It was cancerette, really, just a tiny thing, just under my nose.
It looked like a drop of lotion I hadn’t rubbed in well, about as big as a sesame seed.
Don’t stop me if I’ve already told you this story, because it’s important. And mildly amusing.
This is how I found out I had it: I pucker when I think, so I had these two vertical lines over my upper lip, which make me look both old and like a 4-pack-a-day-smoker. Because I am very much with the lipstick, I am quite vain about such things, so I scheduled myself for just a tiny bit of cosmetic lasering to get rid of those two little lines. And also that little spot, since I was there anyway.
But the spot didn’t go away. I asked the woman who waxes my brows if she could get rid of it with one of those sharp aesthetician tools, and she said nope, it was a dermatologist thing.
That thing had been bugging the hell out of me for over a year. My former dermatologist hadn’t noticed, when I had my skin check, though she did biopsy a number of other things, the result of which was I found out I’m allergic to band-aid adhesive, of all things, and spent weeks covered in duct tape patches.
My new dermatologist who I went to for other reasons I won’t go into (but I do not have leprosy or MRSA) hadn’t noticed it when I had my skin check with her, either.
So back I went and said, “Listen, Chhavi, I don’t know what this thing is, but I want it gone.” She asked if it hurt or oozed or anything like that, and I said, “Well, no, but it’s got it’s own circulatory system and it irks me. I have put pure Retinol on it and had it lasered and I’m about to take my Xacto knife to it.”
She said there’d be a minuscule scar and that she’d have to biopsy it. I didn’t care about that, either, as long as she cut it off.
I was not aware before she did all that that the nurse would be sending a syringe full of hellfire into my upper lip, and it’s a good thing, because I would have said nevermind. As it is, when she did it, I grabbed her wrist and asked her who she thought was.
But Chhavi came back in and sliced it off and put some paper tape on it, which I will tell you is about as effective as covering it with a post-it note. Then she said it looked like a clogged oil gland to her, but she’d call me in a week and tell me for sure.
Now. You might be aware that people from other cultures have different ways. People from some countries tend to be more…direct in their manner of speaking. Or maybe it’s just that most of the people I know would die before they’d just blurt out bad news.
The next Wednesday, Chhavi called and said, “Susan, it’s Chhavi. That thing on your face is CANCER.”
I replied, “I need to find me somewhere to sit down. I thought you said I had cancer.”
Hilariously, she said, “You do. You have cancer. On your face. It’s right there UNDER YOUR NOSE. Cancer. It’s not a clogged oil gland.”
It seemed as though my head was an empty oil can, because cancer kept reverberating in there, bouncing off the walls of my skull:
I finally had the presence of mind to ask what kind of cancer? and it was basal cell carcinoma, which is, as I said, cancerette.
Nonetheless, I told her I’d be there in five minutes to just get this taken care of.
There was a stunned silence before she said, “Oh, no. I can’t take that off, I’m not a surgeon. His nurse will call you.”
Naturally this was not expedient enough, being as I had cancer on my face and all, so I called him, whereby they gave me an appointment two weeks out. That wasn’t fast enough either, but HIPAA laws prevented them giving me their patient list and letting me negotiate something sooner.
Basal cell carcinoma is not usually life threatening, but it can be severely disfiguring. I can’t even leave two invisible wrinkles over my lip, let alone have my nostril chiseled at.
I finally saw the surgeon, and I swear he was 14. He informed me he’s the best, though, and that I would enjoy the Moh’s Procedure. I asked him was this his first time operating.
Here is another thing I will tell you: Surgery is not for enjoying.
These are some things that happened in the subsequent days:
- More and bigger needles through my lip and into my mouth, through my cheek and into my sinus, through my lip and into my nose.
- A perfectly round hole the diameter and depth of a button on a man’s dress shirt. I could very nearly see my teeth through it.
- Cauterization of same. There is nothing like the smell of your own burning flesh to send you into rapid decline.
- More injections in a larger radius, “just in case.”
- Yards of paper tape on my face, to resemble a potato skin.
- Inability to keep paper tape on my face for the required two days, due to non-waterproof qualities.
- Need to go to a foreign-run medical supply store and request item I have previously only known as “titty tape.”
- Urgent need to fill Lortab prescription, which I swore I would not need, for burning, searing pain radiating outward from wound.
- Return trip to doctor to find I am allergic to polysporin and sensitive stitches which must remain in face.
- Eventual removal of stitches, which were embedded underneath swollen flesh, requiring not one but FOUR nurses, and the surgeon, who I requested the presence of just so I could give him the stinkeye.
I am fortunate that it was just basal cell carcinoma. It could have been far worse. It could have been malignant melanoma, which is a bastard.
I know that browned fat looks better than pink fat (witness the raw pork chop). I know that it feels gooooood to be out in the sun. I know that your clothes look better with a tan.
I know you think if you get a base tan, you’ll be safe. I know you think if you’re black or Jewish or Mediterranean or whatever, you can’t get skin cancer. I know you think getting in a tanning bed is safe.
Here are a few facts from the Skin Cancer Foundation to disabuse you of those notions:
- One person dies of melanoma every hour (every 62 minutes).
- Melanoma is the most common form of cancer for young adults 25-29 years old and the second most common form of cancer for young people 15-29 years old.
- The survival rate for patients whose melanoma is detected early, before the tumor has penetrated the skin, is about 99 percent. The survival rate falls to 15 percent for those with advanced disease.
- Women aged 39 and under have a higher probability of developing melanoma than any other cancer except breast cancer.
- One or more blistering sunburns in childhood or adolescence more than double a person’s chances of developing melanoma later in life.
- A person’s risk for melanoma doubles if he or she has had more than five sunburns at any age.
- The International Agency for Research on Cancer, an affiliate of the World Health Organization, includes ultraviolet (UV) tanning devices in its Group 1, a list of the most dangerous cancer-causing substances.Group 1 also includes agents such as plutonium, cigarettes, and solar UV radiation.
- Frequent tanners using new high-pressure sunlamps may receive as much as 12 times the annual UVA dose compared to the dose they receive from sun exposure.
- Indoor ultraviolet (UV) tanners are 74 percent more likely to develop melanoma than those who have never tanned indoors.
- While melanoma is uncommon in African Americans, Latinos, and Asians, it is frequently fatal for these populations.
If this has whipped you up into a frenzy, then great. Go here and watch this video.
I pride myself on not being a nag. But I will hound you over this. You don’t have to die of melanoma. Get your skin checked annually. Check your own skin. Wear sunscreen. Stay out of tanning beds. Melanoma is a stupid reason to die.