayers and my promises to feed the children in Calcutta, never miss church on Sunday again, and correct all my wrongdoings if He would let me be okay.
And even though it’s 37 degrees outside, I am heading to the drugstore shortly to buy sunscreen, which I will probably start bathing in.
Just to be safe.
(Friends, if you have not had your skin checked recently, please, PLEASE do so. Did you know that Melanoma is the most deadly form of skin cancer but is one of the easiest to treat if caught early? And even though I write blogs to talk about these things and try to be funny about it, please do not ever skip seeing your doctor. One rough day isn’t worth the consequence of not going.)