A woman twists herself into a pretzel in order to get a picture of an ugly mole

Taking "Gross" Photo, Looking for Answers

The other day you could find me in my kitchen, twisting myself into a pretzel, trying to take a good photo of my calf. It was not one of those selfies that you take to show off your best side, but, instead, it was the opposite. I was trying to take a photo of two spots on my leg. To be good, it had to look bad.

I should have kept my appointment

I wouldn’t have needed to take the photo if I had kept the dermatology appointment that I rescheduled for three weeks down the road. I go to the dermatologist every three months and I figured I’m checked so carefully that a few more weeks wouldn’t matter. I had made it at an inconvenient time based on a schedule that I no longer had. I could have still done it but it was for 9:15 in the morning, two hours from home, through rush hour traffic.

Of course as soon as I rescheduled it, I figured there was something that had to be looked at. Maybe it was the result of “rescheduling guilt,” which is something I just made up. It’s the feeling you get when you move an appointment and you think it might be the one that you needed to go to in order to avoid a deadly melanoma.

The strange spot left me wondering

Hence, second choice, the photos. A nurse she said to send them. One little bump is most likely an “AK,” short for actinic keratosis. I don’t think I ever got a name for the other area.

It was red, cracked, and peeling and a couple of inches long. My dermatologist had said to go after it with halbetosol, but it wasn’t working. The nurse said to send the photo through Patient Gateway, our online portal, but when I tried, I got a message saying the file was too big. So I sent it to my dermatologist’s email.

So I sent an email

I put “gross photo of my shin” in the subject line and wrote, “Kathleen said to send these through Patient Gateway but even if I made them smaller it said the file is too big. The halobetasol twice a day on my right leg isn’t doing anything and the other night it itched so much I took a Benadryl. Then there is the little spot above it. It was there last time and I think it’s an AK or something but I wanted to run it by someone and see if I should do anything about it. (Except for not pick it.)”

Waiting for an answer

I didn’t hear back. The next day when I picked up a prescription for high blood pressure medicine, an ointment, betamethasone, was waiting for me. I had already used it for a different problem and figured she wanted me to use it for the current one. However, the instructions were for an old problem, hardening of the skin due to graft vs. host disease, a complication of the stem cell transplant that was part of my leukemia treatment. “Apply topically twice daily under occlusion with Saran Wrap,” the instructions said. So I was supposed to wrap my rash and possible AK with Saran Wrap?

Getting a diagnosis and plan – or finding out you’re worrying about something innocuous – can sure take a lot of time and energy. It can be very frustrating and anxiety-provoking.

I decided to call

I called the dermatologist’s office. Amazingly, after pressing 4, then 1, I got through to the nurse. She said she would ask the doctor and call me back. I was away from my phone when she called. I called her back. She said yes to the ointment, no to the Saran Wrap, explaining that sometimes the computer pushes out old instructions.

The rash started improving. She will have to look at the possible AK the next time.

I found another spot to worry about

Meanwhile, I started fixating on a spot on my wrist. I’m pretty sure it was there last time and isn’t worth getting worked up about. But I started to worry about it. I took a photo of it, downsized it, and managed to get it on the messaging center on Patient Gateway. Then I called the dermatologist’s office. The message said everyone was in a meeting. The process started all over again.

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