An unfiltered fire hose of flaming condemnation

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.

  • serena burrows

    Good luck with everything! Right now I have a 4 inch 27 stitched centipede looking gash on my leg from *gasp* malignant melanoma. I just turned 26. I am so glad that you wrote about this, because I am sure at least one person will go get checked out after reading. keep us posted!

  • Ang

    What a scary thing! You are in my thoughts.
    And now, I’m off to the store to buy a vat of sunscreen.

  • d.regina

    Heather –
    I’m sorry you had to go through a few days with a cancer scare. That’s an awful thing to have to go through…..thank god it’s not melanoma! I don’t want to belittle your scare, because, really, cancer? everyone is scared of cancer. But Basal Cell Skin Cancer is barely cancer at all. I’ve worked with cancer patients for over three years and have yet to come across anyone who had a life threatening bout with it. Here’s hoping for a quick recovery and no more skin lesions for your mom to point at!

  • kneuroknut

    I’m sorry to hear about Ed. In a weird twist of events, my Dad’s name is Ed and he has had Basal Cell Carcinoma for years and he’s just fine. He calls it his “Sun cancer”.

    Also…don’t plant it. Make it into a necklace.

  • MulattaPreta

    as a person who LIVES 2 go back + forth 2 Brasil, whose father has skin cancer (a black man, no less) + one who has lived the majority of her life in florida + california, i can share your fears.

    i send u my best healing energies. your sense of humor alone is enough 2 make it all go away.

  • nancy robbins

    Hi, welcome to the dermatology club. I too have had many biopsy’s due to not using sunscreen. I have to go to the dermatologist every 6 months, and never fail she finds another “changed spot”. I have 2 basal cell spots removed and many atypical moles removed.
    I look at it as a weight loss clinic. I just went in June and had three “spots” treated: a freeze on my nose, a scrape on my neck and a punch biopsy on my leg.
    NONE OF THEM HURT. the novacaine works great.
    I don’t worry about the Basal’s, i think of it as Basal is Better. Basal over Melanoma any day.
    Good luck , and remember none of my “biopsy’s” ever hurt, but I think there is a no lifting clause. so you do get sympathy.

  • FeelinFroggy

    I feel a smorgasboard of emotions.

    I am sad you have any form of cancer.

    I am happy that it is the most common/treatable form.

    I am surprised that your body would accept a form of cancer that is so mainstream and common. You are much too cool for that.

    I am curious if, after Ed’s removal, you will become one of those women that wear the shirts with only one sleeve.

    Remember laughter is the best medicine. Or as Tom Cruise says… all you need is a little exercise and a religion based on aliens.

  • i don’t know how, heather, but you’ve managed to make even cancer funny.

    and both my parents have had cancer, and i never thought i’d laugh about it. but, “Irrational, yes, but look what being rational got me in the first place: CANCER” is pretty dang funny.

  • FeelinFroggy

    I feel a smorgasboard of emotions.

    I am sad you have any form of cancer.

    I am happy that it is the most common/treatable form.

    I am surprised that your body would accept a form of cancer that is so mainstream and common. You are much too cool for that.

    I am curious if, after Ed’s removal, you will become one of those women that wear the shirts with only one sleeve.

    Remember laughter is the best medicine.

  • I agree with Amy above – you should totally send Ed to your Mom so she can continue the ridicule, but you should send him along with an order for a lifetime supply of some type of Avon SPF 100 product so there are no hard feelings. (Also, I would’ve named him “Basil” and he would’ve had a British accent.)

  • leah

    hi 🙂
    just wanted to say good luck and thanks for the blog. after reading this i’m going to call for a check up.
    damn those u.v. rays!

  • Muffy Wong

    Ed huh.. that’s funny. My friend had a giant mole on her arm (that even had its own 2 strands of hair) removed and now she’s named the little keloid scar tissue thing Ed.

  • JC

    a friend of mine just found out she has the same thing. the dr. gave her acid to burn it off. took a month but it wasn’t a big deal. that part i could handle, but the staying out of the sun? i do feel sorry for you fair skinned folks.

  • Thanks for the link, Heather. I just checked the site and saw the ‘shiny bump’ and realized I have that on my hip. It’s been there for years and I’ve always wondered why it doesn’t look like all the other moles.

    I just got married last weekend so I finally have insurance. Kaiser, but they do come with doctors.

  • Laurabelle

    You’ll do fine. If you can get through childbirth, this will be so easy. The worst part is the little needles they use to numb the skin around it. I had one removed from my forehead a couple of years ago and they used some kind of “flap procedure” to close it, which left a faint, white scar in the shape of an L on my forehead. Yes, like the loser sign. Sort of my scarlet letter for not using sunscreen.

  • trevordlb


    The other day, when you talked about how you took Leta out for a day of fun in the water, I thought, “Cool,” and then when you mentioned that you lathered her up in sun block, I breathed a sigh of relief… I’m a Red Cross swim teacher during my summers off from college and one of the things that we stress to the children is sun safety, and I think it’s really great that you’re promoting it as well, through both stories of Leta and your own…

    Though yes, it is especially important that children lather up, because statistically, when an adult gets skin cancer, it’s usually because of a burn from childhood, not from adulthood… I’m sure you know that, thought I thought your readers would find it informative…

    Most importantly, I’m glad to hear that you’re going to be okay… My thoughts are with you…

    Trev 🙂

  • PhotographerLori

    How scary! My husband gets brown spots (they can turn into cancer) burned off his face and top of his head…(he’s thinning up there, but don’t tell him that! ) Anytime I see anything odd, I send him straight to the doc.

    Sending you voo doo healing vibes and lots of positive light energy (since I know how you feel about religion…but I’ll send a few prayers your way too.) 🙂


  • Ed will be a good name. As Alice’s Henry would surely agree, Cancer Particle ain’t no Frompy.

    Good luck with the removal.

  • I too was diagnosed with this cancer at 30! I refer to mine as “What the fuck you better not be growing back!” We are not friends.

    I have had the usual removal then had to have another surgery by a plastic surgeon because it returned when I was four months pregnant. I have quite a scar on my nose so be thankful it is on your arm. Although not malignant, it definately causes you to question your mortality. I know what you are going through. It will be fine and it will pass.

  • Esmter

    while not to be taken lightly, basal cell carcinoma is not a death sentence in the least. and far more common thatn you think.

    I had two removed from my upper arm/shoulder area at 16 (scarily young) and besides the dents from removal and obvious spackle jokes, there hasn’t been another occurrence in 15 years.

    viva le SPF 50!

  • Tammy

    I’m officially delurking to offer you my best wishes. You always have such a great attitude and make us all laugh so I am sure that this will be something that you will get through with your positive attitude and spirit!

    With love from Calgary,Alberta,

  • M@

    I wish I could say something that could be of any comfort, but please know that we are all behind you and are hoping for the best. If I could donate skin, I would. In fact… want some? You’d have a lovely, untannable british patch…

    I know how you must feel. The doctors just told me I may have prostate cancer, and I’m 31. I use my ass often, so this frightens me.

    I’m glad that your carcinoma is as benign as an abnormal growth can be *(considering that all of us are abnormal growths when you think about it.) and that it is imminently treatable. Please keep us in the loop as your existence and well-being really means something to us… to that invisible group of back-up family members out there.

    Goddamn Ozone hole. Did we really need that much aerosol hairspray in the 80’s? I blame Pat Benetar.

  • I’m so sorry Heather, and to all of your family too. I couldnt help one of my first thoughts was it was my fault, I feel like a cancer jinx, so many people I love, and have loved have had that dreaded C word, I always new I loved your site, but not that much to spread me horrible jinx to you. you all are in my thoughts, and please keeps us posted with every detail, and very often! and wouldnt you know, just yesterday, sitting in the Alaskan sun,I got a horrible sun burn on my shoulders, I’m a dumbass.

  • zb42

    Dear Dooce

    From a Benign Lurker who pokes his head in on your site from time-to-time: I’ll be praying for you and your upcoming operation.

    The way you handled the doctor’s diagnosis with your hysterically humorous writing is courageous, bordering on inspiring.

    Personally, I think you should name the Pound O’ Flesh “Tony.” You know after the Shakespeare character in Merchant of Venice.

    Best Wishes

  • Amy

    You should give the jar to your mom. Then she can point at it whenever she wants and you don’t even have to be there.

  • Wen

    My mom had a few of those taken off her face (thanks to the era of basking in the sun with iodine and baby oil…). With the help of an excellent plastic surgeon they only look like tiny wrinkles.

    I had a mole removed by a dermatologist-bad idea. The scar on my back is ten times bigger than the pencil sized eraser mole she removed. If you can, see a plastic surgeon to remove it.

  • RzDrms

    no no no! you must name it elmo instead.

    and happy early 31st birthday (6.5 days to go!)! then you’ll officially be “in your 30s!” 🙂

  • Shelley Bonnechance

    Holy crap, Heather….I am really sorry.

    But you’ll be okay. You will.

    Sending out love and a hug from amidst the cornfields of Indiana, girlfriend.

  • rosemary black

    I am so sad for you. I wish you the best. You have reminded me that I need to get my insurance paperwork filled out and go in to check on all the strange things wrong with me. It sounds like things will be ok for you, although I know nothing about cancer. I wish you luck with getting rid of it.

  • I went to the doc after I got a bad subburn last month. The lady was less then helpful. She said the white dots on one of my shoulders are sun damage which could one day lead to my getting cancer, but that you can’t get it from being sunburned on day. She said nothing to help me, offered no advice and sent me packing with some cream to help it stop itching. I was pissed to say the least.

    Health insurance isn’t much if you have a CRAPPY DOCTOR!

  • Hang in there, Heather. My best guy friend was diagnosed with cancer when he and I were both 13, and I agree with what others have said: laughter does wonders when your body is willfully ignoring your best interests (trust the thyroid girl here). Maybe some reference to Ed and your malignant blogging can make an appearance in the next banner.

  • sending you all the positive, anti-cancer vibes i can muster.

    and yes, i did just say ‘vibes’.

  • Kate

    So sorry about the scary news. I’m sure you’ll come out of it fine and Ed will come out dead, which is As It Ought To Be.

    Since you didn’t have comments on the last post, here’s one on Superman Returns (ha! thwarted!): How crappy a mom is Lois?? I love Superman. Mostly loved that movie. I suspend disbelief embarrassingly easily. But I had a real hard time mustering any sympathy for a mother who dragged her kid into dangerous situations.

    Which meant I viewed the whole movie directly, without the all-powerful finger filter. Oh well.

    Oh, and Chris Reeve? He doesn’t dress either way — his critical bits meander around in different shots of Superman II, especially. Windshield wiper effect. Instressting trivia, yes?

  • I should have said “many decades to come” …because saying many years kinda sounds like it could be twelve or fifteen (which is a lot more than five), but I really meant something like seventy.

    *crawls off into corner in shame*

  • Oh, man. I’m so sorry to hear this. It’s scary to hear, especially since my sun-protection regimen has changed little since I was 13 and would slather myself in babyoil. Consider me changed. Please take good care of you and keep us posted.

  • Glad to hear it’s nothing worse…tho anything at all sucks. My mom had surgery for thyroid cancer (a common problem among women) sixteen years ago with no problems since then. You are a superhero so I have no doubt that you’ll be kicking ass for many years to come. 😉

    PS: I think “malignant blogger” should be your next tagline.

  • Best of luck, Heather.

    Best of all the motherfucking luck.

  • you had me worried! and though relief at knowing still doesn’t diminish concern, i’m glad to hear that it’s a manageable situation. may the force be with you.

  • My Grandmother and my mother have had to deal with this, it is not fun but compared to other ailments it is something that can be worked though. Just think you can cover the scar with a Tattoo if you want to spice it up. My thoughts are with you on this. I have a feeling with my family history and lack pale skin it will be my turn next. And yes, Sun hats would be fetching on you I am sure!

  • kendall

    I’m praying for you, Heather. Please keep us updated.

  • HeathsB

    i think the names of cancer make it scarier than it is… a flowering cell mass with no roots seems easier to swallow than Basal Cell Carcinoma.

  • ash

    I wish you luck!

    And you also got me thinking because ever since I started to live in Arizona I’ve been less careful about the sun, and who cares if I burn. Now, I’ll be extra careful.

    I’ll be thinking about you.

  • Last year I had a basal cell carcinoma removed from my face, right near my eye. I was 35 and very fair (my husband insists that fair isn’t enough to explain my skin tone, he prefers “very, very white”) and stupid for getting sunburned as much as I have.

    I have become militant against the effects of the evil orb (aka the sun — boo, sun, boo). My poor daughter wears more clothes in the horrendously hot summer we have here in the high desert of Western Colorado then she does during the winter.

    I heard a statistic (I have no idea if it’s true, but I spout it whenever the subject of sun come us) that 80 percent of fair-skinned people will get some sort of skin cancer.

    Fortunately you can have your cancer scooped out and all you will be left with is a scar and it will all be OK.

    The worst part is the study that was recently released saying sun screen does little to prevent skin cancer ( but it does prevent burning), so us whities have to cover up.

  • dawn

    My bf (he’s 34) had a weird pimple on his face that wouldn’t heal, then just as I had convinced him to get it checked out, it healed, but the mark it left kept getting bigger. He checked it out anyway, and it turned out to be BCC. Now he has a rugged scar on his face, and I call him a pirate.

    It’s hard to explain to people without sounding over- or under-dramatic. When someone asks what’s wrong, they never expect to hear “Cancer”.

    Once the surgery’s done you can get Polysporin ScarStrips, apparently they really do work to reduce the appearance of the scar and Vitamin E doesn’t (according to the surgeon). Good luck! Keep your mom’s finger away from it!

  • andrea0418

    I too am also so glad it is not melanoma. My father died a little over a year ago from Malignant Melanoma (he was only 60!)

    It started with a mole on his back, which they removed and he was fine for some years. Then it spread everywhere. It is a horrific cancer to have (like which ones aren’t, right?)

  • I’m terrified. TERR. I. FIIIIIED. of such things. It runs in our family too and my poor kids are always slathered in sun screen. I swear, they leave slime trails – I can always find them anywhere.

    Good luck with the procedure and know that the whole Interweb is thinking of you. Well, that might not really help. But you know what I mean.

  • i’m sorry – i hope you get well soon and that they are able to excise everything asap.

  • HA HA! Elmo’s subliminal dialect coaching has worked!

    Seriously. Have you not noticed how thick that dude’s NY accent is? Draw = DRWUAH!?! I grew up in New York and it makes me cringe, especially when I hear it coming right back out of my daughter’s mouth. No amount of geographical buffer is going to protect these kids from the dreaded dropping of the “R”.

    Sorry about the cancer, lady. This one runs hot in my family and I’ve been waiting for it since I was about five. I’ll be interested to read you experiences.

  • My mother has also had several spots removed due to her younger years as a bronzed goddess. I was also scared, but everything has been just peachy so far.

    Of course, it obviously didn’t scare me enough because I still spend days out in the sun with no hint of SPF anything on. Stupid.

  • Blue Dog Art

    Yikes! I hope everything turns out for the best. Keep us posted.

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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