To Top It All Off I Got Pre-Cancer

I hate skin and everything about it. I dislike saying the word, which is absolutely impossible to avoid using, unlike other words I hate. One can substitute a more palatable word for nougat or panties, but you’ll sound like a German exchange student if you say, “It looks like my outer covering is burning.” Beyond saying the word, I generally dislike everything about skin. As if it isn’t already the most egregious offense against humanity to have pores, it goes on to chafe, peel, flake, tear, wrinkle, freckle, and age. When it truly has had enough of you, it does something utterly disgusting by sprouting a varicose vein, or maybe worse, a mole.

Once a year, I book my sack of skin an appointment at the Dermatologist so that I may endure the indignity of having my entire body placed under a high-magnitude lens. Most women are at least drunk when this occurs and the experience culminates with a Greek paddle and a non-biological sister named Britnee. This year’s scheduling was an especially anxiety-producing exercise since I discovered that dermatological appointments are scarcely available in my new home in the state of Maine, owing – I suspect – to the fact that skin doctors don’t come in droves to a state in which more unsheathed flesh could be glimpsed at a village of Quakers. I could not be deterred, however, because I had a spot of a dubious nature on my face that had been causing me worry.

After pleading my sob story to a friend she called in a favor to an old family friend who happened to be a board certified Dermatologist. When her nurse called to offer me an appointment within the week, I nabbed it enthusiastically irrespective of the 75 mile distance or whether my husband, G, would even be able to watch our three kids. In between scrawling my list of concerns for the doctor, things like ‘are stretch marks reversible?‘and haranguing G to arrange his work schedule around my epidermal needs, I orchestrated a masterful plan that involved driving the kids two hours south where I would deposit them to G who would fly into the airport the night before and would sleep at his sister’s apartment so that he could wake in the morning to the arrival of his three hungry and jittery children. When I received the text message the night before my appointment that he had safely landed and was en route by taxi to his sister’s place, I fell into a contented sleep, at peace that the stars were aligning to ensure I would be studied, scraped, and lasered just after sunrise.

As I neared the city limits, kids plotting their counter-assault from their carseats, I placed a call to G to herald our arrival. The call went unanswered. As we passed the closing miles, I dialed his phone no less than 400 times. I continued to phone in 20 second intervals from an illegal parking spot in front of his sister’s building. I even called his sister at work to inquire after her unit number, which was unlisted at the locked front door, but she couldn’t be reached either. I glanced at the time on my phone, fretting over how dangerously close I was to missing the appointment. I briefly contemplated setting fire to the building so that  G would come running out in a pair of bleach-stained boxer briefs. Paranoid thoughts began to tear at the edges of my crumbling composure, and I wondered if the two of them could have gone out the night before and encountered something more grim than the usual women in tube tops. The rational side of my brain and the sphere convinced they were both residing in large vats of formaldehyde battled against the other, resulting in a dozen voicemail messages of the I’m really starting to worry that you’re dead, which is making me feel scared and sad, but I’m also about to miss this appointment that was impossible to get so dead is really the only excuse I’m accepting variety.

Finally accepting the futility of the situation, I drove to the doctor’s office for my appointment that began 20 minutes prior. I frantically ushered the kids into the building, promising lollipops, llama rides, and Dora as their new nanny between gritted teeth, if they just remained quiet and still while the doctor ran through her repertoire. After a tearful explanation to the woman at the front desk, whose contempt for me and my kids was as evident as the sciatica pillow underneath her rump, she waved me into an exam room. Once inside, I placed Dom in one chair while Eve sat beside him, mischief emanating from their eyes which scanned the room wildly for fragile and costly medical apparatus. Liv remained in her carseat on the floor beside the examination table. I smiled reassuringly at everyone while silently praying that that doctor be an empathetic Mormon polygamist or an undocumented Octomom with way too many children of her own.

The look that passed over her face when she entered the room clearly conveyed otherwise.

While the kids danced tauntingly close to crossing the line of pandemonium, the doctor studied the spot I indicated concern over.  She determined it to be a pre-cancerous segment that would need to be removed. She gently inquired if I would like to reschedule the procedure to a more convenient time, blithely unaware that convenience sauntered out of my life years ago, arms linked with free time and personal hygiene. I insisted that the removal occur immediately and that the kids would cooperate beautifully. Just as she raised the bottle of liquid nitrogen into position under my left eye, Liv released a gut-wrenching cry from her location on the floor.

Reflexively I jerked my face out of the spray trajectory, hoping my orbital socket wasn’t now an empty cavity. I exhaled with relief, partially because I was glad to still have the power of sight but mostly because I’d been spared bringing all of my kids to the Optometrist for an emergency eyeball fitting. She faltered before sheepishly asking if I wanted to continue. Just as I began to nod emphatically, fully in favor of her completing my face melting in front of my impressionable onlookers, Liv began to cry in that way that only babies and Meryl Streep can muster: the red-faced and breathless sob.

To quiet the hysteria I did something that no amount of medical training or watching of Grey’s Anatomy could have prepared this Dermatologist for.  I did something I hope to never acquiesce to again while sitting bare-assed atop crinkly exam table paper.

I nursed a baby.

While that doctor performed cryosurgery on the soft tissue of my cheek, the icy spray of the liquid nitrogen mere inches above the scalp of my infant’s head, I breastfed a baby. Anyone who champions for the beauty and wonder of breastfeeding has never had to do it with her Dermatologist straining to keep her eyes off exposed areola. The shame washed over me much like the liquified gas from her canister. Unable to identify what bothered me more – the fact my husband might be dead, or that I had pre-cancer, or that this office would forever talk about that crazy breastfeeding lady, or that my hope to discreetly inquire about a little Botox had been dashed by the feeding demands of an infant – my thoughts were interrupted by the vibration of a text message sent to my cell phone.

So sorry. I overslept and my phone was on silent.

Considering I’d lost all credibility and dignity with my physician already I considered asking her to send the vial containing the floating mole I also had removed home with me.

It would make a nice anniversary gift.