A woman sitting on the ground. There is a torn section hiding her face.

Being a Worry Wart Can Be Exhausting

Sometimes my mind spins around and can’t settle on an answer as to what is dry skin, what is a wart, what is actinic keratosis, and what is squamous cell cancer.

My dry skin complicates the picture. If it flakes, it could be just dry skin. Or it could be a pre-cancer or a cancer. Having a tendency to pick, complicated matters more. I go on an exploratory mission to see what will dislodge and what won’t, and if it dislodges, will it come back.

Worrying about skin cancer

I have an active imagination and a tendency to catastrophize. I picture a scenario where a spot on my eyelid is a squamous cell cancer that will require Mohs surgery. The doctor is going to stick a needle in my eyelid. I’m going to be so freaked out. I’m definitely going to have to take something to calm down before this procedure.

But wait, I don’t even have a procedure scheduled. Creating your own stress is not good for the body. You can stimulate the flight or fight response without having any enemy, except your own mind. Time for some cognitive-behavioral therapy:

Is the spot on my eyelid skin cancer?

The tiny bumpy area on my eyelid has been there for a while. When I tried to put eyeliner on it back in pre-pandemic days when I wore eyeliner, it got stuck on this spot. I pointed it out to my doctor, and she said not to worry about it.

Thinking things through to a reasonable conclusion is a good way to calm down, but at the same time, I don’t want to gloss over signs. Recently I looked and saw a bigger piece of flaking skin that I swiped off my eyelid. I looked again a few weeks later, and it was flaking again. I’m going to try to remember to point it out at my next visit. Better yet, I should write it down. And then I should try to leave the spot, and the concern, alone.

When the worry is worth it

Most often, a doctor telling you not to worry is reassurance enough. But there is always an exception. A doctor told me not to worry about a spot that turned into something that I did need to worry about. It was an irritated small circle on my ankle. A dermatologist, not my regular one, said it could be an infection. She told me to apply an antibiotic. That didn’t work, and by the time they finally biopsied it and did Mohs on it, the hole was about the size of a quarter and needed a graft from my side to plug it.

Wart or skin cancer?

Warts are not just for witches. They are viruses that my immune system doesn’t fight off. My immune system is compromised, due to the prednisone that I take to tamp down graft vs. host disease resulting from my stem cell transplant.

I wanted to send my dermatologist a photo of a little dark speckled spot under my eyebrow. It wasn’t showing up well on the photo. So – don’t try this at home – I dislodged it a little bit with my fingernail. You really don’t want to irritate your skin just to get a good photo! It was half on, half off. I nudged it some more, and it came off.

Give yourself a break

I figured it must be a wart. It never came back, and so my suspicion was confirmed. But still, it wasn’t helpful. Neither is imagining you’re going to get a needle in your eyelid. A wise person once told me that if you worry about a potential problem that does indeed happen, you’re making yourself live through it twice, once in your imagination and once in reality. Take that mind, and give yourself a break! Easier said than done, but worth the effort.

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