Playful, elegant, and not above the judicious use of the word “shit."

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.

  • Terimo

    Also, I hate telling people I’m a writer. Most people seem overly impressed by something I could do in my sleep. Some people are good at math, some at fixing cars, some at selling insurance. I just happen to be a good writer and make a good living with it.

  • I hate that you have to…justify(?) your experiences here. People…SOME people are just crazy I guess.

    You will always be a “Writer” to me. A noble and worthy title for you.

  • I hate that you have to…justify(?) your experiences here. People…SOME people are just crazy I guess.

    You will always be a “Writer” to me. A noble and worthy title for you.

  • Zee

    I was recently diagnosed with MS and, let me tell you, if I hadn’t had my blog and the outlet for writing I would have had to write in a private, personal, paper journal. And what fun is that?

    My point is, sometimes getting it out there for the world to read is cathartic. And seriously, I enjoy everything you write and I like the fact that you share what’s going on in your life – the good and the bad and the weird and the dog-related, etc…

    You ROCK, Heather! (And the healthcare/insurance situation in this country? Disgraceful, but that’s another comment… I’ve been there, and don’t even get me started.)

  • If you help even one person by the telling of your story, then it’s worth it. I thought of you when I stupidly went and sat in the sun for 4 hours and got burnt to a crisp Monday. I HATE sunscreen… hmph! Oh well… better off slathered rather then cancerous.

  • Oh. Adding……….My Goodness, I must start reading more often. When did your sweet baby become a beautiful LITTLE GIRL?

  • Terimo

    I hate the “electrodesiccation” of the skin. What’s that smell? Oh, it’s just my burning flesh.

    I’ve about 15 basal cell carcinomas removed from my body in the past 10 years (I’m 42). When I noticed the first 3 (they all appeared around the same time on my chest), it took nearly 2 years for me to convince my family doc that I needed to see a derm, and another year for me to convince the derm that I didn’t have a fungus on my chest before she did a biopsy on one (thank you Canadian health care system). When it came back pos for BCC, she decided to biopsy the others. That freaked me out a lot, but now I’m pretty used to it I guess. I dread hearing the word melanoma, so I get my skin checked, head to toe, every 3 or 4 months. A friend died 2 years ago with melanoma at age 40. She was 6 months pregnant when she found out she had melanoma, opted for no treatment to spare the baby, and died when her daughter was 3 months old.

    I’ve had a lot of pre-cancerous moles removed too. It’s good to stay on top of this stuff. Next time you’re getting your hair cut, ask your stylist to check you’re scalp.

    Unfortunately I baked and burned in the sun a lot before I was 18. That’s when the most damage is done. I’m always covered in sun screen now, year round, but I don’t know how helpful it will be to prevent future problems.

    I’m feeling your burnt skin pain.

  • I actually don’t read here that often, which is why I was too sheepish to introduce myself to you at BlogHer (I think in some circles it is referred to as “stalking”, but ahem. Whatever). AnyWHO…….. I happened to read you today and you are posting about a topic that is so veddy, veddy near and dear to this freckled, Irish girl’s heart. A pale, pasty girl who has seen way too many friends and members of her family face skin cancer.

    Please, oh please keep posting about this topic. Who CARES what the Trolls might think?……..As a Power Blogger, you have an incredible opportunity to get the word OUT to people to stop with the suntanning, already. Seriously. I am glad it looks you have caught it in time.

    Peace. Oh, and Thank you.

  • stepheather

    Hey,
    I know what you mean about the dermatologist office. I’ve never been to your dermatologist (at least I *assume* so, since I haven’t been to one in Utah)…but they just seem to be odd. Kind of like they don’t see people when they look in their waiting room, just lots of SKIN. SKIN that needs to be studied, poked, prodded, and maybe REMOVED.
    I think I was 13 when I had my first dermatology appointment, and believe me, I stayed as far away from them for as long as possible. Of course, it might also be the fact that local anesthetics have the same effect on me as Vicodin does on other people (and Vicodin doesn’t…well, unless I take too much).
    Anyway, your description of the doctor’s visit made me laugh in a oh-that’s-too-familiar sort of way. Thanks, and I hope any future visits are less painful.

  • Good advice above.
    Do take vitamin E and poke a hole in a capsule and apply vitamin E directly to your wounds several times a day. You will heal faster with much less scarring.
    I have spent most summers of my life at the pool, at the beach, camping,….. I figure – I’m screwed!
    I have a couple of new moles that concerned me and my ‘previous’ doc told me they were just part of growing old. No checking or biopsies.
    I have a new doc, might be time for a new mole check.
    Great public service announcment here. Thank you!

  • Here’s hoping this latest procedure takes care of it.

    I’m another fair-skinned former sunscreen-shunner. I can’t do a damn thing for myself now (except apply the stuff liberally, especially out west where the risk is even greater), but I can teach my girls to take better care of themselves than I did.

  • Go Dooce.

    And yes, you are blessed to have the ability to get it taken care of –

    Must be a sign.

  • Wen

    Aw man. Now I really need to go for mole patrol.

    If you can, next time go to the plastic surgeon. At least the scar will loon better…

  • good to hear it was bee.nine. My mom just found out she has it some skin cancer too, but she goes this week to have it cut off. She is not too thrilled. She has suddenly become the queen of sunscreen tho. She tells me all day and night now about how when she was my age, she spent all her days at the beach and never thought twice about it. Hope you new scars heal as nice as your old one did.

  • Your poor thing. Aren’t dermatologists fun? I was sent to a hair specialist downtown Chicago to get a biopsy on my scalp. Seems I’m losing too much hair since the baby was born. Well I didn’t realize biopsy meant “Lie on your back while we use this evil hole punch on the top of your head.” Twice! Good God.

    Seriously, scary and no fun. Also been through stuff with lame insurance and I know that just adds to the stress. Go buy yourself a Mystic.

  • Your poor thing. Aren’t dermatologists fun? I was sent to a hair specialist downtown Chicago to get a biopsy on my scalp. Seems I’m losing too much hair since the baby was born. Well I didn’t realize biopsy meant “Lie on your back with we use this medevil hole punch on the top of your head.” Twice! Good God.

    Seriously, scary and no fun. Also been through stuff with lame insurance and I know that just adds to the stress. Go buy yourself a Mystic.

  • Jennifer in Ohio

    It’s so touching that people send you these grim messages knowing your history with anxiety and depression…..Guess where they can stick their “concern”. I group them with the jerks who told me horror stories about labor and episiotomies gone wrong back when I was pregnant.

    I’m also donning the SPF like a mad woman. I’ve had several moles removed that looked suspicious, and in fact, stumbled on a little skin anamoly earlier this year that turned out to be actinic keratosis, aka precancerous sun damage. My biggest problem is that I get so wrapped up in making sure Elsa is covered in sunscreen, I forget about myself.

    I just had two moles removed today, in fact. One of which gave me a really bad feeling, so I’ve got my fingers crossed.

    Don’t let the pessimists get you down. Remember, misery loves company. Take care!

  • Alison

    That’s great news! And? Scars fade. 🙂

  • Looks like Ed’s got himself some mighty fine casket silk.

    Gah.

    I hope you at least got an ice cream sandwich out of this ghastly experience.

    I went to the dermatologist when I was eight months pregnant and found a lump in my leg. My mom had cancer of the soft tissue twice -lumps in her leg – when I was a kid, so I was a) terrified and b) way pregnant and c) emotional to begin with. Since it was on my leg, I had to take my pants off. I sat there on the space chair, sweating, for a half-hour before he came in. Then he told me I was stupid to worry, after which I burst out crying, half-naked and eight months pregnant.

    Then I shot him.

    Not really. But I sort of thought about it.

  • Holy Crap! Just to register. Sheesh….

    But I did all that just to say…

    I am so happy for you, Heather!!!

    BEE NINE. There have never been any two words better.

    (and yes, I meant to say it that way)

    Good on ya.

    : ) C

  • Drs like that should stay in the lab, man… Here here to Mr. Bee Nine and to your road to recovery… I think I’ll buy stock in Banana Boat or something…

  • Sweet Jesus you are funny. Even about this, which is so NOT funny.

    Congratulations! Although I’m a little disappointed we won’t be finding out what kind of expensive fabric you were choosing for that casket.

  • Good on you!

    I clicked on all the pictures, because I think I missed my calling as a dermatologist.

    I was disappointed by the lack of pus in the pictures, but greatly relieved to hear about the Bee Nine.

    Would you like some whirled peas with your Bee Nine?

  • “Benign” is a good word to hear, Dooce.

  • Msyvone

    Oh Heather! I’m so sorry you had to go through that again. I had two separate basal cell carsinoma’s removed from my nose, two years apart. The second was worse, cause I knew what was going to happen! Anticipation is the worst, eh? I’m glad you got it taken care of.

    As for your profession, you are indeed a writer. Didn’t someone say, Write about what you know best? Well, seems you are doing a damn good job! thanks, I enjoy reading your website about your feelings.

  • Long time reader, first time commenter.

    Love you, your blog, your kid, your man, your dog. Sounds creepy. I’m not.

    Way to kick skin cancers lumpy, scaly, discolored ass!

  • zitsmom

    On a golf course you would have to replace that divot.

  • jt

    Oh man- I am investing in a giant vat of SPF 1,000 to dip my children in before they are allowed outside. That is some scary shit. I did the whole sunbathing/sunburning with baby oil- so stupid. Now I go every year for a head to toe mole check. My Dad had stage 2 melanoma which is scary because he’s Mediterrian. But he like you will do, kicked cancer’s ass.

  • I once went to a dermatologist in the SLC area, and the guy you describe sounds EXACTLY like him. I wonder if it’s the same one…
    Anyway… My dad also had basal cell on his arm, went to a sadistic derm (same one I just mentioned), and his wound was even uglier than yours. So maybe you’re lucky that that wound on your arm isn’t even more nasty-looking than it is. (Oh, and yes, my dad’s still alive. No need to get your will in order.)

  • Sum of 2 Squares

    I’ve had five moles removed thus far. They want to take one from my neck, but it hasn’t changed or caused me any discomfort, so I haven’t set an appointment. The first two I had removed were on my back, the first taken by cutting around the mole and its outlying tissue and then stiching up the resulting hole, and the other by using a device that looked eerily like a cheese slicer to take layer upon layer of my flesh until certain that there was no more of the mole left and then stitching it up. Two located somewhat beneath my right shoulder but still above my right breast were removed by scraping and by “punch,” respectively. The most recent removal was on my right arm, just below the shoulder. That was also a “punch” removal.

    The scars from numbers 3, 4, and 5 are the least noticeable. But I have to say that the second one is my favorite. Not only do I have a pretty line where the skin knitted itself together, but there are holes left over from the long-ago removed stitches. It looks like some kind of freakish, alien bite mark.

    Anyway, judging from the pictures (and my personal experience), your wounds should heal nicely and be mostly unnoticeable to all but those who look for them … Just be sure to keep them lubed up with plenty of Neosporin (or the best store brand you can find), and make sure that your bandages are large enough to keep the adhesive that holds them in place from even thinking about adhering to your wounds (stupid physician’s assistant). Trust me on this one. You do NOT want to have to pull something from a wound like that once it’s adhered itself to the spot. It’s not pretty.

  • AW

    By you taking the time to tell your story gave me the courage to seek out treatment (and a name) for the lump on my back. It turned out to be morphea. Not curable but treatable. Thank you.

  • I’m ecstatic that your one mole is benign! Your new scar on your arm will heal even better this time. The internet people promise.

  • SHAMEFUL!!!!!

    (kidding)

    Heather, I think you should react to your cancer in your body, in any damned way it occurs to you to react to it. I think you should write about it in any damned way you see fit to write about it. You should write about all of the things that are important to you, if that means you write a 24/7 live feed blog about the size of Leta’s boogers, then do it because this is is your life, and you are doing yourself a disservice if you fail to be anything less than your authentic self.

    Now go flog the fucking shit out of cancer, and make sure to put some sunscreen ON IT.

  • Kristin

    BEE. NINE.
    Those are the two nicest words I’ve heard all day.
    So glad to know you’ve kicked some ass.

  • Glad you’re kicking it in the nuts. Only please don’t kick it in my direction.

    I agree that our generation doesn’t take skin cancer as seriously as we should. I was made fun of so much as a kid for my very pale, fair skin. I quickly learned tan = acceptable. I could kick myself for all the money I wasted on tanning beds in my teens and twenties. Sure, I looked great and felt pretty because I, along with everyone else, had been conditioned to believe that a tan looks healthy while pale looks ill.

    I’ve decided to rethink that position, for the safety of my skin and for the message it sends my own children.

    Hope everything turns out well for you.

  • Um, ouch? I’m officially never leaving my house without sunscreen again.

    That doctor sounds like he’s the one who needs to be kicked in the nuts.

  • I’m very thankful for your candid sharing of the Ed experience. Somehow my father having skin cancer removed from his face last year, sans insurance, didn’t get me into the clinic.

    But this year you’ve influenced me and I found a “free” clinic for those of us without insurance. I felt that same panic of “treatment now or never” when I was finally scheduled to see the derm that they have volunteer 1x month. It was highly recommended that my beautiful mole the size of Minneapolis be removed from my back.

    I’m a slow healer and it looks like cheese pizza run over with tomato sauce … but it’s healing and I’m starting to feel better about the crash-decision made by me, a female nurse, a doctor and his derm-student son in that tiny 6 x 6 exam room.

    Now I’m waiting for the lab results. I have another scary mole that needs to be removed, but since it is practically in my vagina I may wait a few months.

    Sorry to be a long-winded commenter. You are a fabulous W R I T E R and I appreciate your influence on our curious lives.

  • Oh Heather. There but for the grace of God go I…

    I really appreciate your posting these things and sharing them. I looked at every picture and I must say, it did hurt my feelings to see that even larger wound on your arm. Well, just consider, when you are older like me, no one will even notice!

    Your writing Heather?!? Do you still have some doubt that someone will take you seriously unless you point at your chest in that special k kind of way?!? Might make a great video. Can you make a video of your expressing yourself strongly and we can all vote (you know, Olympic style) 1-10 to rate the performance so you will know moving forward the best tone to take etc.

    Hey, we just want you to be HAPPEEEEEEEEE.

    hugs,

  • About being a writer: you are not just a writer. You are A Big Deal Writer. I am not joking. All the haters can piss off, because you didn’t get the kind of audience you have by being some kind of amateur.

    You are A Real Writer. You are the Jane Austen of blogging. You just don’t get the respect because there is this bias toward paper. If you had written as many words and taken as many photos and had had them published in a book, you would have been in Oprah’s Book Club by now (for good or for ill).

    But mark my words: I bet you $100 and my really good blues mix tape that my sister made me that there will be a college class in Dooce by 2050.

    And that sound? That’s the sound of skin cancer screaming and writhing on the ground.

  • Barry

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

    And what a lovely sound it is. Congratulations.

  • Thank God you know how to kick ass girl. Am I in trouble for using God and ass in the same sentence? Your family remains in my prayers.

    Hugs from Boston to all.

  • kidsmom

    “What do you do?” they ask…
    “When I’m on my medication, or off it?” I answer….

    Congratulations on the scars. Consider them diplomas, because Now you Know.

    (I have 14 more than you do, so take that!)

  • SarahLou

    honostly, you inspire me to be more careful in the sun because that looks like it fuckin HURTS. i’m sorry and get well soon, hopefully this will be the last we hear of Ed.

  • courtney

    Thanks for posting about this. When you made your first post telling us you had skin cancer, I freaked and made an appointment with a dermotologist. I took the first available, and it’s this Monday; it takes a long time to get in with a derm around here. I’m a very freckle-y mommy (of a 17 month old boy) and mommy-to-be (of a girl due in about 5 weeks) who had a lot of bad sunburns as a child. I have spots all over me that freak me out.

    So, thanks for giving me my wake-up call, and telling me I needed to do this for my family.

  • marisi

    Very disturbing indeed. I am sorry you and your family are having to go through this crap. What disturbs me the most though is that you have a hard time admitting that you are a writer. Your words and pictures have moved me to tears, gotten me out of a bad funk. High time you took yourself every bit as seriously as we do.

  • Maybe if, when people ask what you do, you lower your bifocals and say, “I am an awe-thor,” it would feel more natural?

    It’s better than being a professional violist. Yes. Viola. An instrument 97% of the world is a little vague on and which my own grampa still pronounces like he’s trying to say violet. Plus then there are the jokes, and it just is all so very geeky from there on in. But hey, at least I’m not curing cancer or something like that.

    Here’s to the death of Ed!

  • Great news! If I see skin cancer I will give him a swift one just for you.
    I also had that gross thing done to remove a huge and seriously I mean huge, mole on my back. Your description of it was so funny. The entire time I tried to keep my eyes shut and sing songs in my head and ignore the smell of burning flesh. Eck.

  • Glad the most recent mole came back benign. If you ever have another basal cell (which I really honestly hope that you don’t), maybe you could elect to have MOHS surgery – I think I may have commented on one of your previous entries that I had MOHS surgery on my face.

    To overly-simplify MOHS, it’s a removal procedure that checks the margins to make sure they’re clear before closing up the wound. It’s a very precise procedure – I’d be happy to tell you all about it.

  • You are a brave lady. So happy to hear it was benign.

    The haters can SO suck it. You’re sending a great message.

  • First of all, F&*k those trolls who make asshat comments. It’s YOUR blog, don’t let anyone get to you to the point that you have to justify everything you write about.

    Secondly, you’re not JUST a writer. You’re a Freelance Writer. This indicates that you’re writing skills have been developed to the level of being able to pick and choose what you write about and for whom. That you’re selective about what you write and you are an independent thinker.

    Lastly, the more people talk about skin cancer, the more the number of people who die from skin cancer on a yearly basis will decrease. People just aren’t aware of how deadly this seemingly innocuous disease really is to everyone.