And the saga of Ed continues

About a month ago I got a call from my doctor to notify me that the biopsy had come back on the skin cancer she had removed from my arm. Maybe I should take a step back here and explain a few things because this topic always seems to have a polarizing effect on some readers. There’s that one camp who thinks that the only reason I talk about the fact that I have skin cancer is because I am trying to stir up drama. They are angry people, or at least I think they are because the email they send me is written as if the SHIFT key is broken and permanently set in the ON position from hitting it with their foreheads so many times. I’m sure they are lovely people once they’ve taken a long walk around the block to cool off, or once someone has duct-taped their faces shut.

Then there are those very concerned people who have sent me their condolences and fully expect me to die within the hour. There are moments when I start to get a grip about the whole thing and then someone will send me an email to tell me a story about an entire town in Iowa that died from skin cancer. Someone’s father or brother or neighbor’s cousin’s hairdresser died FROM THE EXACT SKIN CANCER I HAVE, and they want to urge me to get my will in order. These people mean well, I know that and I am very thankful for their concern, but they might want to reconsider the strategy of trying to make someone feel better by suggesting luxurious casket fabrics.

I think it’s pretty important to talk about my experience with this especially since I just found out that my best friend from high school was diagnosed recently with a squamous cell carcinoma, the second most common skin cancer after basal cell carcinoma, the one that was found on my arm. I think this points to the fact that one, there is a giant hole in the ozone right over Memphis, Tennessee, and two, my generation hasn’t ever taken the threat of skin cancer very seriously. I think we should all be knocked upside the head with a tub of SPF 50. And then forced to scroll through every image that Google returns for a search on the word sunburn. (ALERT: before you click on that link you should be aware that some of those images are not safe for work, and curiously, not one image of George Hamilton turned up within the first 20 pages, I CHECKED.)

Turns out that my doctor didn’t remove all of the cancerous cells on my arm. The biopsy showed that the margins of the excised skin were not normal. This made me sad because the scar had healed really well, better than I thought it would, and here I was being told that I didn’t get to keep it.

My doctor set up an appointment for me with a local dermatologist, and last Wednesday I drove down to his office to have the cancer removed once again. The only way I can possibly begin to describe this man and his office is to compare it to a graphic science fiction/horror comic book, it was that unsettling. He began by telling me that the incision that my doctor had made on my arm could have made the problem much worse, because by cutting into the cancer like she did she could have deposited diseased cells into the deeper layers of skin. When I reminded him that he was the one who had told her to just go ahead and cut it out herself, he said, “Really? That was pretty stupid of me, wasn’t it?” EXCUSE ME FOR A MOMENT WHILE I PICK OUT AN EXPENSIVE FABRIC FOR MY CASKET.

After he performed a quick visual assessment of my arm and other areas of my body — when he saw the troubling mole on my back he said I wasn’t allowed to leave his office until he had taken it off — he walked me into the operating room. It was a giant expanse of white walls and white floor, and in the very center of the room sat a giant space-age chair. I stopped at the door and told him I wasn’t going any further until he promised that he wasn’t going to knock me out, strap me to that chair, and suck my brain out of my nose, because all arrows were pointing in that direction.

His pleasant bedside manner continued when, after I had taken my place in the chair, he walked over and started shooting local anesthesia into my arm without telling me what he was doing. When I asked if maybe he could try being a tad less barbaric, he suggested that if I was so concerned about my feelings I should just hire a psychiatrist. Charming! Somehow this led into a discussion about what I do for a living, and I suddenly realized that I have a hard time telling people that I am a writer. I’m always saying that I have a website, or that I write things online, but I’m reluctant to use the word WRITER because when it comes out of my mouth it sounds like I’m pleading with someone to PLEASE TAKE ME SERIOUSLY. It also makes me sound like I’m fond of wearing fedoras and plaid capes. And beige orthopedic shoes that smell like cabbage.

Someone once dismissed my career by saying, “I know that’s what you do, you write about your feelings, but…” And when he said feelings he made it sound as if that word were interchangeable with ear wax or chlamydia. I think from now on when anyone asks me what I do for a living my answer is going to be, “I write about my feelings,” and when I get to that last word I’m going to claw at my chest as an indication that RIGHT HERE IS WHERE I STORE THE MAGIC. And I’ll keep track of how long it takes people to throw up.

Once my arm was numb the dermatologist used a method called curettage and electrodesiccation, two very big words for scraping and burning. I tried not to watch what he was doing, but at one point the flame at the end of the soldering iron he was using to cook my arm temporarily blinded me. I’m not sure exactly how he removed the mole on my back, it happened so fast, but the scar leads me to believe that maybe he zapped it off with his evil laser eyes. The entire procedure was over in less than seven minutes, and after he told me how much he was going to charge me, I calculated that this man makes 100 DOLLARS PER MINUTE. This man may just have a better job than Oprah.

I’m posting links here to pictures of the new scar, but I’m putting them in pop-up windows so that if you don’t want to be confronted with the gore you don’t have to be. The new wound is indeed very grody, much worse than the first one, and makes a profound case against future sun-bathing:

The new wound on my arm.

Close-up of the new wound on my arm.

The wound on my back.

Close-up of the wound on my back.

I know some of you are going to criticize me for not going to the dermatologist in the first place, and of course I know now that I should have taken that course of action, but I’m sort of bound by what my insurance is willing to think about covering, what we have in the bank account, and possible long-term payment options. I trusted my doctor when she told me she could remove it herself, and I didn’t really have the option of saying, you know what, thanks, but I’d like a second opinion first. Sometimes those second opinions are prohibitively expensive because the insurance company has made it pretty clear that I’m on my own. I tried to make the best decision with the options I had.

Let me make it clear, though, that I know I’m lucky that I have any options at all. I’m lucky that I have access to treatment and that this doesn’t have to turn into something much worse. And the good news is that the biopsy came back for the mole that I had removed, and it was totally benign.

BEE. NINE.

That noise you hear? That’s me kicking skin cancer in the nuts.

  • http://www.teetotaled.com Teetotaled

    Great news! If I see skin cancer I will give him a swift one just for you.
    I also had that gross thing done to remove a huge and seriously I mean huge, mole on my back. Your description of it was so funny. The entire time I tried to keep my eyes shut and sing songs in my head and ignore the smell of burning flesh. Eck.

  • http://www.pinkandgreengirl.com Erin

    Glad the most recent mole came back benign. If you ever have another basal cell (which I really honestly hope that you don’t), maybe you could elect to have MOHS surgery – I think I may have commented on one of your previous entries that I had MOHS surgery on my face.

    To overly-simplify MOHS, it’s a removal procedure that checks the margins to make sure they’re clear before closing up the wound. It’s a very precise procedure – I’d be happy to tell you all about it.

  • http://www.troll-baby.com Karen Rani

    You are a brave lady. So happy to hear it was benign.

    The haters can SO suck it. You’re sending a great message.

  • http://javajabber.wordpress.com/ JavaJabber

    First of all, F&*k those trolls who make asshat comments. It’s YOUR blog, don’t let anyone get to you to the point that you have to justify everything you write about.

    Secondly, you’re not JUST a writer. You’re a Freelance Writer. This indicates that you’re writing skills have been developed to the level of being able to pick and choose what you write about and for whom. That you’re selective about what you write and you are an independent thinker.

    Lastly, the more people talk about skin cancer, the more the number of people who die from skin cancer on a yearly basis will decrease. People just aren’t aware of how deadly this seemingly innocuous disease really is to everyone.

  • http://www.kerrianne.org kerri

    So glad! to hear all is well, and B9.

    * applies sunblock feverishly *

  • WeeDram

    I’ll try not to make any inane comments such as those other inane folks have made. I mean, how can you really say much about the possibility of cancer, mortality, etc. that doesn’t sounds a bit … lacking.

    So, at the risk of being inane, and not diminishing the fact that yes, you are fortunate to have health care choices … doesn’t for-profit health care just bite?

  • noromdiam

    I’m glad they caught the cancer. Your wounds look bad ass.

    I had three moles removed in May. The one that was removed with a skin punch oozing pus for a month, that was really ugly but is now the prettiest scar of the three. The other two were merely shaved off. For the 3-D scars, those Curad scar therapy patches work extremely well, you can cut them into smaller pieces to save money. AND!!! When you peel them off and leave them in the shower, they suck up water and get really big.

  • http://www.chookooloonks.com/chookooloonks Chookooloonks

    Congrats. And I’m hoping that every time you show those wounds around, you do so with a swagger and a “Hey, you should see the OTHER guy.”

  • http://jaycee.typepad.com/semantics/ Jaycee

    Now you can hold off deciding what colour fabric you want in your casket.

  • http://ohbladioblahblog.com/ Sharon Faulk

    Yuck!

    But it looks like he did a better job thatn my doctor did with mine. The skin separated or something like that so I have this portion of my underarm which looks like, well, the like the worst stretch you can imagine and then multiplied by 100.

    BLECH!

    Oh but those margins came back clean.

  • http://dennisbullock.com Dennis Bullock

    That is great news Heather. I have a mole on my back that has always given me bad thoughts. Maybe I should get it looked at.

  • lyndseyelise

    The pictures are indeed grody. But I would much rather have a nasty scar on my arm than look great in my casket. Now whenever we go outside here in Southern Cali I am constantly slathering on the SPF 40 on both of my children and myself. I might even institute a new rule of long sleeves and jeans even though it’s a blistering 120 degrees.

    My next observation is that all my friends in Utah use the word “grody.” I haven’t used this word since the fifth grade. I think I will incorporate this word back into my vocabulary, it’s so fun to say.

  • HalfwayCrucified

    You should have asked if you could get “Really? That was pretty stupid of me” in writing. . .after he put away the blowtorch and laser beam, of course.

  • The Bold Soul

    Kick that cancer to hell and back again! Whoopee! (I couldn’t bring myself to look at the new photos but I did start wearing sunscreen all the time when I go outside… because of you. So thanks!)

    By the way it also took me a while to take myself seriously when saying “I’m a writer”, so I know how you feel. At first I would say “I’m a web designer… and a writer” where that last bit came out in a soft rush — “andawriter” — like it was chronic gas, something I had to be embarrassed about. Then I started forcing myself to say the “I’m a writer” part FIRST, followed by the other stuff. Now I just say “I’m a writer” and stop talking. Because to keep talking after I say “writer” is like I’m apologizing for it and there’s no freaking way I’m going to apologize for doing what I absolutely love, being brilliant at it in my own way, and getting PAID to do it.

    So just practice a lot and it will get easier to say it. And a lot more fun once you realize you actually MEAN it, and the rest of the world be damned.

  • slate

    Those pics are so hawt. Almost makes me want to cancel my tan this afternoon.

  • cate

    Heather—I just don’t like that he scraped and burned and didn’t excise more tissue, something is not adding up in his treatment of squamous cell CA. I’m no dermatological expert, but I have been an RN for 24 years, and I did some searching today on the subject, and I couldn’t find anything that supports not taking down more of the margains, to get to clear tissue…and I sure don’t like the looks of that arm wound, and I despise the fact he was such a dick to you….I’m sorry to be a wet blanket, but I worry because I’m a worrier.

    Oh good gravy, now I sound like a casket liner!!!

    Take good care of yourself!

    XO

  • jams

    i applaud you for talking about it
    i think that some people think you can get cancer, or aids, or hepatitis just by talking about it, or listening about it. we need to be more communicative about these things, look how many people have gotten checked as a result of your posts about it! awesome
    americans are so afraid of the human body

    also, whoever above said “saw smoke coming out of my craw” that was HYSTERICAL. i’ve had two leeps and let me just tell you that cervix roasted on an open fire….not so much. at least the second time they didn’t offer me a mirror in case i wanted to watch!

  • esthela

    They put JUST a band-aid on that first cut?

  • http://barbie2be.blogspot.com barbie2be

    heather, i’m glad that you went and got it checked and taken care of. even if your new doctor is a masochist.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/72feetabovesealevel/ 72feetabovesealevel

    My sister had basal cell carcinoma and didn’t die. She was treated using a cream that can make the cancerous spot swell up and look really gross. Her’s didn’t, it just got smaller and smaller and went away.

    And that is the end of my story.

  • http://workman.blogspot.com Workman

    Congrats on your benign-ness. May the remainder of yoru life be equally benign.

  • http://heterophobic.org/journal girl

    I’m having a second mole removed (also from my upper arm) on Monday. I had one removed from my back a month or so ago that turned out to be benign, thankfully. Unfortunatly, we have another 2 months (at least) before it’s long-sleeve weather here in SE Texas, so I’ll be dealing with every single nosey person that I work with and wait on at work asking what happened to my arm.

  • http://battybeyond.wordpress.com battybeyond

    This is something i’ve been trying to teach my mother for years… she’s always wringing her hands saying “i hope i’ve done the right thing,” and if there are negative consequences (any at all, really) she gets flustered and upset with herself that she made the ‘wrong’ choice. You made a best-judgment based on your situation. That’s life. Hind-sight is always 20/20, and I’m always reminded of that when people tell me what I could have and should have done.

  • http://jjbofamily.blogspot.com/index.html mrsjenna

    Bye bye, Ed.

    Best wishes, Heather…and so happy for you that everything worked out.

  • MommyofOne

    “what we have in the back account”

    Did you mean “what we have in the BANK account?” Because I would hate to see your blog blemished with a misspelled word. Or a word that is not misspelled but doesn’t quite belong.

    On the other hand, I thought I heard a CRUNCH earlier this week. Thank you for raising all of our awareness.

  • Jane Southwood

    The arrogance and loutishness of some members of the medical profession never ceases to amaze me. Specialists seem to be the worst in this regard, although I have to say that a dermatologist with a bedside manner this lousy is surprising. You kind of expect it with a surgeon — after all they’ve chosen a specialty where they mainly interact with people who they don’t have to talk to since they’re under anaesthesia — but a dermatologist makes his or her main bread and butter dealing with adolescents who have acne and grown women who are trying to buff up their complexions and have the extra cash to pay for it. Neither of which is a particularly forgiving population group.

    Glad it all turned out for the best. Good that you wrote about it, too, since maybe it will help remind some of us to be a little more diligent with the sunscreen.

  • Amy L.

    Hey Heather,

    Glad to know it all worked out okay. We went through something similar a few years back. My husband had some moles removed – most were benign, but two were squamous and one was melanoma, albeit a very early stage. There’s nothing that will make your heart drop into your ass faster than hearing your husband say “the doctor called, and one of the moles was melanoma.” But they were able to remove it, no further treatment needed. He goes back every year now for a skin check as he has continued to have squamous cells pop up, something you should do also.

    I don’t really see posting about a sphincter-tighteningly scary experience as “starting drama,” but if it is, this is the kind of drama people should start. I know a ton of people in their thirties with moles they think are “weird” who won’t get them checked out. If anyone out there reading this has a mole they’re curious about, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, GO TO A DOCTOR AND SHOW IT TO HIM OR HER. The melanoma my husband had looked like nothing. I originally sent him to the doctor because he had another mole that I thought looked weird. That turned out to be nothing. The mole I thought was no problem? Could have eaten him alive and I would be talking about my late husband right now. It’s best to have these things evaluated by an experienced medical professional, as you did. Dying from malignant melanoma is not a pretty way to go.

    In any case, thanks for being so open about your little jaunt through Skin Cancer Roulette. If a couple of people are inspired to go to the doctor by your posts, you will have done a good thing.

  • http://shootersstation.blogspot.com Shooters Station

    Can I just say once again how much I lurv you’re writing. I am NOT laughing at your experience here, but at your re-telling. You crack me up!

    And while you are all kickin’ cancer-nuts and stuff, you might have considered kicking that dermatoligist in his nuts. Customer service is dead.

  • Margrit McIntosh

    Hi, just wanted to say that there’s a great article on choosing doctors at
    http://www.slate.com/id/2143506/

    The upshot is, for primary care and diagnosticians (who help you make decisions), trust your instincts.

    For surgeons, go with the one that has done that procedure the most.

    Quoting now:

    “Subjective impression is meaningless when selecting a surgeon. Craft should trump your desire to like them; in fact, it’s OK to hate your surgeon. You simply need him to cut and sew very intelligently. So always select the surgeon who has already done the most iterations of whatever procedure you need. Stated in Zagat-ian terms: Which restaurant do you want to go to—the one with the line or the one that sits empty?”

    Best wishes! Love, Margrit

  • meringue57

    You go girl! Kickin’ away at the C-word.

  • worrals

    Ouch ouch! Forget evil laser eyes – that one on your back has teeth marks round it.

    I love your writing – it makes me giggle. I am still smiling at orthopaedic shoes (you found something worse than clogs?).

    May your cancer be well and truly gone.

    PS My sympathies to June ^^^ (she of the seared cervix)

  • Larisa

    Death to Ed!

    And I havent heard the word “grody” in about 20 years!!

  • http://www.meretrice.com Meretrice

    Congrats on the cancer butt-kicking. Hopefully one day science will wasting time on inventing slices of peanut butter and find an infallible cure for cancer.

    As for the scars, don’t stress about them too much. Just think of them as battle wounds — visible proof of how hard-core you are. I use the same mental technique for my stretch marks. If someone asks about the scars, you can tell the person that you had a knife-fight with a 6’7 troll named “Ed.”

  • MeAhna

    For some reason I am now wishing for a hamburger pattie wish swiss cheese……

    how odd…….(retching)

    hahahaha!

  • KLC

    I feel so demented laughing along while reading this – I know you are dealing with the big C, and sorry to hear it and all. (Doesn’t that just scream of sincerity?) But you have such a flare for writing and it really was a funny piece.

  • http://stephanie-austin.com Stephanie

    On Skin Cancer: I am fair-skinned and started going to the derm once a year for a skin cancer check about three years ago. Thankfully, she has never found anything. Until that point, I had no idea you get skin cancer in your 20′s or 30′s. I did, however, have some pre-cancer spots removed from my cervix, but that is another story for another day.

    On Writing: I am also a writer. And when I tell people that I am a writer they’re like “Oh, yeah? And how do you make money?” Um…I work in a shitty office (for now), but that is not the point. The point is that people react strangely if you give them your career and your career does not fall under a,b, or c category. People like to hear things that are tangible.

  • http://www.snickrsnack.com Snickrsnack Katie

    Oh my God. That wound on your arm looks so painful. Here is to hoping it clears up soon, and I am glad to hear that all was bee-nine!

  • Emily

    Insurance companies suck. Health care must be reformed!

    I’m so glad your mole was B-9. Rock and roll.

  • http://bellybuttonbugs.blogspot.com bellybuttonbugs

    Hmmm… Thanks for posting those. That was some wound. I was almost expecting to see maggots crawling out of it a la rotten.com.

    Thanks for sharing – I’m taking it as a big reminder. I’ve had radiotherapy to my forehead and lower temples for a brain tumour and was warned that I should never go out in the sun without a hat/cream because of the increased risk of skin cancer. I don’t always follow the advice but will after seeing that.

    I don’t have that much skin for them to cut away on my forehead and I don’t think the bit where they stuck my skull back together would look too great on show. It’s gross just thinking about it.

    Seriously, I think it is really good of you to share all this. Any form of cancer sucks.

  • Kristen from MA

    congrats, Heather, and best wishes for continued good health.

    and let me just say that i’m always grateful for posts with pictures – even grody ones.

    p.s. the latest masthead is the best one yet. Chuck rocks the internet!

  • http://cowjumpmoon.blogspot.com Shalini

    Thank goodness for BEE NINE. BINGO!!!

  • Chuckles

    BTW: There’s a reason they call it PRACTICING medicine. They practiced on my wife for eleven years.

  • Cinelady

    Sweet! My dad just had some squamous-tastic chunks removed, so I can appreciate the situation. Stay vigilant! :)

  • http://www.itchywool.blogspot.com Courtney

    Don’t worry about the scarring. I had a mole taken off in a similar way, and you can hardly see the spot. I didn’t need stitches, either!

    When I had my regular doctor remove spots, the scars were always awful! I only get them done at the dermatologist’s now because they do a much better job.

    Love your blog!

  • http://www.ithinkyoushould.blogspot.com I Think You Should

    Delurking to say that my dad once went in to have a mole on his back removed. The doc (a friend) says, “While I’ve got you here, I’m going to go ahead and get this one. . .and this one. . .and this one. . .” Forty-two moles later, he was done. That was 15 years ago and my dad is still kicking and cancer free. He also wears SPF 50 all the time.

    On the other hand, I have a 28 year old friend who’s already had a melanoma removed. Stay vigilant.

  • http://lawyerish.typepad.com lawyerish

    Is it weird that I knew exactly what Jes meant when she said a “cargo lighter”? Hmm.

    All I know is that, if they ever determine that freckles are a sign of something bad and must be checked for possible malignance, you and I are both in a heap of trouble.

    And that doctor and I would NOT have gotten along. I would have fainted in his chair AND thrown up on him. That’d show him.

  • http://www.myspace.com/amedame Amy D.

    ew, but…yay!

  • Quadius

    I have a roommate that was a dermatological resident and now is a full-fledged dermatologist in California. Therefore, I know exactly how much they charge.
    I have a spot removed on my foot which looked much like the new wound on your arm, but like your back, mine came back benign also.
    Good luck fighting that skin cancer bullethole.

  • http://iqpierce.livejournal.com IQpierce

    Dooce, what makes you think that you have the right? Here I’ve come to your blog, because I want to read about your life… and you start talking about this cancer you got? Like I’m supposed to be sympathetic?

    How dare you madam. How dare you write about your cancer on your blog that’s entirely about your life. Also stop talking about your child, it’s boring. And mormonism, it’s offensive. And poop, it’s gross. Just… stop!

    I won’t be satisfied until I come to the front page of dooce.com and find absolutely no posts at all. (And then, believe me, you’ll be hearing from me about the ads-to-content ratio of your site.)

  • Chuckles

    CONGRATULATIONS!!! (I typed that with my forehead).

    You are going to be fine, you are young and healthy and you are catching these things now when it is best to do it.

    It is earthshaking to think about having it, but once they give you that all clear just take care of your skin and you will be live to be an old lady. :)

    (And poop on all the nay-sayers)