There’s a moment in everyone’s life when you suddenly stop sweating the small stuff.
When the world seems to stop spinning and remains motionless on its axis.
When breathing stops.
Just for a moment at least.
That searing moment of vision when I realized the truth about immortality, and that a long and happy life may not be my birthright, happened just the other day after a routine skin check, which we have regularly because we live in beautiful Western Australia famous for its long hours of sunshine and clear blue skies.
“How are you, Jo? How’s the wound healing?”
“Good, thank you.” I replied, thinking how nice of my Doctor to call just to find out how I was after the mole biopsy he’d taken a few days earlier. The mole was removed surgically because it was considered a small risk, and given a 20% chance of being dangerous, so the odds were in my favour, and I’d been sure that they would be. Heck, I was just waiting to have the stitches out, that’s all.
“Jo. I have some good news and some bad news,” my Doctor continued.
Sharp intake of breath. Then my heart stopped beating for a moment as I considered his words especially the ‘bad news’. He wasn’t ringing to just find out about the wound, or how many pain killers I’d taken , or if the blood had returned to my veins after my fainting fit following the small, 15 minute surgery last week.
I think there was silence. I don’t think I responded. I might have muttered.
Instead of speaking, I sat down and swallowed, realising that my mouth had suddenly become very dry. I could have been in a scene from a movie, one that was now playing in front of my eyes, not real though, surely?
Then I heard my Doctor continue speaking.
“The good news is that we seem to have caught it in time. The mole is a malignant melanoma, but in its early stages. The bad news is that I will need to remove more skin from the area to make sure that all the cancerous cells have been taken away and reduce the chance of it spreading to other parts of your body. Now, when can you come back in?”
Come back in? Me? But I always wear sunscream. There must be a mistake. No I can’t come back in. Anyway, I’ll faint. I can’t do this. I don’t want to do this under local anaesthetic – I’ve heard rumours of big scars. Isn’t there a chance you could be wrong?
My thoughts were shrieking at me like harpies.
But I didn’t say anything.
“Now how about Thursday?” My Doctor asked.
Thursday? No! We have family visiting from the UK and we’ve booked to go dolphin watching among other things.
Straight after we’re going on a two day trip to Margaret River and w’e're treating ourselves to two nights at the lovely Cape Lodge set in amongst its own vineyards and luscious gardens. You know, it’s special – A BIG TREAT.
My head was spinning with the implications of disruption to our plans. No, this was all too inconvenient.
Then a little voice of reason crept in.
But you know Jo, melanomas spread, and remember reading that stuff on the internet – remember – it’s the most dangerous form of skin cancer unless it’s caught early? What are you thinking?
I opened my mouth before my brain could catch up with me and replied.
“Yes.” I said. “Thursday. Thursday will be fine. Thank you.”
“Would you like a mild sedative to calm your nerves on the day?” My kindly Doctor asked.
“Yes, Please,” I said while I was thinking; “Actually I’d like a whole jar full.”
The surgery was painless, apart from a few stings from the local anaesthetic and some tugging feeling when the wound was sewn up with stitches, three layers of them. I remembered the same feeling when I’d had my epidural caesarean all those years ago. The difference being then that I was coming out of the procedure with a lovely baby, not a question mark.
This time I didn’t faint – can you believe I came over all queasy the last time when I had the biopsy taken – since then I had practiced deep breathing techniques, and in my handbag I had stashed coca cola and a mars bar (big treats in this girl’s life) to raise my blood sugar levels before I attempted getting off the bed. I’d also told my active writerly imagination not to be such an inexcusable wimp over a relatively small procedure.
But as my sister in law pointed out the other day, “Any procedure is a minor one, as long as it’s happening to someone else.”
Afterwards it was sore, and sleeping was uncomfortable for a few nights, but the knowledge that I had had a brush with cancer was more painful than the wound itself, because now I could be at risk of further melanomas, and instead of a yearly visit to the Skin Cancer Clinic it will need to be every three months. At least for the next year or two.
It could be worse, and that is why I’m writing this down. Melanomas are an invidious form of cancer and can if left to their own devices spread to other parts of your body reasonably quickly. They are the most dangerous form of skin cancer, and you shouldn’t take them lightly or wait to get them seen to … you know what it’s like … you think, well it doesn’t hurt, so I’ll wait a month or maybe get it checked next year.
I am one of the world’s biggest wimps when it comes to blood and needles, but I can only thank my Doctor for spotting this one early and making sure I went in to have it removed.
We are lucky to live in a beautiful part of the world, but there are always downsides to Paradise and Western Australia purportedly has the second highest incidence of skin cancer in Australia.
So if you only do one thing today, and you haven’t done so recently, why not book an appointment for a skin check?
You might also visit Melanoma WA, a great site promoting more awareness about skin and sun safety, and offering support for anyone affected by melanoma, run by Clinton Heal (2011 WA Young Australian of the Year).
I’m also linking to other great travel stories on Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Travellers Sandbox today because regular skin checks are important for any one who travels to hot climes.