Heater, Mother of Lance

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.


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

  • southerngirl

    2006/09/08 at 8:31 pm

    Knee cancer in the nuts, sistah!

    My GP recommended that his nurse practicioner cut out the basil cell carcinoma on my husbands’s face because “her father was a dermatologist”. Afterwards, when my vet saw his scar, he said, “Next time come to me. I can do better than that.”

  • Dawn

    2006/09/08 at 7:46 pm

    I’ve always wondered what type of low-life, non existent life asshole would leave a shitty comment to someone who posts about a life changing event like skin cancer(or whatever).

    Those incision sites look rough Heather but I have you in my thoughts and prayers that your doc was able to get all of the this time and Oh yeah! we LOVE BEE-NINE!!

    Heal well and wear that sunblock girl.

  • jen

    2006/09/08 at 6:30 pm

    i had several moles on my chest and back removed last month and my sadistic doctor decided that liquid nitrogen sessions were the way to go. when i asked him why he didn’t just cut the flipping things off, he replied that doing so would leave a scar.

    yeah… like the red spots on my chest and back after almost 6 weeks AREN’T scars?

  • Tracey Clark

    2006/09/08 at 7:37 pm

    I had the same thing on my NOSE. They found it 3 months before my wedding and they didn’t want to wait to take it off. Hi, I had to get 10 stitches down my nose as my wedding day drew near. Cheers!

    In the big picture, who gives a shit about a scar when we are A-friggin’-OK now. Talk about your reality checks.

    Glad to hear you kicked it as did I! I will no longer fight the SPF. That is until they find out that IT causes cancer.

  • Red

    2006/09/08 at 5:36 pm

    Wow, what is it with dermatologists? I had a similar experience – I’ve had 10 moles removed so far, and the first 8 of them were just scraped off the surface of my skin with razors. Then one time, I go to the dermatologist for what I think is my 2 week follow-up appointment for one of those scrapings, and instead the nurse tells me I’m having an excision (cutting a hunk of skin out with scalpels). With no warning! The doc claims she called me to talk with me about it, and she says she has a note from the call, which NEVER HAPPENED. They’ve scheduled me for surgery without telling me why, what the risks are, etc. Yikes. I was too stunned to really think about it, so I went ahead with the surgery, which turned out to have been totally unnecessary. I found a new dermatologist after that.

    Sorry to hear you had similar trouble.

  • Galatae

    2006/09/08 at 5:15 pm

    I’m with comment 255’s remarks too. I enjoy reading your blog.

    and then…

    What, there’s only one dermatologist in Utah? You, girl, are ALLOWED TO SAY NO to doctors who give care less than what you expect. Everyone is. Believe it or not, there are nicer doctors around and you don’t have to settle for crappy bedside manners.

    http://www.quackwatch.org/04ConsumerEducation/QA/mdcheck.html lists some resources for background info on docs.

  • prittykitty

    2006/09/08 at 5:04 pm

    This is the first time I have posted a comment. I read your blog daily and there are times I have wanted to post a comment. But, and I will be honest about this, I have been to damn lazy to create an account so I can comment. But today, I decided to go ahead and do it.

    I just want to say that I love reading your blog. You tell it like it is. And I for one appreciate that kind of honesty.

    I’m glad everything came back positive and you’re doing well. And I agree with gin, you should kick that dermatologist in the nuts. But even if you do it during billable hours, wouldn’t it be worth it?

  • lisa

    2006/09/08 at 4:44 pm

    That doctor did NOT say that about the psychiatrist. And people do NOT think you’re writing about this to be a drama queen. There is a class of people called Borderline Personalities, and to qualify you must become rabidly indignant about anyone getting more attention than you do. You must also have never heard the term Borderline Personality, because it never occurs to you that you are a f–ing nutcase for being jealous of someone who has cancer. I am, like so many of your readers, so happy to read the word benign.

  • Gooseberried

    2006/09/08 at 3:40 pm

    Congrats for kicking that cancer in the balls. Always a good feeling.

    I’ve been pretty good about staying out of the sun this year, mostly because I only had two weekends off in total this summer which left no time for sunbathing. It’s so hard to avoid though because as a college student, my friends are always pleading to go to Sedona or to Oak Creek. It’s hard to remember to apply sunblock when you’re getting trashed in Arizona.

  • jagamom

    2006/09/08 at 3:41 pm

    As someone who has heard the word Benign in connection with their child I share your joy at hearing that word from your doctor. Here’s hoping you kick Ed to the curb never to be heard from again!

  • profilesintoolness

    2006/09/08 at 3:20 pm

    Wow, that doctor sounds like the epitome of total tool douchebag. Great news that the other mole is benign, though. Keep kicking skin cancer in the balls.

  • lmj (alias hez)

    2006/09/08 at 3:20 pm

    Benign. It’s a beautiful word. Congratulations!

  • Carrie Johnston

    2006/09/08 at 2:19 pm

    P.S. Your arm looks like Jon put out a cigar on it.

  • CompletelyWorthlessBum

    2006/09/08 at 2:20 pm

    Heather, I think that you *should* write about your earwax and your chlamydia–or someone else’s, provided that you don’t have any. If anyone could make earwax and chlamydia interesting to read about, it’d be you.

  • Radical Turn

    2006/09/08 at 1:38 pm

    Dear Heather,

    You are definitely a writer — claim it boldly!

    Well, as someone who is fighting cancer, I’m interested in your fight and glad your biopsies are benign.

    I love your site! Keep writing!


  • Carrie Johnston

    2006/09/08 at 2:17 pm

    Actually, go straight to a surgeon. Skip the dermatologist. I’m not criticizing, though. I love reading about your feelings. Feel on!

  • Miz_Booshay

    2006/09/08 at 1:30 pm

    Dear Heather,

    I think you are an excellent writer…and should not hesitate to call yourself one.

    Great news about The Cancer being benign….very excellent news!


  • keohinani

    2006/09/08 at 12:11 pm

    i can’t quite put into words how much i appreciate that you write. anything and everything you’ve ever written about that i’ve read since i found your website has been valuable to me in some way. you seem to find the humor in reality and the reality in humor, and i can’t say i know if you’re doing it consciously. if whatever you call this – writing things online, having a website, being a WRITER – is what you do for a living, for what it’s worth, you are definitely living.
    and seriously? luxurious fabric for a casket? you might as well ask me what kind of underwear i would want to be wearing for my wake. i’d rather be made into a diamond…because you know what they say: a diamond is forever. you can do that now, i hear. and dammit, if someone sells me on ebay, i hope it’s for no less than a million. cuz that’s basically how much my parents said they spent on putting me through private school.

  • YoMama

    2006/09/08 at 1:09 pm

    Dear Heather the Writer,
    You are worthy of the title “writer”.
    Because of you, I am getting my little cauliflower looking scabby thing on my arm checked out at the dermatologist this week. I have been putting it off all summer since I read your first post about the skin cancer. Now your second incident has pushed me to get it checked out immediately since it looks exactly like yours did and does that little bleeding thing sometimes!

  • Elyse

    2006/09/08 at 12:10 pm

    If I didn’t have to run to work this very moment I’d write a longer, more heartfelt comment, but on that note: Yay! Sack those cancer nuts! *high five* Lets get ice cream!

  • frankensoul

    2006/09/08 at 12:04 pm

    As I was reading this, I found it very sad that you had to explain yourself at the end of this post. I know I should have done this, I know that, but this was this, etc. Major bummer.

    Anyhow, know that I am thinking of you and wishing you well.

  • Black Belt Mama

    2006/09/08 at 12:02 pm

    For whatever reason, the term “dermatologist” tends to be synonymous with “lacking any and all personality.” Last year, I had a mole removed from my back, one that “worried” my dermatolgist. It worried her so much that she started telling me about a patient of hers (my age) who had a similar mole who is now dying because the cancer had spread to her brain (melanoma). Then she told me she couldn’t do the procedure until the day after Christmas and told me “Don’t let it ruin your Christmas or anything.” So, I spent the two weeks leading up to and my Christmas thinking it would be my last. I arrived the day after at her office and she located the mole and said, “Oh, this little thing.” I wanted to PUNT HER. It was benign and I hate her for ruining my Christmas. Dermatologists really should have to take intensive bedside manner classes. Hope you heal soon. Glad to hear you’re o.k.

  • littlefirecrackr

    2006/09/08 at 11:40 am

    I have never met you, yet I feel like I know you and even got all teary eyed when I read this. Way to Go! What a great thing for you, Jon & Leta.

  • Anu

    2006/09/08 at 11:52 am

    Glad to know that the mole was benign. I feel that you dont have the need to explain what you write on your website, especially about your cancer, to people who don’t have the ability to keep their negativity under control. These people feel the need to constantly put down someone else to make themselves feel good for those 30 seconds it takes to type the hate mail.

    Hope things work out as soon as possible so you can put all this behind you and move on with your life.

  • Cecily

    2006/09/08 at 11:24 am

    Perhaps while sunbathing you can just tell folks that Jon put his cigar out on your arm?


  • El Dorado Jr

    2006/09/08 at 11:37 am

    These topical sorts of skin cancers are becoming much more prevalent. Emanations from Uranus no doubt. But seriously, my son’s girlfriend had such a cancer removed from her face. You need to have a plastic surgeon do this sort of work unles you don’t mind unsightly scars here and there. Stayouttadasunlamps too. This isn’t drama, its everyday stuff. Ask around, a lot of us dolts have this stuff now.

  • Piglet

    2006/09/08 at 11:15 am

    You go Heather, do a “Laura Croft” kicking of that cancer’s ass. I think it’s safe to say you got enough people behind you that “got yo’back”.

    Thanks for sharing this b/c God knows I never woulda known what it looked like, and I cannot be the only one that likes to be educated about this kind of stuff (from real people, not some big ass corporation that wants to control what we think).

    You rock!

  • erinchosen

    2006/09/08 at 10:55 am

    Heather, sometimes I think I love you more than life itself…..

  • kate

    2006/09/08 at 11:01 am

    Heather- keep up the good word on Sunblock & Cancer! It is crucial that people are aware that “yes, it can happen to you”. I was 23 when my first “melanoma insitu” was discovered, and 25 when they found my 2nd. Now, I visit the Melanoma Clinic in San Francisco every 4-6 mos. and will continue to do so forever I assume. I have also discovered that my children also have the “A-typical pattern” so they visit Mt. Zion yearly as well. Yep, that means that I have passed this wonderful gene down to my 4 little darlings. Please note that I am of Irish decent, and although I could tan pretty easily, I have the lovely pastey white look by choice! I have convinced my 13 yr old daughter that when everyone else is old and wrinkled, we will be as beautiful as we are today because of sunblock and keeping ourselves covered as much as possible. She also agrees that hats can be cool, and the scent of sunblock is almost like perfume. Congrats on the good news of BEE-NINE. That’s one of our favorite words!

    Post Script
    You may want to call your insurance and see if there are any other Doctors you can see… sounds like your guy should be a proctologist instead- I bet he would fit right in working with a bunch of asses…

  • Erica

    2006/09/08 at 10:52 am

    I am glad I found your blog Heather-besides the fact that I am learning about motherhood and get to laugh my ass off-I am thankful for these posts.

    I just found out that a spot on my face may be basal cell as well (and on top of that I am 4 month preg with a high risk neon sign over my head). I went to the dermatologist (who spend many a minute with me) and he gave me a class c “do not use when preg” steroid cream. I figure if pregnant rats and rabbits had problems with their babies at taking low doses aganist their will-well maybe I should listen to the drugs own website warnings. Ha! So I am not using it (after my primary doc and my ob said not to-why do most derms suck?) and I am hoping they will just remove it like they should of in the first place. But as with my insurance-I think the derm didn’t want to do much since (unless forced) he is getting less pay.

    So I am with you on the frustration-and I thank you for putting your life out there. I am one of the crazy people who appreciates every single moment!!! 🙂

  • Cauri

    2006/09/08 at 10:46 am

    Completely off-topic, but

    I love Leta’s bershon in yesterday’s pic!

  • BeachMama

    2006/09/08 at 10:34 am

    My Hubby had a suspicious mole removed from his back about 8 or 9 years ago. It too came back benign and the scar looks similar to yours. We just tell people he was shot in the back and survived. It is much cooler than saying he had a mole removed. Sorry you had to have more removed from your arm, hope Ed is gone for sure now.

  • Mike Drips

    2006/09/08 at 10:42 am

    “duct-taped their faces shut”

    This is the insightful, gentle and nurturing kind of advice that I enjoy reading your column for.

    Just keep entertaining us with your diseases, mentally challenged relatives, unemployable husband, alleged dog, and your strange, odd, loveable and yet so-much-like-her-mother child.

  • cmoonchild

    2006/09/08 at 10:21 am

    I went to the doc with a suspicious mole on the middle of my back. While the (actually really nice) derm didn’t think they were anything, she went ahead and removed them, since they are hard to keep an eye on there.

    My husband has lupus, and the sun is a trigger factor. I stand over him until he puts SPF 50 on before we leave the house, and I’ve started wearing it too — not just to prevent cancer, but because I’m ridiculously vain and don’t want wrinkles.

    Thanks for being so honest and sharing your story, Heather. I know you’ve made a lot of people — including me — think about an important topic.

  • Georgia

    2006/09/08 at 10:18 am

    I hope everything turns out in your favor and that the scar isn’t too noticable.

    And for the record… I’m sorry that you feel like you have to cover your ass on your own website(i.e. making sure nobody thinks you’re throwing a pitty party OR making light of the situation)… It’s pretty much ridiculous.

  • CariP

    2006/09/08 at 9:19 am

    Ummm…OUCH. That’s going to leave a mark.

    I’m glad the mole was benign!

    Love reading your page, even if you do write about your feelings. 😉

  • Leta

    2006/09/08 at 9:50 am

    The two best feelings in the world are finding out that it’s benign and finding out that your baby is healthy with all the appropriate appendages. My most sincere congratulations to you all.

  • CatMcK

    2006/09/08 at 10:17 am

    De-lurking to say that I admire your ability to effortlessly create mastheads – See paragraph #8. I can’t decide which I like best: a) I write about my feelings, b) Right here is where I store the magic, or c) Tracking how long it takes to make people throw up – they are all so good!
    Hope you feel better!

  • xxphantomxx

    2006/09/08 at 9:51 am

    Congrats on beating the cancer. I check your blog about once a week and really like your attitude and humor!

    You’re a terrific writer.

  • Pattie

    2006/09/08 at 9:57 am

    Cancer is cancer–end of story. Keep kicking away!

  • Tiggerlane

    2006/09/08 at 9:07 am

    Because of you, my “vain side” lost in the battle of good vs. evil. And I thank you.

    Went to California recently, and thought about Your Darling Ed. For the FIRST TIME IN MY LIFE I applied sunscreen, all b/c of your ordeal. (I am very dark-complected, and tan so easily, it’s sickening.) I became distressed when I realized the sunscreen was morphing the top-coat of my acrylic nails into some type of gummy residue. I was going to abandon the sunscreen immediately – but realized that “maintaining my beauty” was going to be much more difficult if I was underground.

    So, thank you for helping me choose safety over beauty. Congrats for nut-kicking that cancer!

  • katieaubergine

    2006/09/08 at 8:58 am

    My dermatologist is 31 and a total hottie – I wish I had more moles to remove so I could go back (ok, maybe not), but he got them all. And I was all proud of myself because for once, being pasty pale and tan-less at the end of the summer paid off. I know he was loving me and my milky white skin in August. Except that I was seeing him for moles, acne, and a rash, all that came when I gave birth. Keep forgetting I’m married. And a mother.

    Glad you are all better now!! Insurance sucks, but sucky insurance is definately better than none.

  • Cristanthymum

    2006/09/08 at 9:05 am

    “Really? That was pretty stupid of me, wasn’t it?”

    Yeah doc and so was that comment! Those kind of comments are why my husband makes a living selling dr’s malpractice insurance!

  • serafina pekkala

    2006/09/08 at 8:33 am

    I for one would pay a ZILLION DOLLARS for a tshirt with RIGHT HERE IS WHERE I STORE THE MAGIC emblazoned on it. Seriously! Get all Fussy on us!

    You could give some of the money to cancer research, some to Dr. Creepy, and keep a tidy sum for yourself — stock up on SPF 99 PopTarts or something.

    You continue to rock on with your cauterized arm. 🙂

  • Trisha

    2006/09/08 at 8:35 am

    I’m sorry to hear that all of your cancer wasn’t gotten rid of the first time. It sounds like it was all taken care of this time though. Just make sure you go to any follow up appointments if you need them.

    Take care!

  • radiantsun

    2006/09/08 at 8:38 am

    Not to scare you too much…I take it your someone that likes when people are honest with you…but it looks like he burned your arm with a cigar. Those technical terms you used “curettage and electrodesiccation” mean “cigar burn.” What a fuckin asshole that doctor is to talk to you like that too.

  • DrKyla

    2006/09/08 at 8:55 am

    Betcha he got it all this time.

    Obviously, you still need someone for the whole body skin checking position.

  • simzgirl

    2006/09/08 at 8:57 am

    Take that skin cancer! Bwahahaha!

  • Sherry

    2006/09/08 at 8:20 am

    I can’t read all the comments you already have so there’s a good chance someone already said this but really – if people don’t like what you write about they can stuff it and go somewhere else. I’ve never understood the compulsion to take time out of your life to email someone to tell them you don’t like what they write about on their own damn site. If I wasn’t interested in Ed (which I am, actually and it has scared me into wanting to buy stock in sunblock) then I would scroll past and come back another day. It’s ridiculous that you get so many obnoxious emails.

  • carolb

    2006/09/08 at 8:09 am

    That makes me very grateful I live in Canada. Yikes. Also, I kind of like scars…they make me feel tough.

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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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