Sunday, June 3, 2012

My Third Skin Cancer

First, let me stress that my 3 skin cancers have all been the non-life-threatening kind.  No melanomas yet.  I also feel lucky that they haven't been on my face.  I've had 2 on my left arm, the arm that hung out of the window for years while I drove under a relentless Southern sun.  And now, a basal cell cancer on my collarbone, also on the left.

There it is in the picture above, between pearl and pencil eraser.  It first appeared a few months ago.  I know the drill:  any new, mole-like thing deserves a visit to the dermatologist.  It seemed to grow, but it didn't get crusty and/or bloody.  I've had people tell me not to worry, that it's just some kind of tag-like thing, that I can expect these as I age.

I ignored these people.  Still, it was a bit of a shock when the dermatologist said, "Yep, that's a basal cell cancer."

I'm used to my dermatologist saying things like "Nope, that's a freckle."  "Nope that's just an age spot."

But occasionally, the dermatologist takes things off my skin, sends them off to be biopsied, and I come back for a bit more scraping.  As recurring medical conditions go, I could have worse problems.

It's interesting to me to see people's reactions.  Some people are horrified at the idea of a cancer of any kind.  Even if I explain that it's not life threatening, I can still see the pity on their faces.

But frankly, I've been on the lookout for skin cancer my whole life.  I'm the first generation to grow up aware of the lack of an ozone layer.  And yes, I spent years tanning anyway.

Before that, I spent my childhood being sent outside to play.  My mom was a big believer in the values of fresh air and sunshine.

They say that one of the predictors of skin cancer is a blistering sunburn.  I can't even count the number of times I've had a blistering sunburn.  And then there are all the sunburns that didn't blister . . .

When my dermatologist first met me, he said, "Why are you living here?"  For a moment, my mind reeled at the existential questions in the dermatologist question.

But of course, he was wondering why I live in a place that placed me at such risk of high exposure to dangerous UV rays.  The whole planet poses that kind of risk, of course, but the closer we get to the equator, the more days of dangerous sunshine we'll likely experience.

And I'm blonde and fair-skinned and freckled. 

So, the fact that I get skin cancers shouldn't exactly surprise anybody.  And yet, it's still a bit of a shock each time I find out that I have one.

Not so much of a shock that I can't write poems.  Tomorrow, I'll share my new poem that's based on Robert Browning's "My Last Duchess."  In case you want to play along, I've pasted the Robert Browning poem below.  My first bit came to me in the parking lot after my visit with the dermatologist: 

"That’s my third cancer, lurking near my neck,"

My Last Duchess

By Robert Browning

That's my last Duchess painted on the wall,

Looking as if she were alive. I call

That piece a wonder, now: Frà Pandolf's hands

Worked busily a day, and there she stands.

Will't please you sit and look at her? I said

'Frà Pandolf' by design, for never read

Strangers like you that pictured countenance,

The depth and passion of its earnest glance,

But to myself they turned (since none puts by

The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)

And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst,

How such a glance came there; so, not the first

Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, 'twas not

Her husband's presence only, called that spot

Of joy into the Duchess' cheek: perhaps

Frà Pandolf chanced to say 'Her mantle laps

Over my lady's wrist too much,' or, 'Paint

Must never hope to reproduce the faint

Half-flush that dies along her throat:' such stuff

Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough

For calling up that spot of joy. She had

A heart – how shall I say – too soon made glad,

Too easily impressed; she liked whate'er

She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.

Sir, 'twas all one! My favour at her breast,

The dropping of the daylight in the West,

The bough of cherries some officious fool

Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule

She rode with round the terrace - all and each

Would draw from her alike the approving speech,

Or blush, at least. She thanked men - good! but thanked

Somehow - I know not how - as if she ranked

My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name

With anybody's gift. Who'd stoop to blame

This sort of trifling? Even had you skill

In speech - (which I have not) - to make your will

Quite clear to such an one, and say, 'Just this

Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss,

Or there exceed the mark' - and if she let

Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set

Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse,

- E'en that would be some stooping; and I choose

Never to stoop. Oh sir, she smiled, no doubt,

Whene'er I passed her; but who passed without

Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;

Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands

As if alive. Will't please you rise? We'll meet

The company below, then. I repeat,

The Count your master's known munificence

Is ample warrant that no just pretence

Of mine for dowry will be disallowed;

Though his fair daughter's self, as I avowed

At starting, is my object. Nay, we'll go

Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though,

Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity,

Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!


Come back tomorrow for the rest of my poem!


Jim Murdoch said...

When I was first introduced to ‘My Last Duchess’ I was a young boy with ginger hair and the accompanying pale skin who was never in the house. I never lay out in the garden as did my dad, quietly stewing in his own juices, but we were always out in the sun and, as the beaches were still clean then summers were often spent there, my childhood was one where sunburn was just a part of how things were. So if anyone’s likely to get skin cancer I am. My mum did. It wasn’t what killed her—pneumonia did that—for which we were grateful; it was quick and relatively painless. My dad never lived long enough to die on cancer; a heart attack finished him off.

Carrie has had two different types of cancer since she’s been here. We’re hoping that’s it but one never knows. Her mother survived cancer too so she must come from sturdy stock. Nowadays, and for years now, I’ve kept out of the sun. It amazes me the people who still do lie out in it for hours on end. Don’t they know anything?

Cancer’s not a thing one should not worry about but these days it’s not a thing that needs to be fretted about.

Kathleen said...

So sorry about the skin cancer. I have some of the same risk factors you do, so I keep an eye on it, too. Best wishes as you take care of things.

Karen J. Weyant said...

Cancer is such an ugly word in so many ways. When I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer five years ago (No family history, no known risk factors) it was a shock, and it was very hard to talk to friends and family -- mostly because they couldn't understand that thyroid cancer is mostly curable.

Best of luck with treatment, Thinking of you.


Jeannine Hall Gailey said...

My mother just had her first basal cell skin cancer a couple of years ago. I am thinking good thoughts and remember to cover up that collarbone - maybe some nice Emily D-style neck ruffled dresses? Here in Seattle, you'd think no one ever got skin cancer (we get like thirty days of sunshine a year) but so many people here go to tanning beds, so...

Hannah Stephenson said...

Glad that you noticed it (and responded) so quickly. Sorry to hear it, certainly, but relieved to hear it's ok.

I am in the pale skin club,'s SPF 60 all the time.

Kristin said...

Thank you all for reading and for leaving comments and good wishes. It's rather staggering to realize how much cancer has touched so many lives. So sorry to hear about people lost--but happy to hear survival stories too.