Last week I was diagnosed with skin cancer. I will admit that I don’t think I was overly surprised when my dermatologist called to tell me the biopsy I had recently had done had came back as cancerous. My fair skin and familial history always had me thinking it could happen…would happen in my lifetime.
But still, that couldn’t prepare me for the feeling of having the wind knocked out of me with the words “it was indeed a form of skin cancer and we need to take next steps to remove it fully.”
I can confirm that being told you have cancer is indeed a very frightening feeling. And I can’t begin to fathom what it feels like when you receive a diagnosis that is more aggressive or complicated or terminal.
So here is the real deal on my skin cancer diagnosis:
I have what is called a basal cell carcinoma and it is the most common form of skin cancer. And, while it is able to be treated, it also, scarily, increases your odds significantly in repeat skin cancer diagnoses. Should multiple basal cell carcinomas occur over time, often you become more susceptible to other, unrelated cancers as well. My life was going to be seen a little differently moving forward.
At first, as I hung up the phone with my doctor, I felt a sense of betrayal. I felt I had betrayed my body by not being more responsible with sun care all these years. Or was my body betraying me?
I wondered if this diagnosis was a wake up call.
Could it be a wakeup call to life’s preciousness and a reminder that at any minute things can change? One of your many lenses on life changes and it comes into focus in a way you’d rather it not. I was, in that moment, reminded that there’s no good time to receive less than stellar news.
In the moments that followed hanging up the phone, I wanted to tell everyone and I knew and no one at the same time. I wanted to feel less alone in the diagnosis. Suddenly my apartment felt hot and so very small. I felt like I wanted to cancel all my plans for the day and yet also bury myself in work that would distract me from the new reality I had just been served.
I also came to have frustration in trying to determine what this would cost me to have treated.
As someone who is self employed I have very expensive and yet not great health insurance. I found out this cancer removal wasn’t going to be fully covered since I hadn’t met my deductible which only further made me feel stress about the diagnosis. The cost estimate given to me made me utterly nauseous.
I felt alone.
And, if we’re being really honest, as the news set in, one of the things that struck me the most was that’s I’d be going through this process and the steps that were to follow somewhat alone. Even treating my initial biopsy site had proven difficult. It’s in a tricky spot for me to place a bandaid on. And I realized I’d be going to the removal procedure alone and have a few weeks of taking care of the site alone. It was an indication that while I love my independence and don’t mind singledom, I will admit that it’d be really nice to have someone who could help me through life’s tougher plot lines day to day in person. (And to be clear: I have a wonderful emotional support system through friends & family which I am grateful for.)
In recent years I have been more diligent with my sun care. But, man, do I wish I had listened to all the science that tells you to be thorough and obsessive with sunscreen and sun safety.
A few things I discussed with my doctor at the time of my biopsy that I thought was worth sharing…
- Wear a hat always when in the sun for extended periods of time.
- Be thorough when you apply sunscreen. The area my cancer developed is a common area people miss when applying sunscreen. It is just below the base of my neck and often not covered when you do the back of your neck or shoulders.
- Don’t count on moisturizer or makeup with SPF. It’s just not enough. These formulas are diluted forms of sunscreen. Use physical sunscreens with zinc or titanium oxide. Use it every, single day even when it isn’t sunny. It means my beloved Olay moisturizer with SPF 25 no longer cuts it. I can still use it but I must also apply a physical sunscreen of SPF 50.
- Reapply, reapply, reapply. Always have sunscreen on you.
- Do not miss going to the dermatologist at least once a year to have a full body scan done to monitor for any potentially cancerous spots.
- If you burn easily, buy a rash guard to wear when spending time in the sun.
I have some much-needed lifestyle changes that need to happen moving forward as I face this new reality. And I felt this post was important to share as a cautionary tale. So that my story may hopefully inspire you to be more sun-cautious moving forward. In a few weeks I will go in to have my procedure and I’ll be relieved when it is over. But in the meantime, this news is scary and unsettling but I am truly lucky it wasn’t anything worse. And that it can be treated rather easily.
I’ve come to terms with the news and am looking forward to getting the procedure over and done with. In the meantime, I’ve been working to stay positive and see the good happening around me. And I have to say, I’ve spotted a lot of goodness in the days that followed the diagnosis – and for that, I am immensely grateful.