Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Full Body Check

Written 3 days ago.

"If you had to choose your cancer, this is the best one to have."

I had developed a red blotch on my chest several months ago. But I had
spent a lifetime as unhappy partners with skin rashes of one sort or
another. This one seemed a little different in that surprisingly it
did not disappear even after I applied long expired medications
prescribed for a totally unrelated issue. Yet, apart from the often
irritating itchiness, I gave it little thought. As my mother would
tell me about any negative that I would encounter," this too shall

My father had died of cancer at 61. I will find myself at that same age in
3 days. My dad's ending was much too ugly and much too early. And it
left me with images of him at the end of life that I have been unable
to erase over the past 35 years.

It was actually the brown spot on my face, which seemed to appear
overnight, that caught my attention. Too pronounced and too unexpected
to ignore, a search of the internet was undertaken to locate a local
dermatologist covered by my insurance carrier. My important medical
decisions, after all, are as much about network participation as they
are about degrees on a wall or accolades received.

Thus, proximity and economics brought me to the doctor's office
directly across the street from my place of work. After completing the
obligatory several pages of unnecessary history on the ailments I did
not have, I heard my name called. It always seems there is a small
amount of pride and satisfaction when this occurs, like having
accomplished something of note.

I was embarrassed to advise the doctor how long it had been since my
last "full body" check. "Yes," I told her, "I did want one now." I
surveyed the built in shelves on the wall filled with small stacks of
those little pamphlets describing different types of skin cancer.

"I am going to freeze off this one on your face," she told me. She was
basically going to spray frostbite on the offending spot which would
then peel off in a matter of days. She explained that this was not
cancerous, so the term she gave it immediately became of no
consequence. "But this one," she said, pointing to the blotch, "looks
a little too red. I am going to biopsy it to be safe." Okay, I
thought, but I could have told her from years of experience that it
was nothing to worry about.

It was about a week later that I received the news in a follow up
phone call. I had a basal cell carcinoma and should return to the
doctor so she could measure the size of the piece of discolored flesh.
Two centimeters or more and I would be sent to a Mohs surgeon. Yet
another unwanted term was thus added to my lexicon. Apparently, as I
have been told all my life but refused to accept, size does matter.

Tomorrow I am going to a Mohs doctor in New York who is to slice me up a
little and immediately have the surrounding tissue tested to determine
if it is free of cancer. The waiting room, so I am informed, will be
with be filled with similarly situated bandaged up patients, all
wondering if enough is actually enough. The snips keep coming until
the pathology report advises that no more punishment is required. It
should be an interesting group dynamic.

Yet, I understand that this is indeed a good cancer. No follow up
treatment, no radiation, no chemotherapy, none of those ugly things
that remain vivid recollections regarding my dad. A few stitches, a
few weeks off the golf course, which may actually be a good thing in
my case, and then on to the rest of my life.

I don't know whether to be cavalier or not about this whole
experience. I have spoken to several friends  who, when advised of my
diagnosis, make it seem totally benign (cancer and benign do not
easily share space in the same thought). "I look like Frankenstein, I
am cut up all over," one tells me. Another lets me know that all those
tiny scars on his face are reminders of  the handiwork of his Mohs
surgeon. To them, my problem is much ado about nothing. And I guess,
without tempting fate or angering the gods, I agree.

Oh, by the way, that brown spot on my face failed to follow orders and
remains stubbornly attached. Another round of intentional frostbite is
in my near future. But at least it is still covered on my plan.


Bruce Egert said...

Oy vey. Sorry to hear it. Hope it is a big nothing and it dissolves away. Good that you are having it watched, treated, tended to. Do not spare any money to go to the correct doctor regardless of insurance. Happy birthday. You don't look 61.

diane said...

Yipes! I relate. Had one on my arm. Mohs surgery left only a faint "zipper" and that's it... except for the nagging feeling that I am not quite as invincible as I once was. All our best! and Happy Birthday!

Anonymous said...

Welcome to life after 60. And happy birthday, you don't look your age, which is the best revenge.