My dermatologist looked at the spot on my back and then looked me square in the eyes and said, “I need to take this now.”
A woman walks into the doctor’s office — unfortunately, this is not a joke — and the doctor tells her it is important that she have an irregular mole on her back checked out by a dermatologist. She doesn’t heed the advice. A year later, the woman walks into the doctor’s office and the doctor is more aggressive. You must go to the dermatologist immediately, the doctor says.
The woman (finally) senses the urgency of tone. She sees a dermatologist and the news is frightening. It is possibly melanoma.
That woman was me. My dermatologist looked at the spot on my back and then looked me square in the eyes and said, “I need to take this now.”
Over the next several days, I imagined the worst but hoped for the best. While the spot was being examined in a laboratory, I thought of all of the things I might miss.
I viewed my life in a completely new way. I wasn’t grateful for every moment. I wasn’t resigned to whatever might lie ahead. I wasn’t prepared to “fight.” I wasn’t able to process anything except anger at myself.
And I was scared out of my mind.
The mole was cancerous. I had to go to the hospital for another procedure, which may have saved my life.
I had all of the risk factors: blistering sunburns as a child and teenager; family history of skin cancer; using a tanning bed — everything came together in a perfect storm.
For the most part, it was lifestyle choices that caused the skin cancer.
I hear young women, especially at this time of year with proms and other spring and summer events to attend, talk about their penchant for tanning.
In extreme cases, tanning can be addictive. A study of 421 college undergraduates by researchers in psychiatry and psychology at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City and the University of Albany, State University of New York, found that a subgroup of indoor tanners showed classic signs of substance-related disorder.
The good news, for me, is that despite ignoring warning signs and curbing my tanning — and despite ignoring my doctor for more than a year — doctors caught mine in time. For the rest of my life, I have to have skin checkups once a year.
This spring, as Relay for Life events gear up in support of the American Cancer Society, I have begun to receive letters that start, “Dear cancer survivor ...”
Such a strange way to be defined. And I hope that the young women and men who are mulling their appearance versus their health heed this warning and prevent the preventable so that they never have to wonder, for even a moment, if they will get that second chance.
Allison Cooper is managing editor of Messenger Post Media in New York.