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.

  • Heather

    Hi Heather,

    You seem to be handling this new challenge well with your extraordinary blend of humor, grace and style. Best wishes for a thorough and speedy recovery!

  • The subtitle on the August masthead absolutely MUST be “malignant blogger.” Please.

  • We’re all here for you, Heather. I’m sending hugs from Houston 🙂

  • Sending you loves and anti-cancer karma. Be well.

  • Anytime a doctor says the word ‘biopsy’, I think it is scary. I hope the removal goes smoothly and quickly and that nothing else occurs!

  • Was so worried about you after yesterday’s post – and so glad that it’s not melanoma.

    Keep up that sense of humor – it will carry you thru!

    Thinking of you – and hoping that Jon isn’t worrying too much, thereby driving you crazy.

  • Best wishes and I know everything will be just fine. And yes this means a “get out of jail free” card on as much chocolate as you want. Sending you a virtual candy jar full of M&Ms.

  • mediaguy74

    How about naming it “CHIP?” By having it removed you are getting rid of that “chip” on your shoulder 🙂

  • jpka

    You’re in my thoughts. Thanks for sharing with us. I wish you a speedy recovery with copious amounts chocolate and Leta snuggles to get you through.

  • my thoughts are with you in this time of arm cancer and such.

    seriously. be well.

  • Wow, what a blow. We’re thinking of you, Jon and Leta!

  • Heather – I feel badly for you because it is scary. But I, too had basil skin cancer removed from my shoulder about 1 1/2 years ago – and I am fine. I still have to go in every 6 months and my doc always finds something else to cut off, but so far, nothing else has been basil skin cancer. Most likely, you’ll have to keep a watchful eye on your skin forever, but it is totally cureable.

    If you need any reassurance, I’d be happy to oblige and offer more of my experience.

    Best wishes to you.

  • god, that’s scary. :-/ y’all are in my thoughts. *hugs*

  • Heather, I might be so bold as to also suggest naming it “Jedd”. Just a thought. Hope all goes well for you!

  • Sandy

    I’ll be thinking good thoughts for you!

  • It happens to the best of us. I hope the removal goes well and clear.

  • Heather, I was worried for you after yesterday’s post. I could regale you with stories of my own, but I won’t trouble you with those- you must be hearing a gazillion stories from everyone.

    Just know that we’re all praying for you, we’re all sending you our best healing vibes, and I am so very sorry to hear the news.

    I wish you nothing but the best, please keep us informed. You’re in my thoughts. Take care.

  • Velma

    My Husband the Oncologist (Awncawlogist?) says to tell you that “Basal cell cancers don’t even count.” There. Doesn’t the word of an absolute stranger’s unknown husband make you feel better?

  • Jackie

    Just wanted to send you a quick few words of support. Hang in there. You’ll get through this.

  • skippy delight

    Oy va voy – I’ve had 6 BCCs in the past few years and while they’re ultimately not that big of a deal on the cancer scale (ovarian cancer is the one that terrifies me), they’re EXPENSIVE! It costs a lot more to have the MOES procedure where they cut them out than it does to go every six months to have things burnt or frozen off.

    I now visit the dermatologist with my suspicious areas circled in black felt pen. Leta can help you with this – it will be fun.

    Thing is once you get one you tend to get more as they’re from what you did when you 12 not what you’re doing today. That said I don’t go to the beach without #30 sunscreen, an umbrella and clothed from head to toe and that’s only between the hours of 4 and 6.

    Take good care of you!

  • Dooce, all best wishes. My mother had the same, and managed to survive to kick the asses of (a) diabetes, (b) a heart attack, and (c) me. It’s going to be OK. And, health insurance in America? Basically sucks. Love, all respect, and well wishes.

  • Dooce, all best wishes. My mother had the same, and managed to survive to kick the asses of (a) diabetes, (b) a heart attack, and (c) me. (I should probably stop eating butter.) It’s going to be OK. And, health insurance in America? Basically sucks. Love, all respect, and well wishes.

  • Is it ironic that I have a roommate named Ed that acts more like a cancer than a real person? It’s not in a jar by a window in the kitchen, but it’s in a dark room constantly playing World of Warcraft.

    In all seriousness, best wishes for you and your family.

  • Jenny

    I had malignant melanoma when I was in sixth grade, and all I have to show for it is a scar on my left arm that looks like lips.

    I’m disgustingly incautious in the sun despite that and I’m twenty now. I go for regular checks (annual at this point) at the dermatologist and keep track of potentially funny spots or moles.

    Basal cell is usually not too dangerous, and as long as you watch your skin and take caution with your skin and Leta’s (who is adorable and very fair) you have nothing to worry about. The good thing about skin cancer is it’s VERY EASY to catch in time. 🙂

  • HannahB

    I’m only 21 and I’ve had 13 biopsies so far, owing to family history (the same family that takes bets on how many holes I’ll come back with every time I visit the dermatologist…). Not that you need any more advice, but here’s some anyway: schedule an appointment with a well-regarded specialist NOW (the good ones will take at least 6 months to get an appt with). It’s worth the financial expense for the peace of mind — I’ll click twice on the ads to do my part 🙂 My mom waited until she was 40 to get checked out, and now she’s going through some very painful treatments involving acid — ouch! One more thing: have someone (Jon) photograph you all over so that if you find a suspicious mark, you can check to see if it’s new or not. If you already have spots you want to watch, put something standard-sized (dime, pencil eraser, etc) next to it in the photograph so you can tell if it’s growing or not.
    Take care!
    Charlottesville, Va

  • jodieyorg

    I just had two biopsy’s done yesterday and im scared shitless…

  • My mother is going through melanoma treatments. Suffice to say, I’m really relieved to hear you don’t have that, Dooce!

    Best of luck. (And I am totally in favor of the suggestion of pay-per-view shots of Ed to finance this undertaking!)

  • Amy

    I hope you can remain positive and that you receive all the support you need during this time and the times to come! Keep us all posted on your progress!!! Take Care.

  • get it tended to and move on… with lots of sunscreen. i had an icky spot in my breast crease that started out as a chicken pock scar but turning into squamous cell cancer. they carved it out and things have been fine in the 7 years since.

    hang in there Heather.

  • Xan

    I, like Sarah, also have translucent skin. And I also have skin cancer running throughout my family on both sides – most recently with my father who had a large chunk of his back removed thanks to malignant melanoma.

    I wear this shirt with pride:

    I may not be able to wear yellow because it makes me look like I’m dying, and my legs may blend in with my socks, but at least I know when I’m 50 my skin will not resemble a Louis Vuitton bag.

  • Dear Ed: You suck!

  • yikes. hope youa re able to get through this sanity, bodya nd bank balance in check.

  • bonkersmomof4

    Lots of hugs and prayers for a speedy recovery and no recurrance coming from Memphis! I am sure you will handle this with your usual grace and dignity and amazing sense of humor.

    (But you did scare me badly with that post the other day and no explanation.)

    Your alphamom post about your brother was so beautifully written, it almost made me cry. Precious memories!

  • shredbettie

    I’ve had two of those removed so far… one just a couple weeks ago from my shoulder, another from my calf that still irriates me whenever I snowboard… the scar is so huge because it took the doctor three times to remove alll the diseased skin, and on one of those times she poked herself and made ME get an aids test. I was really, really pissed…

  • I wish I were funny, but I’m not, so I’ll just tell you that I’m thinking of you and KICK SOME CANCER ASS.

  • Not good news certainly, but in the cancer lottery it might be the number to draw (since you don’t have a prostate. Unless you count Jon’s).

    Keep an eye on them, get ’em removed whenever possible. My brother’s had it for a decade, and aside from discomfort and anxiety, the prognosis is very good. Like be mindful but don’t freak.

  • jill

    I read Marie Claire this month and they did a skin cancer piece. I though, “Hey, I should get checked.” Then I read this, checked out the link and believe that I too have a cancerous thing on my ankle. First I thought it was a light mole (I’m a moley person), then I thought it was a wart (not usually a warty person) but the wart remover didn’t work…not a wart I guess. It’s been growing a little faster lately. Next trip: Doctor. Thankfully, I’m Canadian.

    Thanks for the heads up, Heather.

  • wowsers the “C” word………..last year i noticed a mole/freckle on my leg getting a bit bigger and it started to itch so naturally i crapped myself and was thinking about who would conduct my funeral service but i was super pissed off when i went to my doctor and he kind of chuckled in my direction as he named some kind of skin thing that can happen to freckles to make them itch…………………in other words the git made me look like a real faggot in front of his computer!!
    Hey i hope you are ok, in the words of evryones favourite champion of “skin disorders”………………BEAT IT!!

  • crap i forgot to say……………the ejaculatte post below??

    sounds like a new addition to the starbucks menu?

  • At least you’re aleady a pro at putting aluminum foil in the windows!

  • I was wondering about this the other day when you posted that conversation. My reaction then is the same reaction I had just now: what the fuck? Not fair.
    In any event, I’m rotten sorry to hear that you got that shit, but I’m super glad it’s something (relatively) small.
    That’s all I got; everything else I typed sounded smarmy.

  • Carli

    All I can think of is that “sunny side of life” song from Monty Python. I know that the Blurbodoocery family will be well, adn thins is just one of those things that makes us thankful that it’s not worse. It’s a shitty life lesson that we would have rather happened on a Lifetime movie, but maybe we wouldn’t “get it” then. I wish you all the best, a speedy recovery and no more C words! Except cookies, candies, crackers, Chanel, and all the other good ones.

  • texsmama1

    Heather, I had to register and wish you all the best. Mom just had this done last week and it went well for her. I’m hoping the same for you. It does put everything into perspective though.

    So the Dr’s name is Leta, too?

  • Kick that mole’s ass, Heather. Hope you are not freaking out too much with all that is going on!

  • Liz

    Whew, big stuff. I’m really sorry about the cancer and hope everything turns out just fine (which it sounds like it will).

  • dayzee

    Hi Heather,

    I just found out I have one too, on my left ear. I’m going back to the hospital on Monday to have it removed. The consultant said she had never seen one on anyone as young as me before. I am 30. I guess this is the result of living in the cold and cloudy UK! I have never used a sunbed or lived anywhere hot and sunny, just had a few sunburns on holidays.

    Reading your post makes me extremely grateful that I live in the UK and will receive all my treatment for free…

    I’m sure everything will be ok for both of us!! *fingers crossed*

  • Bea

    oh heather – the stories i could tell about skin cancer in my family. i had a great aunt who had skin cancer on her nose during the 70’s, when doctors also doubled as the local butcher. my mother has also had skin cancer, resulting in a lovely long, black thread dangling underneath her eye after having a small lump removed – the emotional scar resulting from it still being there on my wedding day (i didn’t care, she was at least there!, but you know what mom’s are like about their own appearances, what would the neighbours say…)
    so, best of luck, keep the humour, and keep us posted x

  • by the wind sailor

    Best wishes and take care of yourself

  • DDM

    I’m so sorry to hear about the BSC diagnosis. I imagine it was terrifying to hear the word ‘cancer’. I want you to know that my mom has BSC too, and as long as she stays on top of the areas as they appear, it stays under control. Thankfully it is a slow moving monster, that can be clobbered with a scalpel. It doesn’t change the fact that it’s now something you have to watch out for. Much love your way as you digest this news!
    A small bit of assvice? Take the rx for pain meds they offer you. When the numb wears off, those little tiny stitches and that itty-bitty wound hurt like a MUTHA. I speak from experience. Taaaake theeee medddsssss……

  • BethSmith

    Thank goodness you found it now and that your experience can help spread the word about monitoring your skin. Everyone should visit the dermatologist at least once a year for a full-body scan. It gives you peace of mind at minimum!

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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