Every year in January I try to get all my appointments out of the way. I hit up my doctor, my dentist, the gyno, and the eye doctor. It’s a simple way to stay on track with my health care, and it gives a bit of instant gratification to my annual “take better care of myself” goal setting.
I realized at my annual physical that it’d been five years since I’d been given a good once over for weird moles or rouge freckles. My skin tone is best described as clear. Google a picture of a baby manta ray and you’ll get a good likeness, not only of my skin tone, but also of the face I make if you wake me up in the middle of a nap. I’ve never been tan – the closest I come is getting enough freckles together in one spot that if you squint at me from a distance, I look a little darker. But I can burn in under 3 minutes. Plus, my family has some history of troubling skin spots. So I instituted a regular inspection appointment in 2000, and asked my doctor to check me over for areas of concern.
My GP gave me a cursory once over, said she didn’t see anything problematic, and offered me a referral to a dermatologist. I happily accepted and scheduled my appointment, quietly congratulating myself on being such a responsible and conscientious skin owner.
At the dermatologist, they asked me to strip down to my underpants and put on a stylish floral gown. The nurse then said that I was also free to remove my socks if I’d like the doctor to check the skin on my feet. “Wait – why wouldn’t I have her check my feet?” I asked, genuinely wondering if there was some secret dermatological protocol I’d be violating. “I dunno, some people don’t want their feet checked,” she responded, and excused herself, leaving me wondering why someone would be happy to let the doctor examine their butt crack and armpits for questionable lesions but would feel that exposing their feet was simply too personal.
The doctor came in and got to work, giving me my exam while seamlessly weaving together genuinely fun conversation with skin care tips. It was truly skillful. She went from making a joke about the weather to discouraging me from ever using spray sunscreen without missing a beat. They must practice on each other during slow times. “Ok now try to segue from your favorite hot dish recipe to a discussion on why rash guards are the best swimsuits. Go!”
After looking me over from my scalp to my scandalously exposed feet, she looked at me and said, “Ok, there’s a spot on your nose we need to treat. It’s a pre-cancerous spot and we can treat it right here in the office.” There was more after that but my brain had seized up and refused to keep up with her. The word cancer strikes fear in the heart of any thinking person, and if you’ve witnessed loved ones fight that particular demon, there’s an especially sharp edge to that terror. She must have caught the look in my eyes, because she paused her charming patter to reassure me that it was just a small spot, wasn’t yet a problem, and that she could treat it and it wouldn’t become an issue. I thanked her, and then asked if she wouldn’t like to recheck the rest of my body because holy fuck. She laughed and said that nothing else looked problematic at all, but that they’d bring me back in next year to take another look, and I could always come in if I thought something looked funny. She then asked if I’d like to have the spot treated that day. I said yes before she even finished the sentence. “Are you sure? Do you have any big events coming up, like a wedding you’re in, or a big presentation? The treatment will leave a red mark that will be there for a couple weeks, and it may blister,” she said. “Please to get the cancer off my face. Now. Please,” I responded.
Which is how I came to be looking down the barrel of a liquid nitrogen gun. She warned me that it was going to hurt, and that I should hold very still. She then shot my nose for a few seconds and told me to flip over so she could check my back. I was stunned that that was it. It wasn’t even all that painful.
I passed the rest of my exam with flying colors, and made my follow up appointment for next January. To be honest, I felt pretty wigged out for the rest of the day. (The kids are still saying wigged out, right?) Despite my hypochondriatic leanings, I didn’t suspect she’d actually find anything. I’m not even 40 yet, and I’m pretty dedicated to my sunscreen regimen. And my GP hadn’t noticed the spot, despite it being front and center on my face. I spent the rest of the day feeling happy that I had dodged a bullet and scared that I had been shot at in the first place.
So take advantage of your sunscreen dear readers, and stay on top of your health. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to invent a vat I can use to dip my daughter in SPF 100 every morning.