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!