I will spare you an in-focus, close-up photo of what’s happening to my face—this blurry depiction of the red, raw, and swollen result of light treatment for pre-malignant lesions is scary enough, don’t you think?
This really, really, really hurts. I should have guessed it would. My sensitive and way-reactive skin has a history—the Tegaderm tape used to bandage my breast and underarm post-lumpectomy melted into my skin, the latex Band-Aid that covered my basal cell skin cancer surgery site burned a border around the wound, and sunscreen pretty much always causes me major irritation. My skin responds violently to everything, like yesterday’s aminolevulinic acid topical solution. The stuff was applied to my entire face, I sat for 45 minutes while it absorbed, and I spent 15 minutes under tanning-bed-like lights, which activated the whole process of killing pre-cancer. It’s a process for which I am thankful—this approach should wipe out all invaders at one time and prevent the repeated freezing of spots that creep up over time. But man, this is no fun, and the discomfort of my throbbing, stinging face is forcing a homebound day of rest. I hate that—I can’t run, I can’t tackle my to-do list, and I can’t drive my kids to and from their activities, because the sun beams in at me from all directions and causes prickly pain that is almost unbearable.
This too shall pass, according to the medical assistant I called this morning after I woke up to a face on fire and a mouth that is puffy and pulled in a plastic-surgery sorta way. Some people just react more strongly than others, she said, but relief should arrive sometime in the next 24 hours.
Twenty-four hours. I’m banking on it.
Dermatologist upon seeing suspicious spot on my arm: “Yea, we’re gonna need to biopsy that.”
Yea, I figured.
And in a week, if I learn I’ve got skin cancer, it will be cut out, and I’ll sport a matching slash next to the one I already have for a basal cell cancer that was removed from the same arm in 2009.
I don’t worry only about breast cancer. I’m a little freaked about skin cancer, too. It’s because I spent far to many hours seeking sun in my younger years, and I am painfully aware of the side effects of such behavior. I’ve had several pre-cancerous lesions cut and frozen off my fair skin, I have a one-and-a-half-inch scar where a basal cell cancer was removed a year ago, and just today, my dermatologist shaved off a bit of a mole she didn’t like — it was an odd color, different from the others on my body, she said.
A piece of my mole is on its way to a lab somewhere, and in about a week, I’ll know if it’s cancer or not. If it is, it’s likely one that is common and can be cut out without any serious health consequences. But in the back of my mind, there’s this little twinge of fear that melanoma is in my future. Melanoma is the deadly kind of skin cancer, and it’s real, folks. Just ask Miss Melanoma — she lost a toe, part of her foot, and all 16 lymph nodes from her groin to the disease. And if you don’t think it’s serious stuff, listen to Claire Oliver in the video below.
See why I’m scared? If you are, too, the best thing you can do is cease all tanning, and get yourself to a dermatologist every year for a thorough once-over. That’s how my funky mole was discovered. It wasn’t even on my radar. Ah, and don’t forget your sunscreen.
For more skin cancer facts and figures, head over to The Skin Cancer Foundation and the American Cancer Society. To check out The Skin Cancer Council Australia (referenced in the video), visit here.