Hi. My name is Tara and I have skin cancer.
If someone had ever told me that I would wake up on July 2, 2015 and be told that day that I had skin cancer I would have said that they were lying. Never would happen. And yet that’s exactly what happened. Sure there were days where I chased after the sun. Years of it really. I, like so many others, desired the perfect tan. I thought that tan was beautiful. But there was no way that I would ever get skin cancer. Until I did.
My dermatologist called to give me my results. The results that I was so sure were going to be negative. But she didn’t say what I expected. She told me that I have skin cancer. I must admit that the conversation that morning was so heavily one sided. I just listed to her speak. What else could I do? I heard the words. I processed what was being said. I just couldn’t respond.
“I got the biopsy results back and it’s basal cell carcinoma. Remember how the resident suggested that we send a sample? I’m glad that he did because I wouldn’t have sent it. It’s not at all what I thought it would be. You are on the young side for having this. Given the location on your face the Mohs surgery is recommended. The surgeon is train in reconstruction… long surgery… a microscope in the room…”
After the word reconstruction was uttered I pretty much only heard the sound of that teacher on Charlie Brown. Reconstruction of my face? How can this be happening? Why will I need reconstruction? I have skin cancer? Reconstruction?
The answers to the above questions aren’t really anything too profound. I go yearly for whole body skin checks. Religiously. My lack of sunscreen use and all of those tanning bed visits eventually caught up with me. I’ve had countless “suspicious” moles removed. Moles that pathologists like to give fancy names that aren’t melanoma now but could be in the future. So it’s not uncommon for me to come out of the dermatologist’s office each year with a fresh wound. A soon to be new scar somewhere on my body. Whatever it takes to ward off the beast that is melanoma. I honestly never obsessed about other types of skin cancer. No one really talks about those ones. Only old people get basal cell or squamous cell carcinomas. People who have lived long lives in the sun. Definitely not someone who is only 36. I never thought that young people got basal cell carcinoma. Until I did.
For a couple of years now I’ve had this small, clear nodule under my right eye. I remember back when it first appeared thinking it was a blemish or a bug bite. Then it just never went away. A year ago I even asked my dermatologist about it. If I had any reason to be alarmed. She assured me that it was a subcutaneous cyst. Quite common. That unless it bothered me we would just leave it alone. No reason to mess with it or make a scar.
I’m not even sure if that spot grew at all in the last year. Maybe slightly? Going into this year’s appointment I just knew that I wanted to get it removed. Cosmetically the spot bothered me. It wasn’t the color of a mole so in my mind it just looked like this constant blemish under my makeup. I felt incredibly vain asking but I went ahead and asked if it could be removed.
I’ll forever be grateful to that young resident for asking his attending if she wanted a specimen jar for a sample. He was prompted to go over her knowledge and just ask something so simple but now so meaningful. Thing back on it now it’s as if I’m watching it replay all over again but in slow motion. I watch my doctor pause. I see the look of contemplation pass over her face. I hear her say, “I guess we could. I really don’t expect it to come back as anything but sure let’s send it.” And just like that, so simply, my path in life has forever been altered.
I in no way, shape or form fault my doctor. She is an amazing dermatologist. My spot wasn’t the typical. It looked like something else entirely. My age was off. So many other factors didn’t add up. She had no way of knowing. I’m still going to be her patient. In fact I feel even more kindred to her now. She didn’t have to listen to the prompting of the resident in training. She could have so easily dismissed his little nudge. Others may have done just that but she didn’t. In fact acknowledged that he was right and she was wrong. She was the attending and she was training him but she heard him and for that I will also be forever grateful.
This week of my life will bring new answers to so many additional questions. I will learn the next steps. I will see more doctors. I will feel nervous. I am nervous. But I have got to be strong. Despite it all perhaps I should change the introduction of this posting…
Hi. My name is Tara and I have skin cancer but skin cancer does not have me.