Sunday, June 14, 2009

How my vanity may have saved my life, or at least made it a lot better

Resolved: I am vain. I readily admit to being "excessively concerned of (my) own appearance." I have, for as long as I can remember, wanted to look good. Maybe being a kid who got called "fatty" when I was little contributes to placing an importance on looking good. Or maybe it's my general and ongoing need for approval. In any case, I am vain and I try to make myself look as good as I can.

Resolved: I have a lot of moles. The brown spots on your skin, not the little varmints under the lawn. You can't choose the distribution of your pigment, so what are you going to do? But moles are more than just blips on the radar, they can be annoying to shave around, and as time passes they can get bigger or hairier or just sort of more noticeable in a negative way.

All that said, a few weeks back I started noticing a small mole up near my left eye. It seemed to look different than it once did, and maybe a little inflamed. So being vain, I called up the dermatologist at my HMO and asked if they would snip it off for me.

The doctor checked out this thing (not a mole actually but some other kind of skin thing) and said sure, I'll get rid of it, and no, it's not anything to worry about. But he also wanted to give me the once over, and when I took off my shirt he spotted a couple of moles that looked suspicious. Out came the tools and a few minutes later he's cut one off my abdomen and one off my back. He tells me they are probably nothing but he will call if there's any trouble.

I didn't think much of it. I have never been a big sunbather, and having a couple of funny looking moles out of my crop of dozens, maybe hundreds - well, odds are there are going to be some that look funny. That doesn't mean I've got anything wrong with me. Does it?

Phone rings while I am vacationing in New York. Doctor tells me the biopsy says the mole on my abdomen is a melanoma. He tells me it should be ok, it's been caught early, no chemo needed, but he needs to take a pound of flesh to make sure it's all gone. (Ok, he didn't say a pound of flesh but I have to use my drama major knowledge for obscure references now and then.) So just like that, I have cancer. I am reading things about "survival rates" and whatnot. As the song says, what a difference a day makes.

Melanoma is caused by UVA and UVB rays - they think. But it's also possible to get it in places that never get any sun. Some people say even one really bad sunburn as a kid can set you up for this cancer later. I definitely had a few sunburns over the years - maybe you did too.

Melanoma is the worst type of skin cancer. If you don't get it early, it can burrow down and get you into all kinds of trouble. Odds are I will be fine and this will not be the thing that kills me. But it does feel like the Grim Reaper sort of waved at me from across the room.

Moral of the story #1: Check yourself.
Moral of the story #2:
If I had not been vain and wanted to get a blip off my face, this cancer could have gone unnoticed for a long time - maybe too long. So maybe being vain is not the worst thing in the world?

3 comments:

Dan Monez said...

Great story and excellent advice! Having brushed by the grim reaper a couple of times myself I know it does humble one.

Rebecca said...

What's wrong with vanity? At least your baggage looks good, eh? Seriously, sorry to hear it got so scary. I think I'll call the dermatologist......

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