If we’ve ever spent time together face to face or if you’ve ever seen a close up photo of my face or zoomed in super close on a not close up of my face you may have noticed that I had a sun spot underneath my left eye. A freckle or two. A distinguishing mark for an aging gentleman.
Astute viewers looking at photos and videos from before 2013 might notice that the mark doesn’t exist. That it appeared from the dermal ether sometime in 2013 or 2014. When it first appeared way back then I scheduled an appointment with my dermatologist who said it was nothing to worry about, but something to keep an eye on (no pun intended). She then froze the skin and off it went and I returned to a less distinguished face.
And in fact some people noticed its disappearance with a touch of the sadness. Why would I go and have it removed when it was a petite bit of flair to separate me from others? Well, truthfully? I was a little self-conscious of it. It was something of an uninvited guest and I wasn’t sure I wanted it there.
As more summers came and went and I dutifully tended to the weeds and the dirt in my garden, the determined little sun spot, like the Hosta along the perimeter of my yard, emerged again, grander than before. And maybe because I’m lazy or not as vain as I once was or susceptible to the peer pressure of others about the potential coolness of the sun spot, I made peace with it.
However, earlier this year I scheduled a trip to the dermatologist for a few reasons and when I finally got in to see her, almost as an afterthought, we decided to take a closer look at what had become.
She still didn’t think it was a big deal, but suggested that maybe we should do a biopsy on it. However, your boy Ben, still clinging to some vanity decided that it wasn’t necessary because I also had an appointment with a new dentist that day and I didn’t want to go into the new dentist’s office bleeding from my face. I worried that the dentist might think there was something wrong with me. There, I said it. It’s fucking stupid, but that’s what I was thinking.
A few days later I rethought it all and wondered if maybe that wasn’t a bit shortsighted and maybe it would be better to just let the dermatologist do what she needed to do. So I called her office and asked to set up an appointment, the first of which wasn’t available until months later.
And all the while, I felt a nagging inside me.
Nagging while I played in the garden, nagging while I went on long walks in the middle of the day, nagging while I crisscrossed Barcelona in August. Nagging. Nagging. Nagging. I probably did a better job, which isn’t saying much, of putting on sunscreen and wearing a hat, and maybe the voice got quieter, but it never stopped whispering.
When I went in for the biopsy at the end of October the dermatologist told me that it was good for precautionary purposes, but that she wasn’t too worried about it. Her assistant put a topical numbing agent over the skin, she made a quick slice, and within minutes it was bandaged up and we were joking around about one thing or another.
I’m guessing it’s nothing and that I’ll put a note in your chart early next week to let you know everything is okay.
But then the phone rang four days later and I knew that wasn’t a good sign.
Glad you came in. Turns out you’ve got melanoma.
(There’s a whole lot I’ll write about one day once I understand things. In the days leading up to the biopsy and the immediate days that followed my brain did some really really weird things. This was all before I’d even heard the results of the biopsy. I won’t get into the particulars here, but one day I will. UPDATE 12/30/2019 – I wrote about it here.)
Anyway, I had some pretty rough days and nights at the beginning of this month. Existential questions. Fear. Racing brain. I’m not going to pretend I won’t have more. But I have been absolutely blessed to have people at my side through all of it.
As it turns out (though I didn’t know it for a few days) the melanoma is stage zero so it was caught very early. It had spread across the skin, but not down into things. That’s the good news. I’ve got two surgeries set up for early December to have it all cut out.
The less good news is that because of how close it is to my eyelid, closing the wound may be a little tricky. I’ve got a date with an ocular plastic surgeon a few days before Christmas, so if you’ve got spare wishes that you don’t know what to do with, I’ll gladly hang a stocking on your fireplace.
I’m being cautious with my language because I know what happens when you tempt the universe, but in general there are a lot of positive factors at play here and I feel confident in the plan and the folks with the scalpels. I still spin out more than I’d like. I haven’t really figured out what to think or even what I think. I’m processing what to say if I should say anything at all. Sometimes it’s hard to know.
What I do know is that I’ll have a new scar and when you see me in the sun, I’ll likely be wearing a floppy hat from this point forward. And I’ll wear them both proudly even when seeing a new dentist.
To sum up – please take care of yourselves, wear sunscreen, and know that I love you very much.