I am grateful it has been cold outside. I have been hiding under this knit hat for the better part of two weeks without looking totally out of place. But now I find myself vulnerable, feeling naked without my head topper as I sit in the exam room of the dermatologist's office waiting for the doctor to examine my crusty forehead. It takes a great deal of practice to write that word without grimacing in disgust. If we were talking about a warm loaf of freshly baked baguette, it'd be a different story. But my crusty skin? Blech! My forehead is a red, splotchy, hot mess; the area above my brow an interesting combo of spotted leopard and alligator.
My skin is sore. By the second week, applying the medicine twice a day feels like a form of self-punishment. "Health first, health first" I've been chanting through clenched teeth while applying the wonder drug. In reality, the soreness is bearable. I'd give it a 5 out of 10 on the pain scale. There are also headaches. And itchy eyes.
After a light rap on the door, in walks Dr. Perfect Skin. "Your forehead looks amazing," she cheerily proclaims as she approaches me. I disagree. But I know what she means. What I've been covering with my snazzy cap is exactly what she is delighted to see. Yet I can't disguise my skepticism. "I'm serious. The treatment has done what it's intended to. You look fantastic. You can stop using the medicine now," chimes Dr. Perfect Skin. This is welcome news.
My treatment was for basal cell carcinoma. Nobody dies from this. If I had to have cancer, bring this one on. I did not require surgery beyond an outpatient procedure - - I drove myself home. The surgery did not remove any parts of my body with the excision of the cancer lesion. The same cannot be said for many people I know who suffered more serious cancer diagnoses. I know far too many people who have fought breast, ovarian, cervical, colon, prostate, and pancreatic cancers. I have friends and family who waged wars against melanoma, leukemia, and malignant brain tumors. I am close to people who endured intravenous and oral chemo therapies, leaving them nauseous and depleted of energy. I have people in my life whose treatments caused hair loss, suppressed their immune system, and inflicted a host of other harsh side effects. Some were given odds of combatting their cancer. Others were told how long they had to live.
There are risk-factors for many cancers. And there are also many instances when cancer strikes by random selection. Basal cell carcinoma is preventable with the primary risk factor being the sun. Why wouldn't you protect yourself? I get that there's nothing like feeling the warmth of the sun on bare skin, particularly after a cold New England winter. The production of Vitamin D from those rays almost tingles. But you and I know the sun can be harmful. By adopting consistent safe sun behaviors, the risk of basal cell carcinoma drops tremendously. This is a no-brainer.
I am happy to report that I have completed my first full week of topical chemo treatment on my sun-damaged forehead. And to be perfectly honest, it's been rather innocuous thus far. For this, I am incredibly grateful. I remain optimistic that the remaining treatment time will be uneventful and soon this will be behind me.
I am working on trying not to be bothered by how my skin looks. This is harder than I expected. It's winter and I hide my forehead under a knit cap most days. I wear a baseball cap to the gym. I thought I would be more open to embracing this. It's surprisingly difficult to let go.
For at least three decades, I worshipped the sun. I loved how I could give my skim milk-colored skin a golden tone even if it meant enduring a painful sunburn along the way. I worshipped the sun for how it enhanced my appearance. Ironic.
There is nothing pretty about what the sun did to me. A few months ago, I had 24 stitches on my face after the removal of basal cell carcinoma - - a form of skin cancer from heavy sun exposure. And yet I feel fortunate. This relatively common skin cancer is treatable and not as consequential as melanoma. Friends, please use sunscreen.