Cancer has so many connotations with it. Cancer. The C word. (No, not that one.) For some reason, I've always been afraid I would get cancer. Idk... Maybe everyone is. Don't do that, you might get cancer. Don't breathe that smoke. Don't eat that burnt hot dog. Don't drink that diet soda... Somehow skin cancer wasn't on my radar. Now looking back, I feel like an idiot. I'm a red head. I grew up in florida with sun-worshipping friends. I was young and dumb... No matter how high the SPF, there are some people who just can't handle their UV rays.
Skin cancer is kind of a grey area. You think of cancer as this devil growing deep inside your dark twisty insides. Skin is superficial. Also, most skin cancers can just be burnt or cut out and be done with it. Easy, peasy, right? Yet some how 5000 people die from melanoma in our country every year and at some stages the 5 year survival rate is quite dismal.
Some days it feels like my body is turning on me. I've always held the 'my body is my temple' perception. Like... We're in this together. Side by side taking on challenges, tackling new experiences, growing... So why do these little clumps of cells keep trying to kill me? And now it's the divide and conquer mentality. Cut it out. Chip, chip, chip... Snip, snip. At this rate it seems there will be nothing left of me when we're done. I've had 17 biopsies and excisions since this began, not much than a year ago. My trunk is riddled with scars. I feel that I'm in stitches as often as I am out of them. My dermatologist might see my naked body more often than my husband. OK, maybe not quite so. But we have definitely gotten to know each other.
It's not that bad. Supposedly right now, with my fresh new wound, I am cancer free. That is, until we find the next one. At the point, it seems it is only a matter of time. I am so lucky I chose medicine as a career. I am lucky my first melanoma was a clear (enlarging dark brown spot) superficial spreading and not these atypical amelanocytic melanomas that we would have never found this early otherwise. Am I lucky? There is worse. There is much, much worse. I am lucky.
The hard part is the mental game. I used to call orthopedics a barbaric, crass, carpenters' realm of medicine. But isn't my dermatologist practically my seamstress? How do I know there aren't 5 more melanomas making their way through my layers of skin right now? How do I know what looks like a cute freckle isn't just a clump of those devil cells trying to quietly sneak towards my brain? There is no blood test or MRI. The thing is I don't know.
Which is why I cut them out. Let this be a warning to you moles and freckles... If you so much as look at me funny, out you go!
And for me, I am to focus on the good. I try not to sweat the small things. I stay in the shade, take my vitamin D, eat my vegetables and exercise. I enjoy my partner, the love of my life. I appreciate my unbelievably awesome family and friends. I work in a career I am passionate about. I remember to take a look around and see the beauty that is life. I watch the sunrises and smell the roses. And this is good. It is enough.