Writing is like being able to put life into a snow globe. It takes the things that are too big and scary and reduces them into a form that I can put away when I want and look at from a distance. It also takes all that’s good in life and captures it into something I can take out when I want and look at close up and keep forever. It makes the bad things into something I can hold…and the good things into something I can hold onto. Both help so much that I need that little souvenir of life.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

A Lesser Known Monday Holiday

Tomorrow is…Melanoma Monday! Woo hoo, you say. I’m sure I can hear you say that. Some people will be wearing orange tomorrow, and possibly a black melanoma bracelet. I haven’t decided yet if I will participate only because I don’t own a lot of orange. It’s one of those cruel ironies that I do happen to look good in orange if I have a tan—and I really haven’t had much of a tan in years.

In honor of Melanoma Monday, I’ll tell you the story of getting mine diagnosed. I hear more woo-hooing, don’t I?

It’s pretty well known that it’s important to have “ugly duckling” moles checked out. But mine wasn’t terribly ugly. And it wasn’t what I’d call a mole. It was just a tiny, figure-eight-shaped spot that appeared several years ago and was different from everything else I have—and there’s a lot to choose from. It had two melanoma markers right off the bat, though: asymmetry and uneven color distribution.

What shook me awake—in more ways than one—was the nightmare. In it, I was sitting on the porch of an old college roommate on a warm summer evening in shorts when she very gently told me I had something that I needed to have a doctor look at. When I looked down, I had two, four-inch-long mushrooms sprouting from my leg in the shape of that figure eight.

It was the nightmare that spurred me to make an appointment to attend one of those free skin cancer checks sponsored by a local hospital.

The doctor took a quick glance and told me it was nothing.

“Are you sure?” I asked. “Because it doesn’t look like anything else on my body, and clearly I have a lot on there. Do you mind looking again?”

She was probably in her late twenties. I know what it is to be young and not taken seriously by patronizing people over 40, so I’d tried to be very, very polite. But she let me know by not looking at the skin thing again that she was offended that I’d question her abilities. “Really,” she said. “It’s nothing.”

“But it’s asymmetrical,” I said. “And varying colors. And it just appeared and is getting bigger.”

She carefully explained, in a tone that let me know just what she thought of doddering middle aged laypeople with weird things on their legs, that discolorations such as mine can appear “even as we age,” and they are nothing. “It’s okay. Really.” Clearly I was overreacting.

Except I was reluctant to leave. It slipped out. “But…I had a nightmare.”

“Oh.” she said. “A nightmare! Well.” The look on her face let me know just what she thought of nutbags like me and our nightmares.

Over the years, doctors two, three, and four said something similar, though most weren’t quite as snide. 

So when I thrust my leg at Doctor #5 and she used the “M” word, I felt like someone had knocked the wind out of me. When I told her about the four other doctors, she said it probably wasn’t cancerous then. Apparently benign stuff can and does just become cancerous. I didn’t tell her that Doctor #4 was only a few months ago. I was afraid she thought I was being litigious or something. I wasn’t. It’s just been frustrating is all.

What I’ve learned is to tell, don’t ask, for a biopsy if something doesn’t look, feel, or seem right on your body.

So anyway, happy Melanoma Monday. Whether you wear orange or not, please do wear your sunscreen. And remember the melanoma markers are as simple as a, b, c, d, and e:

  • A is for asymmetrical shape.
  • B is for irregular border.
  • C is for changes in color.
  • D is for diameter (but don't wait until it's bigger than a pencil eraser if it's of concern to you—I think no one took mine seriously early on because it was so tiny, but obviously catching it early is what saves your life).
  • E is for evolving.

If you find out next week that you are terminally ill—and we’re all terminally ill on this bus—what will matter are memories of beauty, that people loved you, and that you loved them. ~Anne Lamott, Plan B Further Thoughts on Faith


  1. Sooooo. You like the Lamott book, do ya?

    I haven't heard the ABCDE thing about melanoma, so thanks. Tammy. I'm glad you "nothing" was treated.

    Maybe "F" should stand for Flail (Your Arms and Scream and Insist). You're fortunate you had the courage and determination to look for a 2nd (and 3rd, and 4th and finally a 5th) opinion.

  2. Clearly the key is to tell, not ask. Something like "I want this thing off me right now" should do the trick.

    Critter Alley

  3. You know your body better than any doctor. I am so glad you were persistent, and you have overcome.

  4. Well, Tam -- I have mole I've been watching, because it has changed in the last year. My PCP told me it was nothing, but guess what I'm having checked by derm after reading your post? Hope my PCP is right, but if she's not, I'll be glad I took the time to get another opinion. Your story is a real cautionary tale. (And I am SO glad that you found it, took care of it, and are doing well!)

  5. I'm so relieved that everything worked out well for you. I can picture the young doctor being condescending; I hope my path never crosses hers. Beyond what I learned with the ABCDE lesson, I'm once again convinced that listening to words whispered at night in dreams is a wise course of action.

  6. Wow. That nightmare was something else. I am so glad that you kept going back in, and that we should keep looking closely even if something WAS benign that it can turn cancerous. But most of all, I am just so glad that you are okay.

    Happy Mother's Day, Tammy.

    Kathy M.


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