Friday, 15 February 2013


About two years or so ago, I noticed a mole on my shoulder. It was a bit irregular and I was anxious about all sorts of things, so I fixated on it, worried it was serious. But at the same time, in denial that it could be and having fabulous dreams about dying young and leaving my children while I ignored it. Then after I started losing weight involuntarily I *knew* it was cancer. I had looked after women not much older than myself with metastatic melanoma and with my lily white skin I was a sitter. It fit in perfectly.

Then one day I slapped myself across the face, got a doctor to look at it and after a cursory 2 second glance with a dermatoscope he deemed it benign.

That reassured me somewhat. Or at least, I stopped blaming my inevitable demise on metastatic cancer and instead went with the more obvious anxiety as being at the root of my issues.

Recently, I noticed the mole again. It was raised, irregularly pigmented and every time I went to sleep my fingers would find it, and it was sensitive to touch so I kept doing it, poking it to see if it was sore. The fixation began again but I knew I was being silly so I couldn't talk to anyone about it. But that's the way these anxiety things work. I knew going to see a specialist about it would make me feel foolish, but because I couldn't convince myself it was benign it would keep me awake.

I contemplated cutting it out myself, but it's on my right shoulder and even with ambidexterity it's in an awkward spot. Plus I knew for myself that i would not be able to just throw it away - I'd need it looked at under a microscope once and for all before I could calm down again. So it simmered and stewed in my consciousness. A bit like my overdue Pap smear that I could justify thanks to all clear results previously and a full round of Gardasil vaccination. It's not the test itself that frightens me, it's the result.

Then I took some study leave so I could feasibly see a doctor during the day, and in one mad rush I booked all my appointments. Turned up at an anonymous skin cancer clinic and stripped off to my underwear (matching and tasteful, but not provocative, that was a good anxiety provoking decision in and of itself) before explaining, apologetically my fears.

To his credit, the good doctor was very thorough, but he was also very certain that there were no real suspicious features in my mole. He ran through the expected options, suggesting photographing it if I was worried, and coming back if it changes. Or, he said, he could cut it off now if I wanted, but it would be a decent scar and I couldn't swim or do any sort of exercise with my shoulder for the next 2 weeks. From his perspective there was no need to cut me, but there was no real decision for me, this thing had been on my mind and on my body for years now, I needed it to be gone.

So I lay back on the cold examination table in my underwear while he washed his hands and grabbed a trolley before washing me down with antiseptic. I heard the same consent spiel come from him that I give most days as I chatted nervously about medical school and where I was training before stopping to catch my breath as the sharp sting of local brought tears under my lashes. Then I felt nothing aside from slight panic at watching the scalpel slice into my skin as the mole was removed forever with 5 synthetic stitches pulling my skin closed again as if it had never been there.

I got up and dressed, came home and trembled a little. Glad it was gone, but realising that it actually really hurts when you have a chunk of skin removed and then held together with stitches, no matter how neat they might be.

It wasn't a melanoma. I think I'd always known it wasn't. It was dysplastic though, cells doing things they shouldn't but not quite tipping over into cancer and I'm glad that they're gone. Glad that the new cells are even now poking up from their germinal layers to fill in the gap where it was. I know there will be a new scar there, another to add to my collection. Red and puckered at first before fading to smooth and shiny white.

I once shared all my scars, all the ones from the jagged one on my chin to the rounded one on the tip of my finger, and it was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. To take all the parts of me that had been broken and sewn together and to share them with someone else, who touched them and somehow healed them all.

This scar though, I'm keeping just for myself.


Melissa Mitchell said...

Joel has one. It's new. It's raised. It's a different colour. I know his chest so well, every mark, every scar, every blemish. But somehow in the anxiety of the past months, I missed this one.

The Dr looked at it for a few seconds and dismissed it as nothing. I hope he's right. It made us both nervous. Joel, who never goes to the Dr went the day after I discovered it. He must have been somewhat worried. Personally, I want it gone, just like yours. It's his body though and he's happy with the Dr's assessment. I don't want to turn it into yet another thing to stress him out.

I'm glad you went with your gut and got it out.

Averil said...

I think I have a very similiar scar, Jenn. It's on my shoulder blade. I begged the dr for it, even though she knew, and really I knew, it was benign. But I needed the scar, and I wear it publicly, for in my uniform of tropical singlets, it is nearly always visible. It's my one keloid scar; angry-red, raised and ugly, even two years on. Every time I see a dr about my skin - and believe me, with my skin paranoia, I have a full check at least every 6 months - they grimace when they see the scar, or more accurately HOW I scar. And still I feel no regret. I needed to cut something out of me that day. And though I didn't fully remove all the fear and anxiety with it, I know the healing is happening...


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