This here bringer of the pooper to the fun party

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.

  • Wow. I’m really glad to hear that you had the skin cancer removed, well and good. Also glad to hear about the benignity of the mole. The doctor sounds like a bit of a jackass but sometimes I think you have to trade in “good bedside manner” for “complete jackass that removes your skin cancer completely in seven minutes.” Still, if someone started poking me with needles without telling me they were going to do it first I would have FREAKED THE FUCK OUT so I’m impressed that you kept your cool. Now I’m thinking about having that mole on my back checked out…Thanks for sharing with us all (and don’t let the nutjobs get you down.)

  • nikki c

    cute shirt in that first photo!

  • HT

    It is unfortunate that because of some comments, you feel the need to apologize or justify your opinions. It may be difficult, but perhaps you could ignore the negative and just write (as you are a writer) what interests you.

  • A better WRITER would have written “grody to the max.” 🙂

  • this is one of the funniest blogs i’ve read in a while – i love your writing style – make no mistakes, you ARE a writer – have a good weekend

  • bethiecow

    Thanks to this post, I’ve finally gotten off of my lazy procrastinating ass and made an appointment with a dermatologist.

    I’m from Memphis, btw. The land of Graceland, Beale Street, and skin cancer.

  • As a symbolic flip of the finger to insurance companies, my husband let one of his patients, an old farmer, pay his bill in chickens. I still have 25 of them in my freezer.

  • Jill

    Sounds like that doctor could use a kick in the nuts too. Might improve his attitude….

  • Salt Chic

    Skin cancer is absolutely going to affect a large number of people at increasingly faster rates– I am 31 and already 4 of my friends have had problems ranging from level 2 minor removal to major surgery to more. Yet I still see people baking themselves in the sun. You reach a lot of people with this site so I hope you turn a few more heads.

    And if I could write like then I’d be doing the same damn thing with my life if it paid my bills. Feelings are under-rated I tell you.

  • Benign! YAY! That ignorant doctor is the one who needs a kick in the nuts.

  • I almost threw up on my desk at work because of those pictures. I’m sad that I didn’t because that might have given me an excuse to leave.

    I’m glad your kicking cancer in the nuts though because it needs a good kickin’

  • Glad to hear that the mole was BEE NINE! Yay! Wow…it really doesn’t look as bad as I thought. Thank you for keeping us posted, and all. Some of us out here are on neither side of the specturm and selfishly toast to your good health for the sake of our own amusement. *wink*

  • Mark7r0n

    I had spontaneous and awkwardly loud outloud laughing at your description of people’s perceptions of writer’s love for fedoras and plaid capes and beige orthopedic shoes. I am not a writer but I often want to claw at my chest in expression of where I keep the magic.

    As threapy I suggest listening to The Arcade Fire way to loud on your ipod and dancing around 80s new-wave style for at least 30 min. It always makes me feel better.

    Get well soon. The pictures are really gross. I am going to tape my 18 yr old sisters eyelids open and make her narrow sunbathing ass look at them till she renounces all things daylight!

  • Here’s a story about unprofessional Dr’s…when I told my new PCP I was gay he goes “I don’t want to hear about that” and NEVER remembered I was gay, when I came in would make inappropriate comments. Then he hit on me talkin bout “you need a rich man to take care of you” when I went in for mole removals! I felt like I should be getting paid the way he was lookin all over my skin…there for a minute we were having a “moment” alone in his office (no Nurse) and I was seriously uncomfortable…and I used to be a pole dancer, ok? So there needs to be some serious vibe for me to get antsy. It was 3 of the worst Dr. visits I ever had, except one time when I was sixteen and had to have a shot in the butt and the grandpa doc cupped my cheek and said “you have the softest skin”.
    EEEWWW!!! WTF??
    So there is my comment in which I did not state to redundancy “Heather, you are one hell of a writer”, or “Heather, I am so glad you are ok”, or “Heather,I’M YOUR #1 FAN!!” (but I secretly I am thinking it 🙂

  • Scott Murdoch

    I know you know this, but by God Heather, you ARE a writer. A damn good writer who should wear that moniker proudly. On a button.

    Just last week I was telling someone about you, that you write about your life on the Net. While we all have our own lives to lead, yours is interesting and funny and touching to read about for the very reason that you write so well. A blog written by someone ELSE leading the same life you have would be a bore. I mean who knew that cancer is so funny?

    You rock sister.

    Scott

  • Michael

    Well, Braveheart, you’re really Ed’s girl now.

    Of course, should the saddening time ever come, I urge you to consider converting to Judaism before The End. We don’t use anything but a plain, unlined wooden coffin, a deep hole, and a local rabbi. And it really takes just a bit longer than your “surgery,” so no one loses a lot of time from work.

  • M_to_the_D-O-_Double_G

    Heather, those are some nastified pictures. Thanks for sharing your ordeal with us. I love your grass-roots approach to public health 🙂

  • Who knew Ed would resurrect like our Blessed Saviour? What a drag that you had to dispatch him yet again. Sending healing thoughts your way.

    I’m glad you are keeping this topic in front of me. I’ve got a spot on my arm that I need to have looked at.

    I’m not really avoiding the procedures. I’m actually dreading the decor at the dermatologist’s office. It’s got that whole 1880s Victorian apothecary theme going on. How on earth does one sterilize lace curtains, flocked wallpaper, Tiffany lamps and artifical ferns? Ugh…

  • Dude, your mole scar looks, like, totally better than my mole scar. Mine is all gross and icky! (if we can’t act like jr high girls over serious stuff, what’s the point of living?)

    you’re in my thoughts.

  • My parents have a theory that 99% of all dermatologists are evil creepy sadists. Between them, they have had several skin cancers removed (including one from my father’s nose that required reconstructive surgery). My mother has had the most recent horrific deratological experience in which a large CONE SHAPED section of flesh was gouged out of her by a doctor who used insufficient anesthetic and was completely unwilling to discuss the procedure with her in any detail. I am sure the removal was necessary, but the inhumane approach certainly wasn’t.

    There MUST be good dermatologists out there. In the meantime, my folks keep changing doctors hoping to find a reasonably pleasant one. I get the impression that they liked the doctor who worked on my father’s nose but he, sadly, is in another state and no longer a convenient option.

    Thank you for sharing the Saga of Ed. I LIVE in massive amounts of spf 45 and have my entire life thanks to mom and dad knowing the family had this history. I mean, sure, other kids may have called me Casper and we have film of my face blending in with the white of Santa’s beard when I was 5 BUT I look several years younger than I am AND I may avoid a trip to the evil sadist doctors later in life! (I have noticed that my female freinds are much more influenced by seeing how much younger I look than they are by fear of cancer. Freaky how death can be less of a motivator than wrinkly skin.)

    LOVE the writing. “Visit” you every day.

  • GOOD LORD! What did that man do to your arm? The back looks so tame in comparison.

  • Tim in Flyover Country

    Heather, congrats on kicking skin cancer where the sun don’t shine! Who hooo!

  • Ed, Ed give me some head.

  • MTSP

    Having gone through a similar ordeal with skin cancer, I totally feel for you and am so HAPPY to hear such good news that the mole was benign. 🙂 Thank you again for discussing this subject. You are right – there is a total lack of awareness. I appreciate how hard it must be for you to talk about this and put your feelings out there for others to stomp on because they are ignorant. But reading about your FEELINGS helps to remind me that I wasn’t so crazy when I made such a big deal out of my own skin cancer. It’s a scary and upsetting thing, not to be taken lightly. Thank you so much. 🙂

  • You are very brave for leaving the comments on this open.

    FWIW, I represent the third camp of people, the people who thought, “Gee, skin cancer…that sure sucks. I bet that’s a big deal in her life right now, which is why she’s writing about it. I hope she gets better.”

  • Fantastic news, you little WRITER, you!

  • Yay Dooce!! That’s awesome news.

  • Yay! I’m not sure how you managed to stay so brave…I would’ve broken down quite a few times during that procedure. But I’m so relieved that you’re in the clear dooce!

  • MadKat

    I am so glad that it is B-9! We were stupid in our teens – anyone else lather up with Wesson Oil out there? People wonder why I FREAK OUT when my baby twin girls (5 mos) have a toe in any direct ray of sunlight!

    And that doctor should have some skin carved out of his arm and shoved up his ass.

    Love ya.

  • i’m glad you are sharing this with us! i had a potentially cancerous mole removed when i was about 11, and i’m now left with an inch and a half long scar on my back. i have a few other moles now that i know i should have checked out / removed, but i’m not eager to get any more big scars. i’m greatly relieved to see that there is much less scarring involved in these procedures now. and hearing that it only took 7 minutes makes me feel better too, because the thought of having a doctor remove part of my body kinda makes me wanna hurl, but i think i could endure 7 minutes. maybe. perhaps a new tagline is in order? Dooce – inspiring potentially cancerous mole removal since 2006.

    best of luck with “Ed”!

  • kristin

    Such good news Heather. I wish you and yur family health and happiness.
    Keep up the good work and keep writting about your FEELINGS!

  • Sometimes, I really wonder how doctors with such a lack of understanding of a patient’s “feelings” can stay in business. I once had a resident who was observing my orthopedist, who was about to give me a cortisone injection in my back (which involves a very long needle, which I am terrified of, and is also quite painful) say “wow. It looks like that’s gonna hurt.” Yes, asshole, it does. Thanks for noticing, and I bet that you got an A+ in Beside Manner in medical school, didn’t you.

    I’m glad it’s over with for you… at least for now. I didn’t look at the pictures because I have no stomach for those sorts of things, but I’m in awe of you for not even crying once during that awful experience. I know where all the private bathrooms are in my orthopedist’s office, so I can lock myself in and have a good cleansing cry afterwards. I know, I’m very mature. But he’s, by all accounts, the best orthopedist around, so I keep going back, even though his bedside manner rivals his residents for best in class.

  • Thérèse

    Well? Did you get to keep it?

    What, why are you looking at me like that? Didn’t you ultimately want to keep it in a jar? I mean, you named it. That makes it your pet to kick in the shins and nuts, so on and so forth.

    I’m pretty sure I would. Just so I could look at it every so often and flip it off. You know, like during dinner.

  • (Oh, and not to get schmoopy, but… I’m glad you’re dealing with this so publicly. It’s rare to see someone willing to talk about the icky bits of their life so candidly, and I appreciate your point of view. You are a writer. You just don’t write in the conventionally accepted form. You realize of course that this just means you will stand out in your field though, right?)

  • *hugs Heather*

    That arm wound looks pretty freaking nasty. Assuming Jon is beyond his west nile virus, get him to make you a grilled cheese sandwich or something… they always make me feel better.

  • juju

    I read your blog every single day. There are two main reasons: one, it is an entertaining look into a life that is different from mine in many ways, but oh so similar in others; and two, I admire GREAT WRITING BY GREAT WRITERS.
    You are a great writer.

    And oh yeah, I said a prayer for no more cancer cells, ever. Because I want to be reading you when I am an old lady.

  • Owch – the first pic resembles a crater! Your dermatologist sounds like the dentist I had when I was 10 years old. He was barbaric and worse, called me a boy.

  • The bastard used a cigar on your arm! The ex back mole appears to have been frozen with an ice cube then dug out with the fingernail of his pinky. Total and complete full body shudder. You are very brave. Here’s hoping this is the end of a very short chapter entitled “When Dooce Had Cancer – And Kicked Its Ass In Record Time” Go to hell and sit on a hot coal Ed!

  • thinkin’ of you. i hope everything will be okay. xoxoxo

  • mob

    This may get a little pricey and I hate to jinx you but you should really dump this dermatologist and find one that does the MOHS procedure.
    The MOHS procedure is new and it is removal of basal or squamous in stages with breaks in between for samples to be checked by pathology so the margins are completely cleared. Initially it can be a little more expensive but in the long run much cheaper because there really is no way to visualize skin cancer….you cannot just whack the red piece out and be sure you got it all.
    My husband has had over three hundred areas removed over the last twenty years, yes he is a red head that never wore a hat or skin block.
    Skin cancer in all honesty is freaky the first time but after a few years you don’t get that worked up.
    The danger with basal or squamous is ignoring it..it can leave an unsightly mess that is hell on wheels to repair with a pretty result.

    We have been very happy with the MOHs..no more going back to have the same spot done over and over.

    The nose is the biggest problem area for basal cell, be vigilant and get anything suspicious taken off right away.
    Sorry about your luck, sucks to have skin cancer.

  • Sarah

    To be honest, you’ve come out pretty lightly…..
    try living in Australia – I don’t know anyone over the age of 40 who hasn’t has a skin cancer removed and most of them look alot worse than that…I’ve seen people who’ve had their entire ears removed. Worse is when it has spread inwards and they have to remove a hunk of flesh the size of a tennis ball.

    So, every Spring one of the current affairs programs will air the annual skin cancer shock segment….dredging up the latest tragic 30 year old mother or father dying from skin cancer, a 16 year old with only months to live and finish up by reporting on the death of last year’s subject. The only bare skin you see at the beach in summer anymore belongs to the overseas tourists. No responsible parent lets their kid out in the sun with out neck to knee sunsuits.

  • i’ve lived with chronic illness for a lifetime and, so, have grown up in the support of the medical community. it’s truly amazing how many people i’ve met in “helping professions” who were so blatantly uncaring. i have often wondered what psychological reason motivates them to “care” and yet be unable to develop an even lukewarm bedside manner. i think it’s fear with a dash of denial. “helping” definitely draws a line between power and dependence; if you’re “helping,” your identity as a helper rather than helpee is constantly reaffirmed. i theorize that some of these people must fear death and disease so much that they invest their entire identity and purpose in life in cheating it. people often chase the things they fear the most and try to trick themselves into believing they can overpower them and, then, when they don’t, they are left unprepared to face the helplessness and powerlessness they feel.

    and then some people are just insensitive dicks.

  • Congrats on kicking cancer in the balls.

    I don’t think I’ve ever commented here before, although I, like every other known person with a high speed internet connection, absolutely love it.

    I just wanted to share with you a little sumpin’ I found out about sunscreen before you go bathing in it; sunscreen contains PABA, which is a known carcinogen. I know! It ALL contains PABA, except the health food store variety. They say (who? are? they?) you should look for a PABA-free sunscreen. I just wanted to make sure that the very thing you’re trying to avoid isn’t the same thing you’re bathing in daily…

  • Those pictures spoke louder than words to me and I’m sure others will rethink their interactions with the sun too (sounds so ominous).

    I hope this is the end of your bout with skin cancer. Thanks for sharing your story and please continue to do so as long as you want to.

  • b

    YIKES! It looks like he took the car cigarette lighter to your arm!

  • Heather Sturm

    A girl in the class ahead of mine in high school was diagnosed with skin cancer before she even graduated – her mom owned her own tanning bed, and the whole family used it. Now it’s hard to believe we ever thought it was ok to do that…

    Thanks for linking to Juniper – I’m enjoying their site!

    Specialists are all self-appointed experts, and if they had a say, no one would ever touch any of “their” patients first. Plus, insurance, it makes the world go ’round. Glad the tests came back bee-9.

  • Kat

    It was worth telling and I’m so glad you introduced me to Ed.

    Really. Because of Ed, I made an appointment with a Dermatologist. She found an in situ melanoma on my left leg. It was removed 2 weeks ago. Margins came back clean.

    Congrats on the BEE NINEity and thank you.

  • Um…someone delete comment #160 for me. Sorry for the duplication. Bad Firefox, bad.

  • Lilly

    Did you get that sunscreen I sent ya?

    You can tell people you got that wound when you put your cigar out on your arm because you are HARD AS NAILS.

  • dooooooooooooce. I love you!