Not My Daughter's Skin Cancer
I’ve been taking this whole skin cancer thing personally. It’s not that I have been dwelling or feeling sorry for myself, but the last ten years have been about me. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have been advocating for sun safety, and I have helped campaign against tanning beds. For the record, I have worried my children to death about being safe in the sun and wearing sunscreen year-round. I have harped on reapplying sunscreen and avoiding direct sunlight during peak hours, but this whole cancer experience has been personal--it’s been mine.
Then my daughter had her first dermatologist visit--her first skin check.
Mole since birth
My fifteen-year-old daughter has had a mole on her neck since birth. It’s round, raised, and regular. I have kept my eye on it and felt confident that it was normal. She has a few other dark moles; her skin tends to develop them more readily than mine. I’ve kept her and her brother good and pale for the whole of their lives. This mole, though, has grown with my daughter. As a teen, she's become increasingly self-conscious of it. Her desire to see it gone finally overpowered her fear of having it removed.
The appointment was made.
Thorough skin check
She was nervous. I was relieved for her. She had wavered for a couple years on whether she wanted to go through with removal or not. (She has seen me experience Mohs surgery three times in recent years and the scars have scared her.) My dermatologists are wonderful, and I knew they would thoroughly check her skin and make note of any issues with this first visit. My confidence was high, and I was glad for her to share the same excellent care I have had since my melanoma diagnosis in 2007. There wasn’t anything I couldn’t answer for her and no skin concern I couldn’t help her figure out.
She took it like a champ, I must say. As a two-year-old, she fell and popped open the flesh above her left eye. The needles that numbed her that morning in the emergency room she can’t recall. Sitting on the examining table as a fifteen-year-old, she was more than aware of the needle on the tray beside her. She was brave and never flinched--not something I have mastered after all these years. Even the unmistakable stench of skin being cauterized1 didn’t faze her.
Then the word “biopsy” was spoken.
Dreading the wait
I am no stranger to the word and neither are my children. It’s become commonplace in our home to discuss the results of my frequent biopsies. That word has never been associated with either of my children, and the moment it was uttered changed everything. Though my dermatologist--our dermatologist now--believed her mole was normal, I had to hold back the wild-eyed fear I felt welling up within me as he told us both how long it would take to get the results back and what to expect if it turned out to be abnormal. This was a speech I knew by heart but had never watched my child receive. I had never watched this scene through their eyes.
Facing the reality of risk factors
In addition, our doctor told her it was a good idea for her to be checked once yearly due to my history. I had known for many years that the fact I had been diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma and melanoma automatically increased the chances that my children would be susceptible as well. Nothing drove home this fact like watching my child have a punch biopsy performed. Her procedure shined a much brighter light on skin cancer and its potential to wreak havoc in our lives. I only thought I knew Anxiety. With the drop of a specimen into a jar, I realized that Anxiety and I had only a passing acquaintance. This was the real deal.
My skin cancer wasn’t about me anymore.
The heridatry predisposition
I have passed many things to my children. My son has my height. My daughter has my love for animals. They both have my sweet tooth, thick hair, and fair skin. I have even passed on my tendency to be what my great-grandfather called a “worrywart.” The hereditary predisposition for skin cancer is not something I wished to include in my list of legacies.
A little over a week after her visit, the biopsy results came in the mail. In my experience, that is a good sign. There had been no call from the doctor. The mole she had long since wanted removed was not cancerous and needed no further treatment or excisions. This could have gone much differently for her. You see, at her age, I was worshipping the sun and was not familiar with the term SPF. She, on the other hand, hasn’t had the desire to tan and is cutting her chances of developing skin cancer. My skin cancer, in the end, just might be the reason my kids may never have to say, “My skin cancer…”
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