Last week I had the lovely experience of receiving not one, but TWO shots in my armpit followed by a little scalpel work and two stitches. A small team of doctors and nurse then went to town on my bony part of the ball of my right foot, two shots, scalpel, cauterize and then a bandaid. Now, a duo of needles in one’s armpit is not the most ideal way to end a long day of (unrelated) spreadsheets and figures, but there could be worse ways to close out a Tuesday. I at least went straight to the grocery for Ben & Jerry’s Half Baked frozen yogurt and went home to catch up on my DVR’d episodes of Project Runway.
At least once a year I go to the dermatologist and get checked out from head to toe, anything suspicious is carefully cut away and sent to the lab (see previous paragraph). Now, “suspicious” to you or your doctor is probably not the same as “suspicious” to me or mine. I’ve already had cancerous spots taken off my face, both of my brothers have had skin cancer cut off their bodies, my grandfather died from melanoma and I have multiple aunts, uncles and cousins who have had their own fights with the monster. Skin cancer runs in my family, clearly, and I received the “melanoma gene” from both my maternal and paternal side. Yes, it’s a thing, but that’s probably not the official, scientific term for it. Twenty seven years ago the University hospital did a study to see if melanoma was genetic, they used both sides of my family. Yes, it’s genetic, or rather, there is a gene code that if carried leaves one far more likely to contract melanoma. Both my Mom and Dad carry the gene and passed it to all of their children. It’s not awesome, by any means, but at least I am aware of my inheritance and can take preventative measures–sunscreen always, long-sleeves and pants, no tanning, staying indoors during the hours when the sun hits the earth at the most direct angle–but even so, every dermatologist I’ve seen has told me that the combination of my fair complexion and genetic make-up means I will most likely get melanoma again before I turn 40. If I’m careful we may find it early on, before it’s even a “stage,” and can treat it by biopsy without having to resort to major chemo or radiation.
If not…well, everyone’s got to die of something, right? Most of us have a lot more simmering health problems than we really talk about in public. Your cholesterol may be up to the moon. Your blood pressure could be crazy-high. Your body may not know how to process protein or gluten or whatever. EVERYONE has obnoxious or frustrating health things that, with a little forethought, a bit of planning, and some well placed pharmaceuticals/life style changes, are mostly manageable. Okay, so I am genetically predisposed to melanoma. Okay, what can I do? Well, for starters I make darn sure I never have a tan line or a sunburn. Ever. I keep track of the moles I can see and if anything changes I call my doc for a consult. I go see the dermatologist once (sometimes twice) a year and have him re-measure and photograph everything and compare to last year. If anything has changed or looks at all iffy, he pulls out the scalpel and slices that stuff right off.
As I mentioned previously, I just had my yearly check-up with my dermatologist. He cut away two moles (left armpit, right foot) and sent them off to the lab to be tested. He told me that under normal circumstances (see: no family or personal history of skin cancer) he wouldn’t have bothered sending them in for tests, or even cutting them off, but because I’m such a “special case” everything that comes off my body goes to the lab. Okay. Fine. Results in about a week. Stop using bunny quotes when you are talking to me, Doc.
Yesterday I got the call, the call you NEVER want to receive. The test results for the mole in my armpit came back as “not benign.” He didn’t say it was cancer, or even malignant, but it was definitely “not benign.” Lovely. So, this morning I am going back to the hospital to receive two MORE shots in my armpit and then my dermatologist will slice out another chunk of my flesh for testing. I will also have my white blood cells tested/counted to make sure there isn’t anything funky going on there. I am trying really, really hard not to freak out, with marginal success (it’s 1:45 in the morning and I am hunched over a laptop writing (and freezing) instead of wrapped in layers of fluffy blankets dreaming of ponies). I know this is just routine procedure for someone with my kind of history, but that logical rationale doesn’t entirely stop the wave of panic I can feel churning somewhere inside my chest. The waiting for results is by far the worst part, and the part where they give me two shots in my armpit is pretty damn bad, so that’s saying something.
This morning they will take another slice out of my armpit and if that comes back as okay, or “definitely benign” and my blood work comes back normal, then I am totally in the clear. If it’s undecided, or hard to tell, or if it’s just downright BAD, then I’ll have a third slice taken out (making what was a small, two-stitch scar in my armpit into a large white disk the size of a penny). If that third test comes back malignant, then we have to talk about further measures. If test #3 comes back as benign then they assume they’ve cut out whatever it was and send me on my way, perhaps doubling the number of check-ups I have each year, but that’s not too hard to manage.
By the time you read this I will probably have already dealt with multiple needles (in my ARMPIT! Ugh, it makes me cringe to think about) and miniature blow torches (after Slice #2 it will be too big to stitch shut, they have to cauterize instead) and having a couple of medical professionals poking around my under arms. Sigh. Is 2013 over yet? No? Can I have a do-over? I’d really like a do-over.
UPDATED TO ADD: Test results are back, biopsy came back as negative. (Meaning, benign, harmless, cancer-free.)
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