Anybody who has read my blog knows that I’m really not keen on holidays. Nope. It stems from the fact that my family members have a nasty habit of dying on holidays. It’s a competition. Mostly, it’s an annoying game if you’re not playing. AND I AM NOT PLAYING!
So I approached last Friday with a little bit of trepidation. Valentine’s Day. You’ll no doubt forgive me, but I hate to answer the phone on holidays, even manufactured ones.
But this Valentine’s Day changed my mind.
Yup. It’s true. From now on, I love Valentine’s Day. And it has nothing to do with my husband, with chocolate or with flowers. This Valentine’s Day, somebody saved my life. And she did it by giving me the most terrifying news anybody ever has to hear.
Yup. It was my doctor. And she told me I have cancer. But just a little bit. Because unlike with pregnancy, you can be ‘a little bit’ cancerous.
In all honesty, I knew it was coming. I’ve know it for years. Because I grew up a Cheeto. My idyllic childhood was spent here, at my beach, hastening the inevitable.
For my entire childhood, I was baked to a crackly crunch. Nobody ever used sunscreen or wore a hat. Or sat under an umbrella. If you put anything on your skin it was OIL to quick-fry you.
When the phone rang on Valentine’s Day, I sighed. I don’t hear good news on a holiday. You know that.
The call was to give me results of a biopsy done on a weird spot on my face. A spot that had been there for quite a while, and that she had looked at several times before. It had been ugly, but only damaging to my self-image. Now? It had become dangerous.
“Elyse, I’m so sorry — it’s malignant.”
That’s not something one ever wants to hear, no matter what day it is. I’m proud to say, I took the news fairly stoically. Well, kind of. OK, a little bit stoically. (I have a reputation to uphold, here.) I fell apart later. Minutes later.
She went on to explain that the cancer was brand new — caught really early. It hadn’t grown down, which is when it becomes serious. It hadn’t even expanded out very far. It wasn’t advanced, but I’d need to have it taken off and then I would be fine. And that I should never go outside again without sunblock.
“I’m so sorry to have to tell you this, Elyse. And on Valentine’s Day!”
Now, now, bloggin’ buddy, don’t worry. Remember, I am a fake medical expert. I know just what to do. In fact, I asked for this diagnosis. Well, sort of.
You do not need to make your plans to attend a virtual funeral. I’m not going to die. Well, actually, I will, but it’s a good bet this spot on my face will not be involved. No need to plan the fiesta.
Because mine is a ZERO.
If you have to have cancer, you want to be a Stage ZERO. I don’t know how that still means I have it, but still. Zero is good. Ish.
I have Stage ZERO lentigo maligna melanoma. It’s basically a sunspot gone bad. I have already seen two doctors, and in the next couple of weeks, I will have it removed by a plastic surgeon. And bye-bye cancer!
So why does this make me LIKE Valentine’s Day? Why don’t I just add it to my list of hated holidays?
Because the diagnosis saved my life. Really.
The cancer has been caught at the earliest possible point – it just started being cancer. It hasn’t dug it’s nasty roots deeply into my face, it hasn’t spread to my lymph nodes. It hasn’t metastasized to any one of a dozen organs.
If I hadn’t gotten that call?
If I hadn’t had that biopsy?
If I hadn’t seen my dermatologist?
Then, and only then, my melanoma would have become deadly.
Now, why am I telling you all this?
It’s not to get some bloggy love, although that is always welcome.
It’s because I want to save your skin. Right now. Listen to me, and follow my instructions precisely:
- Go into your bathroom
- Take off all of your clothes
- Examine your skin
- Check spots, moles and discolorations carefully
- If anything doesn’t look right, if you have a bad feeling, if something is bigger or darker or just different, go to a dermatologist and have it checked out.
I could give you the statistics that I’ve naturally been reading compulsively. But I won’t. You’re welcome.
Instead I’ll give you a song by Eva Cassidy, a brilliant, talented singer who died of melanoma at age 33. I have long loved her music, and have included her in some of my most heart-felt stories. She was also the subject of a moving story on Nightline.
But I’m not trying to make you sad. I’m not trying to drum up sympathy for me (because really, I will be fine). But for all of us, for all those who love us, it is really important to remember: It is a Wonderful World. Let’s all hang around.
Please join me in saying thanks to the nurse practitioner who just didn’t think that spot on my face looked right, and biopsied it. Megan, I will think of you every Valentine’s Day for the rest of my life. Thanks to you, I have a shot at it being a very long one indeed.
Now – you guys reading this – go check out your damn skin. What are you waiting for? GO!
Me, I’m busily thinking up intriguing stories to tell folks when they see that I have a scar on my cheek …
Perhaps I’ll get a pirate hat and a parrot!