I Had Malignant Melanoma
It could be a study in anthropology, watching people acknowledge (or not) my scar. My friends thought it was cool. The man I was seeing said it was sexy.
Sure, strangers gave it the side-eye, and a few stared outright. One brave soul even broached the subject politely in the elevator. Along the way, I’ve answered the occasional, “Does it bother you that your scar is showing?”
The answer is always no.
So when Dr. Shapiro, also known as Hot Doctor and the object of my hero worship, told me he would begin work removing the scar in my neck in two years time, I got upset – overprotective, even.
This scar I had come to love stood for something. It was my battle wound. We’ve all got them. Some can be seen, others are a bit more well-hidden. Regardless, mine arrived on June 19th, 2012.
In May of that same summer, the summer, I went to my dermatologist for a routine skin check. Perhaps routine is a bit of an understatement.
I’m a fair-skinned, strawberry blonde who had noticed a new mole in the last six months. Said mole went from tiny and flesh-colored to protruding and black. Still, as I walked into the office, I never dreamt the series of events that would follow.
My doctor spotted the mole immediately and insisted on a biopsy. Here’s where youth reared its pretty/ugly head: Would I have a hideous mark on my neck forever? I like topknots and v-necks and collarbone skimming dresses. I liked my neck – that mole even. I wasn’t prepared to give up my sartorial preferences to hide an unsightly mark.
“Will it leave a scar?” I asked.
A scrape, she called it.
Two weeks later, the biopsy came back positive for malignant melanoma. The tumor was fast-growing, and I was sent to a specialist. There was going to be a scar; I suddenly longed for the scrape.
If you’ve ever waited to learn more, particularly about your health, you’ll understand the feeling that immediately crept over me, and stayed put. The fear, the confusion, the dread, the worry, the inability to think of anything else, no matter how hard I tried. And I tried, I really did. But I was consumed with emotion and worry.
The day I received my diagnosis, I met friends in Central Park. We were gathering for a birthday celebration, and try as I might, I couldn’t keep the news from them. I had spoken to my parents and sister earlier in the day. And, unsurprisingly, been the recipient of their unwavering strength and support.
That night, with the girl gang, we all sang and danced and looked forward, but I was scared. I was scared of the unknown. What the surgeon might find beyond the biopsy. What the recovery may be. I was young – too young, I thought – only in the middle of my 33rd year. It was summer. I was happy, starting a new relationship. This was not really the time.
Over the coming days I lost sight of my future, or at least the next six to eight weeks of it. I didn’t want to plan anything with anyone, yet I didn’t want to be alone, either. I closed my eyes to sleep and couldn’t. I got distracted. I worried constantly. I was restless. My ever-positive friends allowed me to play my skin cancer diagnosis as my get-out-jail-free card: “I would rather have Italian tonight. Or let’s meet here instead. Also, I have cancer.”
I eventually got over the constant notion of being sentenced. I put a plan in place after meeting with Dr. Shapiro. I had a date for surgery. My sister came into town. My urban family threw a "Cut Cancer Out" party the night before the dreaded date. I looked at their faces and saw angels.
When I entered NYU Cancer Center in the wee hours of June 19th for surgery, Hot Doctor said he wanted to make a deeper, wider incision, get this thing out so I could go on. All I could do was nod. At this point, if Dr. Shapiro wanted my right arm he could have it. I wanted this cancer O-U-T.
I walked into the hospital with a scrape beneath a band-aid. I rolled out with a scar hidden by surgical wrapping. The mole I didn’t want to part with, the scrape I didn’t want to have, led to the scar I now can’t fathom living without.
But why? Why now, several months later, am I so attached to this pinkish-red line on my neck? I’m the gal who keeps a tube of mascara on the bedside table for rise-and-shine application. My fingers find the scar several times during the day. I check on it in the mirror. Sometimes refer to it in third person. It keeps me up at night a little. Not because it hurts – though sometimes it does – but because it’s there. And it’s forever a reminder.
This scar, my scar, is hidden no more. And truth be told, I don’t want it to disappear or to be removed by Dr. Shapiro. I don’t want it to fade away, for things to go back to the way they were, for me to look the way I did pre-cancer and before my surgery. I’m stronger now. I’m certainly more conscientious now. I’ve been through the battle – my first battle – and won. And I have the wound to prove it.