Heater, Mother of Lance

Another instance when my early twenties continue to haunt me

About a year and a half ago I noticed what I thought was a scar on my left shoulder that seemed to be increasing in circumference very slowly. A few months later while getting a general check-up with my doctor, I showed her the scar and she said to keep an eye on it, that we’d take another look at it the next time I was in. It was soon after that Jon left his job and we lost our insurance, and then several months later when we finally found an insurance group that would cover us I refused to go to the doctor for any reason because I would rather spend the money on something more important to our lives than my health. Like cable television.

That scar has continued to grow despite my attempts to ignore it. I often cover it up with a little bit of make-up whenever I wear a tank-top because I’ve grown tired of the terrified looks, the stolen glances that do nothing to mask the horror in people’s faces when they realize that they are standing within inches of a leper. My mother is the worst, and if she ever stops by the house before I’ve had the chance to cover it up she is compelled to point it out and talk about it out loud: EVERYONE, BEHOLD. AN OPEN SORE IS AMONG US. And then horror of all horrors, she will point to it with her index finger. I have to try very hard not to lean over and bite that finger off at the knuckle.

She used to do this all the time when I had a pimple, point it out to me as if I didn’t know it was there in the first place. Bulletin: I WAS ACTUALLY TRYING TO FORGET IT WAS THERE, BUT THANK YOU FOR THE REMINDER, MOM. I forgive her for this, though, because I have experienced the same urge with Leta and have actively had to fight it. So many times she will round the corner into the room with a giant, nubbly green booger sitting in the opening of her nostril. My instinct is to throw my entire body at it, because I can’t imagine that she is getting enough oxygen, not with that obstruction. My fingers will involuntarily twitch with the urge to pluck or flick, but if she is okay to walk around with the bumpy toe of a troll sticking out of her nose, why can’t I be?

Last week I had to give in and go see my doctor because all of my prescriptions were about to run out, including the one for the medicine that prevents me from speaking in tongues. My doctor is a unique woman, very smart and adorably odd, and she speaks with a Northeast accent that makes her sound as if she is the one who is teaching my daughter how to speak. Leta has a very surprising accent — she throws a bwall, like to twahlk on the phone, thinks her fwather is the most chwarming man, and loves to play cwards while watching reruns of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire.” I guess when you combine the accents of her parents, Southern Drawl with Northern Utah Farm Speak, you get New York Jewish Cat Lady.

This time when she looked at my scar her eyes got as big as the hubcaps on our truck, and she said she’d need to take a biopsy to make sure it wasn’t something dangerous. When she said “biopsy” I asked her how much that would cost, because if it costs more than a casket I might need to weigh my options. She asked why I cared, wouldn’t my insurance cover it? And when I told her that I was self-employed, that my insurance was the equivalent of no insurance at all, we got into an uncomfortable discussion about what I do for a living. We got all the way to the part where she realized I was a blogger, except when that came out of her mouth it really did sound like a diagnosis: malignant blogger. And then I turned the conversation around before it went any further. She already has intimate knowledge of my lady parts, and knows the exact shape of my right ovary. Why give her my URL when there is nothing left to learn about me?

The results of the biopsy came back a few days ago and indicated that I have a Basal Cell Carcinoma, The Most Common of All Cancers. It is not a melanoma, and most likely will not kill me, but the fact that I have one at my age is cause for concern. It is the result of many years of negligence on my part, of all those times I never fully protected my skin from the sun. I’d say it wasn’t ever willful negligence, necessarily, maybe just a huge portion of carelessness mixed with laziness and the idiotic assumption that it would never happen to me.

Now I’m afraid to go near a window else a ray of sun touch my skin and kill me instantly. Irrational, yes, but look what being rational got me in the first place: CANCER. Next week she is going to cut the whole thing out of my arm, and then I am going to bring it home and plant it in a jar next to the kitchen window. I will name it Ed.

  • Nickie

    2006/07/13 at 10:50 am

    Think of it this way – you’re the martyr for your family. Don’t they say 1 out of 3 people develop cancer? So you’ve taken it on so Jon and Leta don’t have to.

    The things you do for your family!

    Seriously, all the best. I hope the treatment is successful and that you have no more problems.

  • TxSuzyQ

    2006/07/13 at 10:48 am

    My dad has had a couple spots removed that were Basal Cell Carcinoma. I remember the first time he told me about one of them and it scared me to death, but don’t panic, it’s pretty easily taken care of.

    I have to laugh at the thought of “Big Ed” keeping in a jar… or maybe we should call it “Special Ed”?!

    Hope everything goes well for you!

    Seriously.. Don’t. Panic.

  • Woodpile

    2006/07/13 at 10:50 am

    Check out Laughter Yoga. Very cool, with lots of health benifits, including cancer fighting. I love your attitude about this, keep it positive!

  • daveyr

    2006/07/13 at 10:45 am

    eeek! Big suckage 🙁
    Time to play & really listen to the Baz Luhrmann track Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen). Or get a ladder and fix that O-zone hole.
    Seriously though, good luck with it. I can’t see cancer – of any kind – not sucumming to the Dooce effect. Now, if you’d have been wearing clogs when you were younger in the sun . . .

  • Seacreature

    2006/07/13 at 10:46 am

    At least it’s the common kind and not too terribly serious. You’ve been through so much, this is just another blip on the screen ‘o life.

    Hope you are able to just get the surgery and move on without any further complications. I also hope it doesn’t cost you the rest of your arm and both your legs. I know, medical costs are insane…I had no insurance for eight years and FINALLY bought my own plan last year.

    Anyway, good luck to you!

  • jenlovely

    2006/07/13 at 10:42 am

    sorry about the cancer, but it could be worse.

    you could have found out that you were pregnant with sextuplets.

    take that in for a moment… six kids in you, six kids come out, hospital expenses out the wa-hooo, six screaming babies, six mouths to feed, six diapers to change! and only the two arms god gave you..

    makes cancer seem like a day trip to the spa eh?

  • Jessica

    2006/07/13 at 10:44 am

    I’m officially delurking to offer you my sympathies. You always have such a great attitude and I’m sure this will be something that will only serve to bring you guys even closer.

    Sorry I’m not funny. 🙂

    With love from Austin,

  • Nickie

    2006/07/13 at 10:38 am

    Think of it this way – you’re the martyr for your family. Don’t they say 1 out of 3 people develop cancer? So you’ve taken it on so Jon and Leta don’t have to.

    The things you do for your family!

    Seriously, all the best. I hope the treatment is successful and that you have no more problems.

  • Jennifer Schutz

    2006/07/13 at 10:35 am

    Cancer sucks. If anyone can beat it, it’s you. My mother had the same type of cancer a few years ago, had it cut out, and hasn’t had a problem since. I hope things go just as well for you.

    Now on to more important topics — what IS IT with people and needing to point out zits? My boyfriend does it every SINGLE time I get one. I am very self-conscious about my problems with adult acne, I see a dermatologist, I use three different prescriptions, and he knows all of this. But still, he feels the need to tell me “You’ve got a zit on your cheek”, like I’m going to say “Oh! Thank you so much for telling me! I hadn’t noticed, and I was hoping that would appear soon. Hooray!”.

    However, I’ll go the whole afternoon with a hunk of food stuck in my teeth and he won’t alert me.

  • Torrie

    2006/07/13 at 10:31 am

    I cannot tell you how glad I am that it’s not melanoma.

  • Pascha

    2006/07/13 at 10:31 am

    I hope everything goes well for you. Cancer is scary…I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer when I was 24. My doctor kept telling me, “It’s the best type of cancer you can get. It’s the easiest to cure.” I believed in him, and sure enough, I no longer have it.

    Fast forward two years, to when my husband and I got married. (This was just a little over a year ago.) Two weeks before out wedding, I noticed a large mass on his neck, and I immediately freaked the fuck out, convinced he had thryoid cancer. Two weeks after we married, it was confirmed that he also had thyroid cancer.

    Unlike dealing with my own, I was unable to keep humor as a savior this time, but luckily he was. He calmed me down, reminded me everyday that everything turned out fine with me. I was infinitely more scared for him than I was for myself, especially since my mil’s neighbor (the neighbor was a 31 year old man, my husband was 30) had just died from the same type of thyroid cancer.

    Point of my story: Please don’t lose sight of the fact that you will be ok.

  • Laura

    2006/07/13 at 10:29 am

    I hear you on the crappy self-paid insurance thing. Check and see if you are eligible for a Health Savings Account. That’s how we’re funding my (suprise!!) pregnancy and my husband’s first dental exam in like, oooooh…ten years.

    Good luck to you and Ed.

  • JustLinda

    2006/07/13 at 10:30 am

    Oh, stuff like that is scary, huh? Best to avoid doctors altogether I think. No? Not a good approach? It’s also my car-maintenance approach and it seems to work OK there. Except, of course, when it doesn’t.

    Like Roseanne Rosannadanna said, it’s always something.

    I hope the scar removal goes well and Ed blossoms on your windowsill for years to come.

  • HollyRhea.com

    2006/07/13 at 10:26 am

    Just cut your arm off. Then you can be on this website, too: http://www.lifewithoutlimbs.org/

  • rebecca

    2006/07/13 at 10:24 am

    OMG. Dearest Heather, I wish you a speedy and total recovery. And renew my frequently half-hearted attention to sunscreen. I am sending warm and positive thoughts your way.

  • elsa marie

    2006/07/13 at 10:25 am

    I want to crack a joke but I’m genuinely concerned for you. Still, I’m glad you could crack several jokes. Thanks for breaking it to us gently.

  • KellyB

    2006/07/13 at 10:21 am

    Yeah, you should be smacked around a little for that post yesterday. Not cute, missy.

    But in light of the big c-word, I’ll forgive you. Good luck and here’s to a speedy recovery!

  • Jenn

    2006/07/13 at 10:24 am

    I’m glad that you had it looked at, that is some scary shit. My dad has a nasty thing on his arm that I’m pretty sure is skin cancer, prompting me to pester him about it every time I see him. He’s had cancerous nasties removed before and my mom has practically had to hog-tie him and drag him to the doctor’s office every time.

  • Candice

    2006/07/13 at 10:17 am

    Eeek. Cancer is scary. My thoughts and prayers are with you, Jon, Leta, and Chuck.

  • Sarah

    2006/07/13 at 10:17 am

    Both my grandmothers have had skin cancer. My mom has had a few spots checked out, but nothing so far. And I’ve had sun poisoning, quite a few bad sunburns, and my skin is a shade best described as translucent. I fear what you are facing.

    That said, skin cancer is highly treatable if caught and compared to other cancers, this is the one to get.

  • Anu

    2006/07/13 at 10:18 am

    Heather, I wish you all the best with your treatment and recovery. It’s amazing that you can be so positive and upbeat about all this. Take care.

  • mallie

    2006/07/13 at 11:31 am

    Ugh. I’m so sorry this has happened to you.

    The link to the cancer site was useful. Blonde hair? Check. Green eyes? Check. Tendency to burst into flames after 2 minutes in the sun? Check. I’m stripping down and checking things out really closely when I get home.

    PS: Are you going to have a paypal button or anything? Or should we just be extra clicky on the links?

  • Snickrsnack Katie

    2006/07/13 at 10:20 am

    I was wondering yesterday when I read your entry why you weren’t going into more detail about the cancer issue. I can tell it is obviously a very scary subject that you want to attempt to make humorous — that actually seems like a great way to deal with such a worrisome thing. They always say that laughter is the best medicine – and I am sure in the Armstrong household there is always a lot of fun and laughter. I will pray that you get through this unscathed. Luckily, I have known several people who had this same diagnosis and have gone on to live normal lives with no relapses. My uncle, the palest mother fu**er in the WORLD, had skin cancer as a child and he never even was told by his parents until he was like fifty years old. And he never had a relapse. Just smear on that SPF and I am sure it won’t happen again to you.

    Wishing you – and Ed – lots of luck. (Post a picture of Ed!)

    I know. I am sick.

  • atpanda

    2006/07/13 at 10:16 am

    Oh man, I feel you on this one. About a year ago I noticed a lump on the back of my neck. I ignored it thinking that it was just some kind of lyphnod thing or something. Well, when I went for my woman exam in April I mentioned it to the doctor. I got the same wide-eyed look you did when she felt it.

    My lump’s name is Fred. Drop Dead Fred (you seen the movie?). Fred and I are not friends. I’ve had him ultrasounded and it doesn’t look good. I’m going to a specialist about it.

    Cancer. Scariest word. Ever.

  • Mrs Ca

    2006/07/13 at 10:16 am

    Wishing you the best of luck with all of that, and I hope everything turns out as well as is possible.

  • KaraMia

    2006/07/13 at 10:13 am

    I know it’s easier to make light of things, but keep up on the follow ups!

  • Billygean.co.uk

    2006/07/13 at 10:11 am

    Well, I’m extremely glad you’re being jovial. Sounds like after the biopsy it *will* be over, therefore the duration of your cancer will be one week and probably jus that post (and maybe a picture of the lump once it’s in a jar).

    Seriously keep your chin up (Dare I say it, I think I will), it is always blogging material…


  • di

    2006/07/13 at 10:10 am

    Yikes! I used to regularly lie out in the sun and get tanned every summer. Now, 20 years later, I regularly avoid the sun and slather up with sunscreen when I can’t avoid it. Please keep us posted on how that goes! Perhaps you could do a pay-per-view picture of the ever-growing scar to get some extra $$ to pay for all the biopsying and removal!

  • The Pink Bride

    2006/07/13 at 10:10 am

    Heather, the c-word (no, not THAT one!) is so scary. Keep us updated. In the meantime, you’re in my thoughts and my (liberal, Episcopal) prayers. Try to keep your mind off of things by getting drunk and having lots of chocolate. Um, I mean by spending time with family and friends. All the best.

  • Alana

    2006/07/13 at 10:03 am

    Good luck with that; and keep us posted!

  • Molicious

    2006/07/13 at 10:05 am

    I’m so sorry this has happened. I hope your recovery is speedy for sure. You’ll be in my thoughts.

  • Pepius

    2006/07/13 at 10:07 am

    I’ve been worried since yesterday’s post.
    Heather, I’m with you. We all are.

  • Lauren McMahon

    2006/07/13 at 10:09 am

    Heather, so sorry to hear about this! Best wishes, and congratulations on coining the term “malignant blogger.” Add that one to the Armstrong Media Lexigraphical Legacy for sure.

  • zchristy

    2006/07/13 at 10:09 am

    I’m so sorry, Heather. I think we’re all guilty of forgetting or laziness in sunscreen application. It hasn’t been *that* long since the sun wasn’t the laser beam making skin moltent that it is now.

    Here’s to keeping the rest of your torso and a speedy recovery.

  • Jennifer

    2006/07/13 at 12:55 pm

    This has got to be hard (emotionally and physically) so please take care of yourself.

  • Jennifer in Ohio

    2006/07/13 at 12:57 pm

    Thank you for finally clarifying your previous blog entry!

    I know all too well the dangers of the sun. I have a lovely (if lovely means the same thing as hideous) dime sized scar on my lower right leg- the result of having an actinic keratosis removed.

    Take care of yourself!

  • whisper_lover

    2006/07/13 at 12:51 pm
  • Mack'sMom

    2006/07/13 at 12:52 pm

    thanks, must have missed it.

  • Jenorama

    2006/07/13 at 12:54 pm

    Oh, damn. Sorry to hear that. My father has had a lot of patches of skin cancer removed, so I think you’re right that it’s nothing to worry about, but it’s still far from pleasant.

  • Mack'sMom

    2006/07/13 at 12:51 pm

    whisper_lover…where’s the article?

  • Josh_Ward

    2006/07/13 at 12:47 pm

    Are you going to charge the mofo backrent?

  • whisper_lover

    2006/07/13 at 12:49 pm

    The second-to-last paragraph in your Superman article made me CRY. It’s a spectacular piece of writing, Heather. Thank you.

    On the subject of skin cancer… As a woman in my early twenties, I’m a little worried about my own susceptibility to the disease, given that my maternal grandmother died at 64 from breast cancer and an aunt on my mother’s side is battling some cervical cancer (haha, she didn’t give it up til she was married and YET she still got cervical cancer…one more of my parents’ reasons against pre-marital sex up in FLAMES…very sad flames. Maybe they’re blue.)…

    I have this mole on my right shoulderblade that has grown a bit since I first noticed it as a child…and this 4th of July I got such a bad sunburn on my shoulders that they started peeling on Monday. My issue is similar to yours, though…health insurance. I promise I’ll get it checked out when I get health insurance.

    I stand amazed at the wit, talent, insight, humor and pithy writing you offer all of us. I love reading your page because it’s like looking at myself so much of the time…your writing helps me examine my own life from another angle. You are so wonderful to me.


  • Mack'sMom

    2006/07/13 at 12:45 pm

    When you bring home “ED” can you take a picture and post it…or better yet Make shirts with a photo of it on it…saying, “Mr. Ed”

  • Mack'sMom

    2006/07/13 at 12:40 pm

    When I read yesterday’s post my heart sank! The fact that you didn’t elaborate had my mind going too. I’m glad you’re able to take it a bit of humor and also that you’re sharing it with the world.

    My mom is a lung cancer survivor and she will tell anyone that listens to surround yourself with the people that will keep you positive…

    You’ve got all of us Heather!

  • queenbee

    2006/07/13 at 12:31 pm

    No worries Heather. The Doc will just lop that unsightly beast off and it’s over. I had melanoma at 33 and am still here 8 years later, with nary a relapse, annoying the hell out of friends and family (although I do scare small children with the blue-white glow of my pale, freckled skin). Have your boy take a close look at your body every now and again. Nothing to do with cancer, it’s just fun!

    Now repeat after me – SUNSCREEN IS MY FRIEND!

    Take care.

  • YankeeAmanda

    2006/07/13 at 12:29 pm

    Here’s hoping and praying it’s as completely uncomplicated as it sounds.

  • mediaguy74

    2006/07/13 at 12:30 pm

    please tell me muffy wong is a made up name. Sounds like a soap opera name or better yet a porno name.

  • Jordan

    2006/07/13 at 12:26 pm

    ugh. scary stuff. i’ll be thinking cancer-free thoughts for you. i hope all goes well and stays that way. keep us posted.

  • Kari

    2006/07/13 at 12:27 pm

    How is it possible that your doctor, or anyone in the state of Utah for that matter, doesn’t immediately recognize you as Dooce?

    Hard to believe.

  • Ex-MollyMormon

    2006/07/13 at 12:26 pm

    Delurking to send encouragement. Your humor and insight brightens my day and now my hope is that that same sense of humor will ease you through this time.

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Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

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