Skin deep

I watched it grow for about two years with a mix of wonder and dread. At first, I dismissed it as your standard adult acne, one of the cruelest ironies of life. Although it's placement on the side of the bridge of my nose seemed highly unusual, I was thankful that at least it hadn't taken up residence in the middle of my forehead. When a few months passed and my new friend was still with me, I decided perhaps I had misdiagnosed myself. Maybe what I was witnessing was merely the birth of a new freckle, or perhaps it was an old one I'd never noticed before. However, in a few more months' time, it was hard to miss the protrusion, and my new facial feature was upgraded from freckle status to full-fledged "beauty mark." While most people at this point would suffer from an acute case of self-consciousness, I opted for the opposite: complete and utter denial. I told myself no one noticed but me, and any further concern was pure vanity.

This notion was put to rest by a frank verdict rendered by my better half who now referred to it as "my third eye."

"You better have that thing looked at," he declared. "It's pretty scary."

"You mean my beauty mark?" I asked, a little defensively - I mean, you wouldn't refer to Madonna's or Cindy Crawford's trademark moles as "scary." However, seeing as how he also is the only one brave enough to honestly answer the "fat in these pants" question, I decided to heed his advice.

"It's probably just a wart," I concluded, the mere thought of which made me shudder.

It's not that I fancy myself some great beauty, but aren't warts the stuff of slimy toads, wicked old hags (you can save the smart-ass comments) and little green trolls who live under bridges? I shower regularly, generally refrain from handling strange amphibians and even use old-lady wrinkle cream that costs more per ounce than enriched plutonium.

I was explaining all this to my doctor as she took a quick look and threw the curveball of the century. The good news was no warts but this also was the bad news. The inconspicuous growth I had been contemplating for several months was a basal cell carcinoma.

My head began swimming in a sea of medical lexicon. Basal cell? That was the bad one, right? My stomach dropped, my mind went numb and I suddenly felt as if the walls were closing in. I tried to fight back the lump that had arisen in my throat. It's one thing to be prepared for the "w" word, but quite something different to get the "c" one.

As my brain processed the news, my emotions ran the gamut from shock and nausea to self-loathing and embarrassment. I had always been under the false impression that people from northern climes weren't supposed to get skin cancer. I immediately flashed back to a fateful day in eighth-grade, the hot May sun, a tinfoil-wrapped Styx "Paradise Theater" double album propped under my chin and a bottle of Johnson's Baby Oil at my side. Sure, it was only Minnesota, but then again, my skin only saw sunlight three months out of the year. Needless to say, the deep, bronzed tan I was after remained elusive that day. I ended up a swollen, blistered, oozing, red freak for days, to say nothing of the peeling and flaking aftermath. Sadly enough, after this came several more summers of reflective rafts and swimming pools, and winters of "UV accelerator" and tanning booths. Billed as "safe," sunlight-deprived Minnesotans flocked to these places like moths to a flame. That girl who fried her insides going to the tanning booth twice in one day, I'm pretty sure I knew her.

All I can say is, thank god for the '90s and political correctness, which made it OK to be pasty white and proud of it. Unfortunately, in my case the damage had already been done, and now I was going to pay for those years of yearning for skin like the Bain de Soleil girl with the well-tanned hide of my nose.

The doctor must have seen my pained expression, and she quickly added that basal cell was the most common and easily treated form of skin cancer. In fact, she could take care of it right now, wouldn't take but a minute - just a little scrape here and a cauterization there. Of course, there was the plastic surgery route, but seeing as how my modeling career showed no signs of taking off anytime soon, I opted for the out-patient quickie special. Besides, it's kind of like finding a big, hairy spider climbing up your pant leg - you don't care how it's removed, just as long as it's done so immediately.

As I sat back on the table, I nervously scanned the room for the nitrous tank. Come to find, I was going to have to do this one with nothing but a little local. Don't get me wrong; it wasn't the pain I was worried about (I can thank childbirth for that). It was the close proximity to prized sensory organs. I tried to remain stoic as the needle went in and the removal took place. However, I believe the scrunched eyes and fingernails entrenched in the vinyl padding may have betrayed me.

"You can, get up now," a voice said, true to promise, not more than 90 seconds later. I cautiously opened one eye, then the other, looked around, and sat up. I could see and was still breathing, so as far as I could tell, the procedure had been a success. Fortunately, I was spared the mother of all lectures, which is good because I still have nightmares over the flossing one I got three years ago (which, I'll begrudgingly add, worked). My little outgrowth was put in a petri dish and shipped off to the lab, and I was given a few pamphlets and set free.

Once in the car, I immediately inspected the damage in the rear view mirror. A small, black hole stared back where the offending growth once was. It was going to get worse before it got better, the doctor warned, and there could be some scarring. But, all in all, I guess I can say my first brush with the Big C was really no big deal. And for that, I am eternally grateful.

- Missy Votel



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