Like a lot of people, I am aware that awareness months exist, but â€” with the possible exception of June as Gay Pride Month â€” I am not really aware of what months I should be aware of the things I’m supposed to be aware of.
So when I received an e-mail declaring May “skin cancer awareness month,” I was first inclined, as always, to promptly read-and-delete. I’ve probably gotten similar e-mails for years.
But this year, I paused. For once, what we are supposed to be aware of hit home, because in the past 12 months, I have become a cancer survivor.
The full story â€” including a pic and a link to an online exclusive â€” after the jump.Â
It probably started about two years ago, when my husband first began to pester me about the “unusual looking mole” in the center of my back. “How unusual looking could it be?” I thought, ignoring his advice. That went on for a year.
Then one day, at a GP for a check-up, I off-handedly mentioned the mole. He looked it over. “Yes, that’s bad,” he said. “Looks dangerous.” (As several people mentioned, this is the best reason yet they have found for being in a long-term committed relationship.)
Â I never actually saw this noteworthy mole because of its position (I had visions of looking like Cuato, the Martian mystic growing out of a mutant’s chest in “Total Recall,” although I never heard it say anything), but over the course of the next few months, I had it inspected, stabbed and biopsied, and the news was not good. It was melanoma, the most aggressive and potentially fatal of skin cancers. And it needed to come off â€” the sooner the better.
In October, my surgical oncologist â€” geez, how scary is it the first time you refer to “my oncologist?” â€” sliced open a six-inch swath down the middle of my back. I’d never had so much as a stitch and my first time under the knife was for cancer surgery.
For a while, I was quiet about it. There’s a lot I don’t share with people, even those close to me. I didn’t mention it to any friends, colleagues or family until necessary. A week before the surgery, I told my parents merely that I was having “a procedure” for “skin cancer.” “At least it’s not melanoma,” my mom sighed. It was, I said. Scary. As. Shit.
Â But things are looking good. My six-month check up last month showed no signs of growth, no lymph-node irregularities, Â no new troublesome moles. What had been, at one point, a 1-in-7 mortality rate for my situation has dropped to about 1-in-500. I’d prefer 1-in-a-million, but I won’t sniff at any good news.Â The doctor said the cause was probably traceable to a severe sunburn during childhood; we lived at the beach, and before I was 12, got two serious (first- and second-degree) sunburns. The cancer arrived almost 30 years later. So even if you’re cautious now, it never hurts to be aware of how your history might expose you to risks.
I hope you’ll read the article at the linkÂ Â here, which gives advice for protecting yourself and what to look for.
Enjoy the summer. Frolic by the shore and work on that teeny weeny bikini line if you must. But wear sunblock. Keep an eye on those moles. And see your doctor if someone says “that looks suspicious.” Because it’s far better to be in the 7 than in the 1.Â