A giant foot looms over a running woman.

Toenail Trouble Cramps My Style

We’re lucky to have so many ways to prevent skin cancer, but it wasn’t lucky for me that one of the ways was to torture to my big toe, or more precisely, to my big toenail.

We'd been through a lot

That toenail had already been through a lot. Back when I was training for a half marathon and ran 10 miles, the toe must have been banging against the end of my shoe. It turned black and then fell off. I actually thought it was a badge of honor that made me a “real” runner.

I was hesitant to treat it

When it grew back, it was never totally the same. Along one side was a dark ridge. I don’t get too many pedicures but once when I got one, the person doing it said it looked like the nail bed was damaged. That toenail (and none of the others) developed a fungus. It was thick and yellowish, and in sandal weather I always tried to make sure I wore nail polish. I never treated it because I knew that the one medicine that worked best could be bad for your liver.

They thought it should be biopsied

Sometime this past fall, after I put on hiking boots for a walk in the woods, I could feel the toe banging against the end of the shoe when I walked downhill. The dark ridge looked like it had gotten bigger. I showed it to two different dermatologists who made nothing of it. When I was at Mohs surgery for something else, though, the doctor thought it should be biopsied to rule out melanoma.

It hurt like heck

So, the resident took a slice out of it. The result: It was just a wart. I thought that was the end of it. But when I went back last week for something else, the toenail came up again. The nail wasn’t really growing back, and the area that had been biopsied looked black and yucky. The resident said he would clean it up. But the doctor in charge had other plans. She wasn’t happy about part of the wart still being there, because, she said, it could turn into cancer. She thought the toenail should just come off. “It won’t hurt. You’ll just feel some tugging and pulling,” she said, or something to that effect. She was right. The worst part was the needle going in for the anesthesia. But when the anesthesia wore off, it hurt like, well, you know what would come after “it hurt like…” but I’ll just say it hurt like heck. They bandaged it up and I hobbled out.

I wasn't sure what to do with myself

It could take a year to grow back. The pain mostly subsided, but it hurts when I walk or try to jog. I took tennis off for the winter because I didn’t want to play inside, due to the danger posed by COVID-19, so running was my major means of keeping myself calm. They said not to push it because the wound is still fresh. I’m really not sure what to do with myself, though.

I tried to keep moving

All the literature says that you have to keep moving. That’s been my mantra through my leukemia treatment and ensuing skin cancer problems. I got my bike tuned up and went out for a short ride. But it’s hilly where I live, I’m not in biking shape, and I’m afraid to fall off. I’ve had a couple of major bike accidents, and so that’s why I’m skittish. (My kids would be happy if I NEVER got on a bike again, but I like the feeling and I’m stubborn, so I do it anyway.)

I did eventually get out there

Walking only hurts a little. The other day I put on my jacket and went out for a walk. I interspersed some tentative jogging steps into it. That’s how I ended up going about four miles, half walking, half sorta jogging. The weather is warm enough to play some tennis outside; I’ve already hit with a friend a few times, but not since the toe trauma. The good news is that I have a pair of tennis shoes that are a little too big. I don’t wear them much, but they could come in handy now. I can use them with some extra padding around my toe.

A hurt toe didn't stop me

It would also be good news for my skin if this all kept me off the court and out of the sun for a little longer. But hurt toe or not, I don’t see that happening. At least I have my closet full of UPF clothing and a basket full of sunscreen. No matter what the manufacturers promise, though, if I’m running around, the long-sleeved shirts and leggings make me really hot.

At least they help keep the skin cancer at bay, so I will keep wearing them, and maybe try some different ones this summer and hope they will be more comfortable.

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