April 19, 2012 § 16 Comments
When I was fourteen, after a fun-filled day with my friends where we slathered ourselves in baby oil in an effort to get Ban De Soleil brown, I walked home and flattened my towel on the grass in our backyard. The sun had moved from its place high in the sky and I lay stomach down dozing in the warmth of the afternoon.
I still remember the prickle of the grass coming from underneath my towel. When I woke, my head was turned to the side and it took a few minutes to find my focus. Blinking lazily I watched my beach bag and listened to the sounds of the ocean waves in the distance. I was rested and warm even though the sun had moved over the house. Content, I stayed there for a while embraced by the end of a beautiful summer day.
I think about this often, because it’s one of those times where my pleasure filled every last cell of my being. How many times are we granted a memory like that? A memory attached to pure bliss that stays with us forever.
It seems ironic now that my memory was really truly being etched into my cells. Melanoma must have begun during those years and didn’t show its face until my pregnancy hormones (and maybe the infertility drugs, too) sent my body into cancer cell turnover overload.
As summer nears closer, as the weather warms, and as the Internet is inundated with (Oh my gosh I want everything) summer fashion, I am reminded of the importance of caring for one’s skin.
We should all be wearing sunscreen. Melanoma is a gene and you can have deep gorgeous African skin and you can still get the disease.
To all of the beautiful moms across the Earth, I implore you to teach your kids about the dangers of the sun. It’s not a lesson that they will hear, though if you spend your own summer getting cooked to a crisp. You can chase them down with Coppertone, but if I learned anything from my years teaching other people’s monsters, it’s that kids learn by what is modeled.
Wear a beautiful hat. Be chic in a gorgeous long caftan. Get sporty and adorable in an Athleta rashguard or J. Crew’s fab striped board shorts. Boden always does great tunics. Free People and Georgie make amazing beach pants and even Lululemon does UV running tops. The choices are endless and your skin (and dermatologist) will thank you.
As a result of my sun soaked adolescence, I now have a hideous scar (one of many, but the one most difficult to conceal) across my back, near my neck. I try to hide on a daily basis. I have hated it for the over four years I’ve had it and have endured steroid injections and laser treatments hoping to make it disappear.
It isn’t going anywhere.
A few nights ago after watching episode two of The Big C where Laura Linney’s character (in the last stages of her own melanoma fight) tattoos a large C over her scar, I’ve decided to do the same.
When you see it, please ask me about it. I’m not afraid to share. I want to feel proud and I think it will help.
Would I change that dreamy afternoon memory (or any of those delicious days cavorting in the sun) if it meant no cancer?
The only thing I would change is my insecurity about not knowing who I was and my inability to feel beautiful in my own….. skin.
My wish for the fourteen your old me and what I hope for all girls everywhere is that we can find the beauty within ourselves to not have to change what God has given us.
Oh yes, and I would have slathered my unblemished skin with sun cream.
Hindsight is so twenty twenty!
December 2, 2011 § 5 Comments
Four times I year I go to the dermatologist. It’s a big event that I get all worked up about, even though the last three years have been uneventful. That is, until today.
Let me go back.
When I was pregnant with the twins I was a very good girl and dragged myself to see Dr. Williams at Central Dermatology (if you click the link, Dr. Williams is the blonde). I never like to go, but I always do.
I was early in my second trimester and already as big as a house. I stripped down to my underpants and the infamous paper dress, and held my belly while I waited.
When she was ready to see me, my amazing doctor came into the room and we talked about the babies, what I thought their names would be, the niceties.
Then she got down to business, as she does. It’s the same old song and dance. Start with arms and scan. Ask if I’ve noticed anything new. Look across my back. Get out the little measurer thingy. Say big words to the assistant.
When she stopped, I knew I’d be heading home with at least a few stitches.
Only once after being biopsied in the past did I need to come back to remove more from the margins. I survived that first surgery in 2006 mildly unscathed, with a scar that has faded so much that only little children notice it now, when my right forearm is showing.
I was aware that more biopsies were always a possibility, but I figured I had enough going on with my high risk pregnancy, and that whole thing about God only giving us as much as we can handle. I guess He thought I could handle more.
By the time she passed over my belly, which looked, “clean,” and made it to my legs, she’d marked me with a sharpie seven different times. I confirmed this with the assistant during my visit today. She was not with the practice at the time, and her eyes grew wide when she read the number on my chart.
“She NEVER biopsies that much,” were the next words out of her mouth.
The assistant back in 2007 had to locate another pathology container, since the one in the room had space for only five. I checked this too (when I was left alone in room this morning) by counting the little circles on the container labeled Greensboro Pathology; same container with five round slots.
Despite my hesitancy about being injected with numbing drugs that were not tested in pregnant women, I held my breath and let Dr. Williams get to work. It was a tough day.
During the last weeks of pregnancy I had surgery every ten days to remove various melanomas and extremely dangerous cells (that would likely turn into melanoma if not removed). It took ten whole days for a biopsy to be tested, analyzed, and for me to return for a surgery. My final melanoma stitches were removed in the Labor and Delivery Ward by my OBGYN. I was 32 weeks pregnant and the babies needed to come out. I was ready; they needed a little more time. Thankfully they were born healthy, though small, and I was enormously grateful!
The past four years I’ve been melanoma/cancer free. I have seen specialists at UNC Chapel Hill and have been diligent about wearing sunscreen. We believe that my skin issues increased rapidly during pregnancy with all the hormones I had surging and that not being pregnant was probably the reason things calmed down. As a teenager, my refusal to listen to my mother regarding sun protection, and the practice of covering myself with baby oil to be Bain De Soleil brown, had a lot to do with it too.
Imagine my surprise this morning, when Dr. Williams paused and requested her special light and measuring thingy. One of my lovely melanoma scars has developed a blue mark, which looks like a recurrence.
I went through the whole song and dance again, took the shot of lidocaine like a pro, got “punched,” (4mm), and will begin the waiting game.
My thoughts on the drive home were that dealing with this will be easier not being pregnant. But the same old feelings of worry came back. I want to be well for my kids, and my husband, and my family (old and new).
I cried on Brian’s shoulder for two seconds when I walked in the door, but I’m feeling much better now. The writing definitely helps, not to mention the goal of finishing the marathon, which has become a huge part of my life. This marathon is going to happen despite what is thrown my way.
It would be really nice, though, to not have to run it with stitches.