Wednesday, March 16, 2011

the chopping block

Every 6 months I enter a waiting room with a book in my purse because I know I'll be sitting there for at least an hour.

My name is called, I rise, and I try to give a smile to the nurse who kindly points me in the direction of the small room I will continue to wait in.

She gives me the ugly, scratchy, paper garment to put on and tells me the doctor will be in just as soon as she can be to talk to me.

I sit there biting my lip and I try to fight off the goosebumps from the frigid room.  I scan the room and begin to read those same posters I've read dozens of times that tell me what precautions to take and what the warning signs are.

My mind begins to wander and I start thinking about the trip I will need to make after this visit.  The trip to whatever local drug store in order to buy bandages and medicine and dreading of sleeping on my stomach for the next 2 weeks in order to not irritate the stitches.

I notice a full length mirror on the back of the door and stand up and walk towards it.  I turn my head over my shoulder and stare at my back in the reflection.  I wonder where the new incisions will be, but then quickly give up because I know my guesses are random and are never right.  I start looking at my scars and make a mental note to be better about putting scar cream on them.  There's 4 of them already and who knows how many more to come...I should concern myself more with making them less visible.

The door knob turns and I jump back and return to my seat on the crunchy paper on the exam table.  I'm greeted by a kind face and the comment of "I'd know that back anywhere" in which she tries to break the ice.  I try to smile and I mutter, "who doesn't?!".  She pulls out whatever that magic little magnifier is called that seems to be able to show her just the right spots in which she needs to cut out and remove skin from my back.  It's with the cold touch of that instrument that the dread sinks in, and I wonder where I will soon be chopped.

I recall my last visit in which the words "skin cancer" and "avoid sun exposure" were tossed around like any other nouns or verbs.  The last visit in which the SPF numbers she told me to use sounded more like Powerball lottery numbers than anything I'd be able to find on the shelf.  I wanted to kick myself over and over for visiting the tanning bed religiously in high school. I wanted to beat my head against a wall while thinking of those times of laying out in the sun while only applying baby oil.  What I had done to my body was no better than someone who vandalizes a perfectly good building.  You can cover up the damage, but you know that some type of reminder will always be there and there's no telling what might go wrong in the future as a result of that vandalism.

I snap back into the present moment when I hear the words, "I want to see you again in a year".  A year?  What?  "So we aren't cutting anything out today?" I ask.  For once, I hear the answer "no, you're good to go" and I suddenly don't even care about the co-pay I always hate handing over at the end of the visit.  For once, I'm not handed a sheet on how to take care of my incisions....I don't think about stopping to get bandages...I don't think about how I can't walk my enormous dog because the stitches would pull....I don't think of how I have to tell my husband to be careful when he goes to hug fact, I don't think at all.  I simply tell her she has made my day and leave that doctor's office with a huge weight off of my shoulders.

Now I'm not stupid,  I know some of you are thinking, "I've had that done before, it's really not that bad" and you think I'm blowing this out of proportion.  Well to be honest, I don't care if that's what you think.  No one can tell ME what I felt when I was laying there being cut on or what emotions flooded ME when the doctor told me how I needed to take this seriously.  But what I do care about is making people aware of what they are doing every time they crawl in that tanning bed...and what they're doing every time they allow their skin to get a little too red at the pool...and what they're doing when they're not worried about the ocean washing off all that sunscreen they just put on.

I don't want anyone to ever have to hear that basically their skin is a train wreck.  I don't want anyone to cry in their car after they leave their dermatologist appointment because you left there with a dozen stitches that you weren't expecting and you're scared that even putting your shirt on in the morning will cause you to stretch just a little too much.  I don't want anyone's first wedding anniversary night to entail asking your significant other to change your bandages.

Just like they make medicine for a reason, they make sunscreen for a reason.  Don't worry, you'll still get a tan, but you're being responsible about it.  You'll look in the mirror 30 years from now and thank yourself.


  1. You should write a column. No kidding! Great post!

  2. Mmm, This one was great. i just got goose bumps! I one again cry for you again and how much you care about others. You're such a GREAT person! This really does make me think about driving the 14 miles to my tanning bed. IF i go today, THIS POST will be on my mind the whole time. Not sure if i can do it. So Thank you!