It started twenty-seven years ago. Sort of just popped up one day. On my face. There was this dark spot, and it wasn’t supposed to be there, but it was. My right cheek became home to a dime-sized, irregular-shaped, non-beauty-mark mark.
I had it checked, because, come on. Even though I was quite young, I knew a skin change could be downright dangerous, no matter how old a person might be. You read about those types of things all the time. Melanoma and Skin Cancer are killers, y’all. According to SkinCancer,org, there are more new cases of skin cancer each year than breast, prostate, lung and colon cancers combined. Most of those skin cancers result from sun exposure (or tanning bed exposure).
I don’t know about you, but “sun screen” was unheard of when I was a lass. Even before I was old enough to be in charge of my own sun exposure, I had suffered multiple sunburns. As a teenager, my friends and I would lay out in the sun, smearing ourselves with a mixture of baby oil and iodine, and wouldn’t come in until we were burned. I wish I was making this up, but I’m not. We were pretty fucking stupid. But that’s how you do when you’re a kid. You be pretty fucking stupid.
Anyhoo, over the years I had my non-beauty-mark mark examined on occasion, and at some point a doctor told me it was commonly referred to as a liver spot. (Great.) I kept an eye on it and there was never any change. It didn’t grow, nor did it shrink. It just hung out there on my cheek, keeping it real. I didn’t try to hide it and honestly, I didn’t think much of it. Cut to a few months ago, when I noticed the area was itching. I took a gander at my non-beauty-mark mark and it seemed to be peeling a bit. It looked sort of scaly. I put a little cream on it, made note of it and chilled out. After a few weeks, I did the worst thing a lay person can do. I looked on the interwebz.
I’m not much of a hypochondriac, so I generally avoid online symptom searches. I don’t need to nearly scare myself half to death by imagining I’ve come down with some dread disease. And as I’m not a doctor (and haven’t even played one on TV), self-diagnosis would be ridiculous. But what I read online freaked me out just enough. So when the itching and flaking of my non-beauty-mark mark wasn’t abating, I jiffy-quick made an appointment with a dermatologist. And I actually relaxed. I knew she would be professional and guide me in treatment, no matter the diagnosis, so I didn’t worry.
On the morning of my appointment, I woke with a big old red splotch beneath my right eye. Mister said it looked like he’d belted me during the night. (He hadn’t.) The spot was warm and itchy, and I figured that if I was gonna get yet another damned something-or-other to worry about on my face, the day of a dermatologist appointment was perfect timing. I headed off to the doc’s office and waited for my turn to see her. She took one look at the red splotch and said it appeared to be a hive, with a little eczema on top. Da fuh?
I had been having some crazy allergy issues that week. Itchy throat, weird sinus issues, and now a hive. It didn’t surprise me, but it was still odd. I’m not an allergic kind of gal. I don’t usually battle the same symptoms as those around me during high-allergy season. So while the hive itself wasn’t too much of a shock, the overall allergies were a freak show.
The dermatologist told me to take some over-the-counter allergy stuff for the hive, to use some specific cream on the eczema and to lie still so that she could take a biopsy of my non-beauty-mark mark. She asked to see me in two weeks to go over the biopsy, and to discuss options, regardless of the prognosis. I set the appointment and went home. It was Friday.
Over the course of the weekend, my allergies went ape shit and just about drove me bananas. I was miserable and couldn’t sleep at night, as the coughing was out of control. The red splotch cleared up immediately, thanks to the o-t-c meds. The eczema responded well to the cream, so that became a non-issue. But the cough and my hacked-out voice were annoying as fuck, not to mention I was clearly experiencing post-nasal drip, as my throat was hurting like a mother. By the time Monday morning rolled around, I knew I could no longer deny my allergies. I called an in-network allergist and was told they could see me that day. (Woo-hoo!) A couple of hours later, I went in for that appointment.
The allergist was great. He put me on a nightly nasal spray and told me to clean my sinuses with a saline solution twice a day, and set an appointment two weeks later. He also suggested that I undergo allergy testing during my next appointment, so that he could accurately address my specific allergies. Okie dokie, Smokey.
Two horrid weeks passed. Not only were my allergy symptoms acting uglier than ever, but I was still waiting for biopsy results. Remember the biopsy? And the whole intro about skin cancer? Yeah. That was weighing on my psyche and no matter how I tried to keep calm, fears were tickling the edges of my brain and dancing around my imagination. It wasn’t good.
When my dermatologist appointment arrived, I went in, immediately got the news that the biopsy results were benign, and exhaled. The doc told me that though the biopsy proved benign, the cells of my non-beauty-mark mark were pre-cancerous and the spot should be removed. We talked about a few options, then she burned/froze that spot like crazy. She told me to expect it to scab over in a couple of weeks, then to expect the scab to fall off. As of this writing, the scab is still clinging to the side of my face. I’m due for a follow-up appointment in a few weeks, at which time the doc will decide if she needs to burn/freeze the spot again, in order to finish its removal.
As for the follow-up at the allergist’s office, I showed up there and went through a full battery of allergy tests – skin pricks up and down both arms. In the end, it turns out I have – drum roll, please – zero-point-zero allergies. I’m not kidding. I was shocked. The dry cough. The post-nasal drip. The runny, red, itchy eyes. If I’m not allergic to stuff, what’s the deal with the allergy-like symptoms? When I asked the allergist that very question, he told me I have sensitive nasal passages. Yep. He then asked if I easily detect perfumes or colognes on others. I laughed a little and told him that yes, I’m quite aware of scents on others. He asked if cigarette smoke bothered me. I told him I can often smell the smoke from a car in front of me on the highway. (True story.) He told me that all made sense and that I was just gonna have to get through the season change, as if I was an allergic person. He put me on a different nasal spray, told me to keep up the saline solution cleanses and to be patient. Turns out patience is a regular request of doctors. Go figure.
So to make a long story longer, I’m fine. My non-beauty-mark mark is on its way off my face and isn’t cancerous. My non-allergic rhinitis is being addressed and will (hopefully) soon go into hibernation, at least until the next change of season. The symptoms are finally abating, thank the gods, and I’m actually able to sleep at night. The road to Well-ville is finally in sight.
But that’s not what I want to tell you today. I want to tell you that May is national Skin Cancer Awareness month here in the states. And if you’ve got a suspicious mole or freckle, please use this month as an opportunity to get yourself checked. You may think you’re immune. You may think you’re immortal. You may just be damned scared. But I know for a fact that some of you have personal experience with skin cancer, and I do believe you fine folks are probably pretty friggin’ grateful your cancers were found and treated. For the rest of you, take note. Don’t put this off. The world needs you. For reals.
And for anyone who read this entire post and thinks it should only have been one big paragraph, or two small paragraphs at most, you may be right. And when you’re writing your own damn blog post, you can make it as short and as sugary sweet as you want. Deal with it. (Really. Deal with it. Your skin, I mean.)