As I write this, I'm preparing to go back to Michigan (from
California) for my 40th high school reunion. In addition to thinking about
seeing old friends (pun intended), I've been taking stock of some of the
lessons I've learned in the last 40 years.
Some have been helpful (learning how to drive a stick shift)
while some have been fun (I can do a 5-mile hike up a mountain to see a roaring
waterfall). Many have been tough (from leaving my hometown to saying good-bye
to loved ones) and others have lifted me to a higher plane (giving birth to my
But a recent lesson has been on my mind the most: Always use
In June, after months of nagging from my husband about a little
sore that wouldn't heal on my nose, I went to see a dermatologist. I was sure
it was just a scratch from one of my cats that kept getting re-scratched. As I
was leaving, hubby yelled after me, "Make sure you show him those spots on your
shoulders and your legs." I promised I would, knowing they, too, were nothing
to worry about.
The dermatologist seemed a little bored when he finally came
into the exam room, but he brightened up considerably when he took a look at my
nose. "Looks like basal cell carcinoma," he said, barking measurements to his
assistant. Surprised, I tentatively pointed out the half-dollar sized spot on
my left shoulder that was sort of crusty and weepy (more cat scratches, I
concurred) and another, quarter-sized spot next to it. At last, the doctor
looked interested. "Could be a melanoma, or a pigmented basal cell," he
exclaimed, again followed by measurements. "Do you have more?"
Indeed I did. Another oozy quarter-sized spot on my right
upper back, three pencil-eraser sized spot on my legs (that I had long declared
were keratoses, despite the fact
that they occasionally bled) and a couple tiny spots on my chest. He didn't
just take my word for it, though, and did a very thorough exam himself, even
looking at the soles of my feet.
"We'll start with
the ones on your left shoulder and nose," he said while
taking aim with a syringe filled with lidocaine. After numbing everything, he
did shave biopsies on my left shoulder spots and nose. Saying he was pretty
sure they were "just" basal cells, he left the room promising to call me with
the results in "a week or so."
He called in 2 days. The news wasn't good - two of the spots
(including the one on my nose) were basal cells, but the largest one was
melanoma. I needed to have Mohs surgery as soon as it could be scheduled on
both my shoulder and my nose. In a daze, I called the Mohs surgeon and set up appointments.
The melanoma was the most pressing, so that had to be done first.
The surgeon got everything from both spots on the shoulder
in the first pass and was able to pull them together during the repair phase of
the surgery into a beautiful, 6 inch modified blanket stitch scar. I took a lot
of pictures (and posted them on my Facebook page to share with my nurse
friends) and felt very lucky the melanoma had been caught early. I scheduled
the nose Mohs for after the reunion - I didn't want to face everyone, well,
without my whole face - but I've already learned my lesson: Sunscreen, lots of
it, every morning, reapplied during the day, even when I don't go outside. My strawberry
blonde hair and pasty white skin are better complimented by a few freckles than
a tan that's not natural to me, so good-bye iodine and baby oil, and hello SPF