I’m cancer free.
I’ll add another word to that statement: now.
That extra word is especially significant because until ten days ago I thought the original statement applied to me and I had no idea that for the last year—I was wrong.
It was a skin cancer, a carcinoma that wasn’t likely to cause serious problems in the near future, if at all. Still, it would have continued to consume tissue on my back and, given it was centered over my spine, could have eventually invaded bone. If I’d gone this long with a different form of skin cancer I’d be in big trouble.
I’m light skinned and blue eyed so all you have to do is whisper sun and I start to smolder. The cancer also runs in my family. I’ve actually gone far longer without it appearing than anyone else, partly because I take great precautions. That makes it worse that I haven’t seen a dermatologist about the possibility sooner. That’s on me.
I already have an appointment to be checked again next year.
In many ways I can thank the ineptitude of the doctors I had in a different state for saving me. Back in 2009 when my breathing issues materialized I didn’t ask enough questions or, most important, stand up for myself when I knew I was right.
That wasn’t the case this time.
I had a different primary caregiver back in late Spring when I had my wellness check. When I showed the spot to her she dismissed it as minor and probably a rash caused by a reaction to certain lotions. I knew better.
I first developed the lotion issue three years ago and saw a dermatologist after six months of my primary caregiver bungling the treatment and making it worse. Back then, I switched lotions and have a special cream if the issue resurfaces. Bottom line: I knew well what a return of the rash would look like and that wasn’t on my back. Another bottom line: the spot (21 centimeters in diameter) was in a region of my back I can’t reach with lotion.
Her being dismissive was yet another reason to switch my primary, which I did. The first time I saw my new doctor I showed her the spot and she immediately gave me the referral I needed to see the dermatologist (I won’t need a referral after this because of becoming a regular patient, which is how it is with my pulmonologist (they’re in the same offices).
It still hadn’t entered my mind that it was cancer. When I went I expected to get a cream for it (yeah, I’m cancer ignorant). I knew different the instant he said he wanted to take a sample.
At my follow-up it was burned and scraped off, which was possible because of the type of skin cancer it was. Like I say, if it was a more serious type that wouldn’t have been the case. I now have a hole in my back and have to bandage it. That requires tweezers and a hand mirror to accomplish while balanced on the bathroom counter since I can’t reach it. I’m amazingly good at it.
So, long story short: Get checked! I’ve been good about avoiding the sun or protecting against it for a long while, but that wasn’t the case in my younger years when the danger wasn’t recognized like it is now. For instance, I can remember becoming a lobster after a visit to Fire Island in New York when I was still in elementary school.
Check yourself. If there’s a risk or you aren’t sure, have a check done. It’s not even a bad idea to be checked regardless. The worst that can happen is you’re told you don’t need to come back for X number of years.
I was lucky. In these days of global warming don’t depend on luck.