Fear of Recurrence? Not Me. Well, Maybe Me

A few weeks ago, someone asked if I am afraid of a recurrence of skin cancer, and I immediately said, "No." I thought some more about it, and no, I wasn’t afraid. I’ve had two basal cell carcinomas, and I didn’t like having Mohs surgery, dealing with the fear of what I’d look like after surgery, and the limitations after surgery, and the scars, and more. But I still don’t think about skin cancer every day, and I don’t lie awake at night worrying about it.

Fear of skin cancer recurrence before skin check

But today I’m going to see my dermatologist for my twice-yearly full-body skin check, and I’m nervous. I stared at my face in the magnifying mirror this morning when I woke up, after my shower, and periodically throughout the day so far. I also looked at my arms and legs as I toweled off and as I put body lotion on.

What was I looking for? I was looking for anything that I wanted to point out to the doctor, spots I deemed suspicious that I wanted to make sure she took a good look at. I wrote down 5 spots, 2 on my face, 2 on my legs, and 1 on my arm. I’m sitting here wondering what my doctor will say when she looks at each of those spots, which, if any, she will choose to biopsy, and whether she will find any others that I didn’t notice. And frankly, I’m scared.

Anxiety building up at the dermatologist

I tried to distract myself during the 30-minute drive to the dermatologist’s office by listening first to the news, then to music. The music did help me feel calmer, and I felt fine walking into the office and sitting in the waiting room. But when the nurse called my name and brought me into the exam room, I started worrying a bit. To be honest, my legs were shaking a little bit as I walked into the room. I told the nurse the spots that I wanted to make sure the doctor took a close look at, and I thought about how difficult, maybe even impossible, it is for me to tell if a spot is truly suspicious or not. I just don’t know.

Which spot can turn out to be cancerous?

Both of my basal cells have looked like a tiny, pearlescent dot. They didn’t bleed, they didn’t look like they had changed shape, and they were so small that I barely noticed them. In fact, someone else noticed them and told me to get them checked out. I think part of my nervousness about what the doctor would find stemmed from this inability to tell if a spot could be cancerous. Indeed, the spots I picked to tell the doctor about don’t look particularly scary, and I’m not really sure I could tell you why I singled them out for a closer look. So for me, I felt little control over the entire situation. Would any of these spots turn out to be cancerous, or, taking a step back, would she even want to biopsy any of them?

Suspicious spots biopsied

Fast forward to the end of the full body exam. She chose to biopsy two spots, one on my thigh and the other on the top of my forehead. Did they look different than the other spots? Not to my eye. I’m grateful she didn’t detect any other suspicious spots during the exam.

I paused to finish this article until I got the biopsy results back. And I just found out I’m fine. But you know what? I was scared.

How do you feel? Are you afraid of a recurrence of your skin cancer? And how often do you think about the possibility of a recurrence?

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