Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Summer My Skin Tried To Kill Me

My skin and I have never seen eye to, um, eye on how best to behave. I like wearing it and all; in fact, I wouldn't go out without it, but I've always wished it wouldn't get so mad when I stayed out in the sun for more than twenty minutes without protection, or put on trendy cosmetics that may have been tested on animals, but not on humans of the Celtic persuasion.

I grew up in the 70s when suntans were compulsory, and came, not from a spray or lamp, but from hours spent slathered in baby oil, sizzling under the sun. And since (a) the sun was the only source of aesthetic acceptance, and (b) we lived in the Pacific Northwest, we dove out under it every chance we got, and at the first opportunity in the spring. This made for days that looked like some sort of bikini mass suicide, where on every spot of sunny grass, there were wads of inert white flesh, lying like beached belugas, turning to face the sun every ten minutes like shiny, flaccid sundials. Whoa. Simile overload. Sorry.

But years before that, when I was too young to care about suntans, I was also too young to care about sunburns. I would stay outdoors and play all day in the sun, and come back inside at night and peel dead, third-degree-sunburn skin off my shoulders. No big whoop.

The summer I graduated from high school, my skin had already had more than it could take and lashed back hard. My doctor (bless his soul) decided that the ugly mole on my left forearm looked a little, well, evil, so he convinced me to let him take it off. Whatever. It didn't bother me any. It was like a beauty mark. If a beauty mark was supposed to be brown, lumpy, black, waxy, maybe a little purple, and ambitious.

Okay, so we went to a lousy school with a lousy prom photographer. It was 1980. In Vernonia, Oregon. Look it up. It's a real place. Or watch that logger show on the Discovery Channel. I digress.  But it's the only picture of the Death Mole. You can see it my left arm. Yes, that's The Captain. Yes, I could write another entire post about this picture alone.

Turns out my sweet little doctor saved my life. It was melanoma. The super killy kind.

I was scheduled, like the next day, to go in and have as much of my arm flesh as I could spare taken out from around the mole area. They took a skin graft from my ass to cover the strip mine that was left of my arm.

So I had two wounds. The arm one and the ass one. As you can tell from the picture, I didn't have a lot of ass flesh to spare at the time, and they had a hard time getting the skin harvester machine (yes, there apparently is such a thing) to follow the bony curves of my hip, so the ass wound was bigger, area-wise, than the arm. I remember, ever too vividly, the nurses positioning me with my ass up in the air and some sort of ultraviolet light trained on the wound as a healing aid, and some nincompoop coming into my semi-private room, opening MY curtain, and staring a while before realizing he was looking for my roommate.  If it happened today, I might have laughed. Or yelled. At eighteen, a seriously traumatic event.

The ass wound healed, although the accidental flashing episode still smarts a little. The arm took some time, and a lot of dressing changes. At first, the dressing changes made me woozy and sick. Well, I guess they always made me woozy and sick. Touching it still feels like I'm touching my spleen or something - unnatural.

Since then, I've visited the dermatologist on a somewhat annual basis, and they usually find something they don't like the looks of. I've had so many moles removed, I cannot tell you how many, but if, as a conservative estimate, I have had one mole taken out every two years since I was eighteen, that would be  fifteen moles. That sounds low. It's probably more. I have learned to take out my own stitches to save myself a trip back to the office. But they have always come back clean.

I got three moles taken off this last time, and one came back iffy. Not necessarily cancery, but not NOT cancery either, so my dermatologist, with my dire history in front of her, decided to cut wide and deep. There was no cancer in the wider cut, but it's been two weeks of pain with this one, and a 2 and 1/2 inch long scar on the back of my arm to add to the others.

I'm wondering whether, in the Shakespearean tradition, once my dermatologists have taken a cumulative pound of flesh from me whether my debts shall be then forgiven. I hope so, because I'm racking up quite a lot of dermatologist bills.


Rhonda said...

You're a very talented writer Janice. Loved your whimsy light-hearted humor and . . . wow, that Prom picture really is something else! Drew sure towers over you.

Looking forward to reading more from you.

anne altman said...

sayonara, moley mole. thank heavens for this post, that photo is ah-may-zinnnnnnnnng. ZING!

piglet said...

Thanks, and Anne, if you ever branch out from wacky wedding pictures to wacky prom pictures, be my guest.