Skin Cancer – Party of 1
As the saying goes, “one is a lonely number”. And as far as cancer goes, skin cancer is a lonely cancer. I’ve had skin cancer for over 23 years. For those 23 years, I’ve felt mostly like I’m battling skin cancer alone.
Not just a ‘one and done’ experience
Many people don’t take skin cancer seriously. Too many of us have heard “it’s no big deal, get it taken off and you’ll be fine” or “it’s just skin cancer; you should be thankful you don’t have real cancer.” Even I didn’t take skin cancer seriously when I was first diagnosed with it. I thought it would be a ‘one and done,’ and I regrettably continued my ways of too much sun exposure.
It took a second diagnosis of skin cancer for me to start realizing it was a big deal. Turns out, skin cancer was something I would end up dealing with for the rest of my life. That doesn’t sound like ‘no big deal’, does it?
‘No big deal’?
Why, then, is the reaction to skin cancer different than with other cancers? Why, then, are doctor’s appointments, where I may end up getting numbed, biopsied, cut, and/or stitched, viewed by some as ‘no big deal’?
I’m even guilty of downplaying them; after my last excision (which left me with a 3” incision on my chest and an internal and external layer of stitches), I went to the office and put in nearly a full work day.
I’ve had previous health care providers remove an area of skin cancer then tell me I have it because I laid out too much. Along with the medical procedure, I receive an admonishment that I brought this on myself. I can’t help but wonder if they would tell other cancer patients that the cancer is their own fault.
No one understands
And it’s not just some of the medical providers. My family doesn’t really understand what I go through with having skin cancer. My friends don’t fully understand either. No one truly understands, unless they’ve experienced it themselves.
It’s hard for someone to understand
It’s hard for someone to know the feelings of anxiety before an appointment for a routine skin check. It’s hard for someone to know what it’s like to check your skin every single day for anything that looks suspicious, unless they’ve been in that situation. It’s hard for someone to know what it’s like waiting for biopsy results so you can find out whether or not you’ll need yet another skin cancer surgery. It’s hard for someone to truly understand what a big deal it is to receive a good biopsy or pathology result.
I know all of this, but it doesn’t make it any easier for those of us who have skin cancer. It doesn’t really do anything to help alleviate the loneliness.
A range of reactions
All of that makes me hesitant to talk much about it with friends and family. When I have, some of the reactions in the past range from total disinterest, to ignoring, to blank stares, to slight interest, which leaves me feeling like people don’t really care to hear about it….again, it’s not ‘really’ cancer if it’s ‘just’ skin cancer, right?
Not so alone in this community
Until I became part of this wonderful community, I wondered if it was just me who felt this way. After becoming part of the community, I realized others feel the same way. There are other people who know what it’s like to feel lonely during a medical procedure, and to feel nervous waiting for test results, and to feel a sense of dread when a suspicious area appears out of nowhere. There is a whole community of people who “get it.”
Thanks to all of you, one isn’t such a lonely number after all.