Things are going fairly swimmingly these days until I spend a sleepless night convinced I have cancer.
It’s not just the 3AM crazies, it’s the “atypical mole” on my back I recently discovered, which feels like some bumpy scratchy thing that I have never noticed before. It’s also the thing I had the good sense–or idiocy, depending on your perspective–to capture in brilliant blurry iPhone camera glory that night, after about 18 tries that all yielded blackmail-worthy photographs of my ass instead.
When I was finally successful, let’s say it’s one thing to imagine what some brand new creepy thing on your skin can be; it’s another to actually see it and know for a fact that you are walking around accessorizing with a textbook image of a Melanoma.
That’s when panic set in.
I spent the next 30 minutes (the longest ever 30 minutes of my life since labor) doing anything but looking up “atypical mole” or “what do I do if I have a melanoma” on the Internet– until of course I finally cave. Even Candy Crush was no match for my need to uncover piss-poor information about my body from dubious sources, and that’s saying something.
So, like a shipwrecked crew finally discovering a banana tree after three days, I frenetically gobble down every awful photo, long-winded description, terrible prognosis on any site I can find. And then, because this is what those of us without medical degrees do in the age of Too Much Information at Your Disposal, I come up with my very own diagnosis, and it was not a good one.
Humble suggestion: Never do this.
(You will ignore me. I ignore me. We are all idiots.)
Somehow sleep came, though I’m not sure how. Yesterday morning, I cuddled so long with the kids when they crept into bed with me, I didn’t even care if we’d be late to school. I somehow managed to sneak away to make the phone call at precisely 0800 hours when the dermatologist’s office opened, whispering into the phone, I have a Melanoma on my back. Can he see me today?
Here I will cut to the chase and tell you here that it was not a Melanoma, thanks for nothing Dr. Google.
“Oh, isn’t aging fun?” the real doctor smiled, as he explained it was a (don’t click don’t click don’t click) Seborrheic Keratoses, more lovingly referred to as a barnacle. It’s an old person thing. An age spot. A crusty little puddle of spilled brown candle wax that makes its home on your back without even asking first. And it’s totally harmless–unless you’re a bikini model, in which case, get that thing the hell off your back before people think you’re over 29.
The lovely, lovely doctor returned to the room, took my hand and said, “I get it. I have kids too. It’s like you start thinking, I don’t want my kids to be motherless…”
I sat stunned at hearing this word out loud. I pushed back the beginnings of tears which stung my eyes at the mere mention.
It’s the thought you never want in your head for more than a fleeting nanosecond. While losing a child may be the worst thing any of us can imagine, I think that the thought of them losing us may be worse.
I flipped through my mental rolodex of all the brave amazing, cancer survivors I know and for the first time, I understood things better. Of course this wasn’t even close to what they have been through; not even one-millionth of what they have been through. But still, they were in my head now in a completely new way.
The doctor returned to do a full body check at which point, indeed there were some little freckles which were not freckles at all and which warranted immediate removal and further investigation. My skin scattered with the tiny punctures of numbing shots, he plucked them from my skin. Along with those damn skin tags, sublimely earned through two pregnancies.
I won’t miss them.
“Let’s clean up that blood,” he instructed the medical assistant who stood at the ready wielding mini bandages, and I craned my neck down for the first time to see little scarlet smudgy dots across my breasts and torso.
“Oh my God!” I said, “It’s like Game of Thrones down there!”
We laughed. And I knew I’d be okay.
But I also knew something drastic had changed. And it from now on, it would be much harder to dismiss friendly suggestions of fish oil supplements and eating more leafy green vegetables, of tightening your will with lawyers, and especially, of the SPF moisturizer and those wide-brimmed hats in the summer on the beach.