Dealing With My Skin Cancer

For my friends who could not open my Columbia Missourian column if December 21, 2016…

I woke up on a Friday morning a couple of weeks ago from a long and restful sleep. I was feeling pretty good about life and work and, other than some dental work in the last few months, things were going well. I had time that morning before work to think about what I have been through for the last year or so. It’s really not that bad.

I took a shower before going to work, only to find a “wound” on my chest, just above my left breast. It is about the size and width of a nickel. I called my doctor on Friday and got in the following Monday. After consulting with another doc, I was told that I was to see a dermatologist immediately.

The dermatologist took a slice off of the growth and sent it to the lab. While I was there, we scheduled a second appointment to have the growth removed. He called me the next day to tell me that it is squamous cell carcinoma — skin cancer.

To say that I abused my skin as a kid is an understatement. I spent a lot of time in the sun, was on our swim club’s diving team and spent a lot of time in the pool and at Jones Beach. So much so, that I would get sunburned almost every summer. Sunscreen was not on the top of my parents’ list of things to bring to the beach.

I was not the only one in the family to have skin cancer. My dad also had numerous growths taken off his back over the years. My sister seems to think it was also SCC. His may have been smaller, and he was able to avoid surgery by freezing them off with liquid nitrogen. Kathy tells me that mine will require surgery.

Actually, I am more concerned right now with the irritation from the bandages I have been placing over the growth to catch the slight amount of blood seeping from the where the doc took a slice sent off to the lab for confirmation of his diagnosis.

I meet a number of the criteria of those who get SCC. I am older, turning 65 in a few months, have brownish-green eyes and have fair and abused skin.

I am lucky that I have a job to go to five days a week with health insurance. It gives me less time to worry about something I only have minor control over, and everyone seems to be upbeat about my prognosis. Worry will come after the surgery and getting the final word from the doc.

Kathy told me about the procedure, that it will be done in office, that the cut will be oblong and that I will have a nifty scar on my chest. I think having squamous cell cancer is a good enough story to tell those interested. I am also thinking about telling people the scar is from inserting a heart (I have been called heartless by former students), or I got into a knife fight and you should see the other guy.

What I am more worried about is what will happen to Social Security and Medicare under the new Trump administration. I have been paying for Social Security and Medicare every pay period for years, and I want a return on that investment. I am wondering what those sitting under Lady Liberty in Washington, D.C., are planning to do to benefits that I may qualify for in the near future.

At this point in my life, I ask for only one gift for Hanukkah, a time machine straight out of H.G. Wells or the Big Bang Theory, either one will do. Or Dr. Who’s Tardis (only $220 on eBay). I would love to be 14 again with the knowledge that I had to brush my teeth twice a day, floss and use 30 SFP sunscreen. Fewer cavities and less of a chance of getting skin cancer.

I guess what I am trying to tell you is to use sunscreen when you are younger and watch your skin closely as you get older. As Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich (and falsely attributed to “Slaughterhouse Five” author Kurt Vonnegut) famously wrote:

“Enjoy your body. Use it every way you can. Don’t be afraid of it or of what other people think of it. It’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever own… But trust me on the sunscreen.”

I cannot think of better advice.


About David Rosman

David is the winner of the Missouri Press Foundation's "Best Columnist" in 2013 (First Place) and 2014 (Second Place), the 2016 Harold Riback Award for excellence in writing, and the winner of the 2007 Interactive Media Award for excellence in editing.
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