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Sunday, October 21, 2012

The "C" Word

About 6 months ago, I realized I had a lump in my eyebrow. It wasn't big or anything. And it didn't hurt. But I knew it was there. And I would finger it occasionally just to see if it felt any different.  It didn't feel any different, but it wasn't getting any smaller either. Of course, after I really got to thinking about it, it felt like it was getting bigger. I was sort of freaked out about it. So I went to see a dermatologist. After examining it, she indicated that it was just some sort of growth under the skin and nothing to be upset about and did I want it removed? Well, yeah, I thought. Get it out of there! She numbed me up and proceeded to remove this lumpy thing. It was benign and it would heal before the big wedding coming up and no one would ever know it was there...because now it wasn't! They gave me an appointment for a follow up in three months, which ended up being September. So far so good.

I went to the appointment in September without any trepidation at all. After all the lump was gone and there didn't seem to be anything else to think about. As I sat on the upright recliner waiting for the dermatologist, the assistant came in and told me to remove my clothing and put on this paper drape thing with armholes. Why? I thought? They're just gonna look at the ol' eyebrow, tell themselves what a great job they did and that was the end of that, right? I know you looking at me askance right now and saying, "well, obviously she was wrong." The doctor came  in and said she was going to do a "body check". I immediately thought of the wrestling move and then dismissed it from my mind. She was going to look over the body for any abnormalities--luckily she wasn't checking my mind. She ran her fingers through my hair, a sort of weird feeling for me and then looked me full in the face, pointed to my lip and said, "well, that has to go." What? What has to go? The look on my face? What? So I asked, "what has to go?" She placed her finger on my upper lip and said, "this."

I've looked at my face for 58 years and I still wasn't quite sure what she was pointing at. She got a mirror and showed me the bump that's been there for a long time. I was of two minds at this point. Why this bump? How come you didn't see it when I came in for the other bump? And really what's another bump on my face to worry about anyway? She looked at the rest of me and decided that the bump was the only thing wrong. And then she began to tell me how she was going to "numb it up" and take care of it. I just assumed it would be another lump removal like the one on my eyebrow. But you know, I really didn't want a scar on my face for the wedding pictures, so I just sort of casually asked, will this leave a scar? She stopped prepping and asked what I was worried about. I told her the wedding of our only daughter was two months away and I didn't want to look like Scarface in the wedding pictures. It'll just be a little red, she said. You can cover it up with cosmetics. Fair enough, I said and she numbed it up and came at my face with a sort of sharp little wiry thing. She scraped and scraped, but she wasn't digging it out like the other bump. But of course my lip was numb and really you can't have a conversation with someone when your lip is being worked on, so I waited. When she finally stopped scraping, she said, okay, we're gonna biopsy this, but I'm almost positive what we're gonna find. She put the scraped stuff in a jar, gave me a bandage and handed me a piece of blue paper with instructions on how to take care of the "biopsy" site. She did not say it looked benign like the other lump. She did say, "don't call us, we'll call you" regarding what the results of the biopsy would be. Really? Don't call us? For two weeks, just sit around and worry and worry, but really, we'll get back to you. Very unnerving.

So like a good little patient, I went about my business and tried (really I did) not to think about the word biopsy, what it means, why it triggers certain things in my mind and oh, by the way, don't call us we'll call you. By the second week I was antsy, so I called. They said the person who needed to talk to me would call me back. Which she did, while I was at work. She left a number. I called. She was with patients and couldn't talk right then. She'd call me back. Which she did when I was in the bathroom. So I called back. She was back with another patient. By this time, I had no patience, so I said, "I'll wait." They tried to discourage that adamant stand, but to no avail. Nope, she was talking to me this time if I had to stay on the phone and listen to their way-too-chipper ads about getting rid of wrinkles, fat and age spots for the next few days. Eventually the assistant doctor got on the phone, though and said, well, the biopsy says you have basal cell cancer. And there it was. The "C" word.

I've dreaded that word for most of my adult life. My father had bladder cancer which seemed to metastasize everywhere eventually. It is not something I want to remember much. But the "C" word brings out every single memory I've ever had of this disease. And they are not pleasant ones. I think I stopped breathing for a few moments and then the tears began to roll down my cheeks. I'm relatively sure I wasn't making any gasping sounds, but the doctor said, "are you alright?" knowing full well I wasn't. She explained that basal cell skin cancer doesn't metastasize anywhere except to maybe other places near where it is already. It doesn't "infect" other body parts.   It's a relatively easy fix/cure/whatever you want to call it. She didn't seem particularly concerned. My smart ass self thought, "well of course, she's not concerned, she doesn't have it." But that wasn't fair really. She told me I would need a consultation to discuss what we would do next as a course of action. She said we should schedule that consult relatively quickly. But I have to say, I wasn't ready to do anything quickly. I was still processing. I am still processing. The consultation happened the day after my birthday--Happy Birthday to you! As I follow up with this post, I'll keep you informed.

I know it's just a word. A powerful word, but just a word nonetheless. If it had been some other more "evil" kind, I would probably still be sobbing on the phone instead of going about the business of working, getting ready for a wedding and cleaning up after the cat. I am doing those things, but that word is still in the back of my mind, lurking, it's shadowy specter haunting my waking and even sometimes sleeping moments. I wish I could dismiss it as easily as some others. But so far, I haven't been able to. But I'm working on it. Every day.