Monday, July 11, 2011

Skin cancer

I had this thing growing on my skin on my jawline. It had been there for quite awhile, but it seemed like lately it was getting bigger. It was longer, and thicker -- I nicked it shaving a couple of times. And it was getting darker.

Which sounds like a melanoma or something, although it wasn't an exact match for any of the pictures I've seen. So, even though I'm on the Republican healthcare plan for people without health insurance (don't get sick, but if you do, die quickly), I decided I'd better see a doctor. Fortunately, there's a cheap (not free) community clinic in our town, so I made an appointment there.

I went there on a Thursday afternoon. And I totally swooned for the receptionist, with her light brown skin, dark brown eyes, glasses, and shoulder-to-elbow tattoos. Unfortunately, "medical receptionist" has too many syllables for me to write haiku about her, although I did manage a tanka. Also, unlike the Checkout Girl, I've actually spoken with her, so she's a human being to me rather than an archetypal muse. So doubt I'll write any more poetry about her. But still. Wow.

Anyway, you're probably wondering if I'm going to die of skin cancer, so I'll stop digressing. (But are love and/or poetry ever really digressions? Or are they life itself, and everything else a digression?)

After I got done swooning and then waited for a few minutes, I got called in by the Jan the paramedic. Why a paramedic instead of a nurse or a physician's assistant? No idea, except it's a cheap clinic, so I guess they take who they can get. But Jan (with a y sound, not a j) was pretty cool. He kind of had that Vietnam-vet-turned-hippie look, with the long hair and the too-shaggy mustache and all. (Although actually he's probably not that much older than me, so I doubt he could have been in 'Nam. I'd lay odds he spent time in the service, though.)

Anyway, Jan took my vitals, got my medical history, took a look at my growth-thingy, and asked what I suppose are the usual skin cancer questions about sun exposure and all that. Which I've had a lot of, growing up in San Diego when people still thought suntans were healthy. And he took it very seriously. Not like "Oh my god you're gonna die!" seriously, but definitely "The doctor needs to look at that" seriously.

The doctor came after a little while, and she seemed pretty relaxed about the whole thing. "Offhand, it doesn't look like a skin cancer," she said. "But we'll slice off a piece and send it to the lab for a biopsy. Even if it is skin cancer, it's very early, and we have a dermatologist who comes in here twice a month. He should be able to get the whole thing easily." So she gave me a local and cut off a little piece. She said it didn't really need stitches, and put a bandage on it. But then she gave me this elaborate protocol for taking care of it so it wouldn't leave a scar. I listened politely, but inside I was going "WTF? I'll wear a bandage for a day and then who cares?" But she meant well.

Before I left, she told me, "We should get the results back on Tuesday. But I don't want you spending the whole weekend worrying about this."

"I won't," I said. And I didn't. Not really. After all, she'd said it didn't look like skin cancer. And I don't believe in worrying. My philosophy is that I'll worry in the time of worrying, not before. And it wasn't time yet. Besides, I'm not sure I care all that much if I die anyway. I mean, I'd rather not, but I guess I've lived a pretty long time. Almost long enough maybe.

Tuesday came, and no phone call. But Wednesday morning, Jan was on the phone. He said I don't have skin cancer. And I was relieved. Happy even. I guess I care more about not dying than I thought. Jan said I have a seborrheic keratosis, which in layman's terms is "an ugly thing that grows on your skin when you get old." So the good news is I don't have skin cancer, but the bad news is that I'm growing old and hideous.

What a drag it is getting old. Not that I'm going to start taking Valium because of it. (Because there are lots of better drugs around these days -- j/k. Although it's true. So I'm told.) And here's a song.

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  1. Seborrheic keratosis. I had one of those a couple years ago that I thought might be cancerous too. The night before I went to have it checked, I said to my husband, "If I have cancer, can we go to Africa?" But I didn't have cancer. So we didn't go to Africa. And now we're divorced.

    I'm glad you don't have cancer.

  2. I'm glad neither of us has cancer.

  3. Interesting that you thought of poetry and dying. I think about dying too much. I just wrote last month:

    Remember That You Will Die


    I found that to mitigate my fear, or better put: wonder or mild anxiety of dying is reading books on NDEs (near-death experiences) and SDEs (shared...). I have about fifteen or so books of varying quality and credibility, but somehow it helps. It helps me better cope with the loss of my almost twenty year old son five years ago. It’s so surreal. Life is a dream; time is an illusion. I don’t know.

    On a lighter side, your experience reminded me of this poem by Robert Bruce entitled ‘The Singularity’:

    Going in Tuesday at 10

    to replace the cartilage

    in the middle knuckle

    of my left ring finger

that hand was an
arthritic claw

    only two weeks


    Hoping The Clinic
can also help me out

    with the rolls of skin
sagging down around
my new ankles

    You see

    I’ve managed

    to grab a date

    with a 27 year old
on Saturday night

    and though my face
looks a quarter
of its actual

    253 years

    I’ve had a
little trouble
keeping up
in the




    reminds me

    Got a full



    coming up

and a complete


    skin graft

    from a young
African donor
at noon

    I’m told

    they can
and match

    the pigment

    Should probably

    drop by the bank too

    might have to scale back

    on the procedures next month

    The vital organs
are finally good

    but there’s just
so much

    And sure

    there were a
few screams

    when my arm fell off

    while lifting a latte
at Dean & DeLuca
last year

    But that’s
to be


    I’m very fortunate
to have made it past

    The Singularity

    One of the lucky ones

    Really living now


did I




    I’m glad you don’t have cancer, Kuri, especially melanoma.


What do you think?