The dull white square of skin on the center of my back stands in smirking contrast to its overtly tan surrounding. Summer has infiltrated my shoulders, arms, traipsing down my neck and back, toying with a field of freckles.
The dull white square of skin is 3 inches wide, 3 inches tall, vertically sucker punched in its center by more than an inch of healing destruction. A fine excision line, stitches now removed, butterfly bandages still in place, constantly tugging a reminder of the news that I haven’t yet reconciled: I have skin cancer.
Hm. Malignant Melanoma. I’m not even sure if it’s necessary to include “malignant” because maybe all melanomas are. I am willfully not consulting Dr. Google for more details, but thanks to May being Skin Cancer Awareness month (yay! I’m on-trend like the good blogger I am!), I am fully aware that Melanoma is the deadliest skin cancer.
Go big or go home, folks.
I went in to the dermatologist a couple of weeks ago to finally (finally!) have a lump near my shoulder checked out. I had been sitting on that awareness for more than a year, procrastinating my way through ignorance. Occasionally, I would mention the lump to someone, hoping somewhere deep inside that they would do something about it for me. I can’t explain that logic.
Two months ago, I mentioned it to my husband. He made the dermatologist appointment for me three days later. So there then, right there I explained that logic.
The lump ended up being nothing. So did another one. My freckles betrayed me, though, and a more thorough search began. The doctor immediately noted a spot on my back, nearly dead center, a zone which I frankly consider foul play in the Cancer Games. How in the hell am I supposed to spot something in the center of my back? Amidst a field of hundreds of other somethings, needless to mention?
He said, “That one will have to come off. Don’t worry. It’s not cancer.” I replied, “Of course it’s not cancer. Come on.”
A dark brown planet that had been there for years and of which I thought nothing until my full pregnant belly began being documented by excited friends at Type-A Mom Conference in late September of 2009. That freckle held court at the top of my belly, calling attention to more than I realized.
“You should have that checked out.” It was either Danielle or Jyl or maybe Janice. Serious eyes and a small frown are all I remember, undaunted by my assurance that it was nothing, just a spot I’d always had.
Had she kept it to herself, I never would have thought a thing of it. I certainly never would have taken the time to mention it to a dermatologist. Had she decided it was none of her business, that alarming a heavily pregnant friend on a trip far from home and ridiculously close to her due date was unwise, I never would have thought anything other than fondly of the spot. Because I know everything.
We decided to punch biopsy the Dark Brown Nothing the same day we did the full excision on my back. But don’t worry. It’s not cancer.
Of course it’s not cancer.
I had to think that. Everyone on both sides of my family go the way of cancer. One layer deep in my mind, you’ll learn that I have always expected to die of cancer. Just not anytime soon. And certainly not by one that I could even remotely consider my fault.
Damn it. Is this my fault?
I wrote this four days after the excision and biopsy:
My skin has that delicious ache that only a sunburn can bring. Yeah yeah yeah, sure, that statement is all kinds of wrong. (For the record, I went to the dermatologist for a skin cancer screening last week. I see your serious eyes.) But still. This feels good. This feels like summer and freedom and floating on water.
A spontaneous Mother’s Day picnic caught me off guard and without sunscreen. In a tank sundress, brand spanking new excision bandage splashed across my bare back, under the cypress trees, overlooking the bayou. Convinced the sun would never betray me, convinced that this hassle was a responsible formality of age.
The plan is to return for a broader excision of the Melanoma on my back the second week of June, in order to meet the minimum excision requirements for Melanoma. Two weeks later, I return for a full excision of the Dark Brown Nothing on my stomach, which turned out to be something.
To the friend that told me to think twice about my gorgeous belly, thank you. I wish I could remember which of you said it. I owe you.
Amy Turn Sharp is one of those mindful friends and responded, upon hearing the results and resulting plan, that this will be my “Tender Summer.” After the excisions are complete, I return again for a full body search, bring my obstetrician in on the action, and begin documenting and tracking a body that literally can not be touched without touching Dark Brown Nothings. Or Light Brown Nothings. Nothings of all shapes and sizes that, from a distance, produce the illusion of a tan splattered across skin that is mostly best described as Irish Translucent.
Damn it to hell.
Marrying a Lebanese man should most definitely warrant a skin cancer pass for my children, right? The Irish are fighters but I’d prefer they lose the genetic skin tone war for our offspring. I still think it’s unfair that carrying Lebanese children did not somehow seep out a glaze of olive skin tone for their mother.
I went in to have my stitches removed this past Thursday. That’s when the doctor told me. I thought it was odd that they hadn’t called with the results. I didn’t cry. I told him that this sucks but that I’m not a baby and I’d like to do both surgeries at once and right now. He smiled and said no.
This does suck. And although I’m not a baby today, I took the weekend to fully embrace how much this sucks. I drove from the dermatologist to a movie. Whatever was playing. Turned out to be priests and vampires. That sucked too. All over the place.
I let people tell me all weekend how lucky we are to have caught it so soon, how this could be worse, how it’s not so bad. I smiled and nodded and flatly stated in my head that “This still sucks. Right now. This sucks.” Because I wasn’t ready to be grateful, yet.
Trust me when I tell you that I know. I know how to count my blessings. I’m good at that. I know them all by name.
I’m telling you this now because I should have told you about the lump. I should have told you about the appointment. I should have told you about the excision and biopsy and Dark Brown Nothings.
Because when I found out that I was wrong, I felt stranded.
I’m fine. I just want you with me. I know you can feel me.
Thursday afternoon, having not yet told anyone my news, I began receiving calls from friends who never call. I began receiving text messages from friends I haven’t seen in decades. People who had no idea of anything, least of all my Dark Brown Nothings. The messages said, “I just felt like you needed to hear that...” or “I just felt like I needed to let you know…”
The burning ball of energy above us has surely struck me squarely. The burning balls of energy within us, though? They burst forth without us even knowing. Find each other. Send messages we were sure we were controlling.
I know you can feel me. This sucks. I’m fine. We’re lucky.
I just really want to go swimming in the sun.
Photos by Mishelle Lane