A Little Spot

Itís ironic how a small thing such as a piece of skin can change a personís life. The skin is a large enough organ that one-quarter of a square inch of it would not seem anything to be concerned about. A child can abrade a lot more than that in just one good tumble on his or her bicycle. Sometimes going through a problem with just that much skin is all it takes to cause a person to reexamine his entire life and make major changes to the way he is living.

One year ago I received a call from my wife that my oldest son needed to be picked up at school and taken to the doctor. My wife is a nurse and cannot take off work easily; so, being a father of the 1990ís, I left work and took him to the doctor. While he was being examined, I decided to ask Dr. Wilcher about a waxy, pink spot that was on my temple. He examined it and told me that of the four warning signs of skin cancer, the asymmetry, the border, and the color were borderline, but the diameter of the spot was well above the size considered safe. He suggested a biopsy to determine if it was cancerous. The biopsy was performed in the doctorís office a month and a half later, and I was informed that the lab tests would take a week to perform. The doctor promised to call me if it was cancerous. A week later, with no call from the doctor, I was completely unconcerned, at least until my wife called me from work on Sunday to tell me she had talked to Dr. Wilcher. Without coming out and telling her what I had, which would be unethical, he conveyed to her that it was a Basal Cell Carcinoma. The next day we went to his office and he explained about the cancer. He told me that of all the skin cancers to have, this was the best type to have; but this did not allay any of my fears. His office had also set up an appointment with a plastic surgeon later in the week for another examination and to plan the course of treatment to be taken. The surgeon had not received my records prior to my appointment. All he knew was the type of cancer I had, but not the location. It did not make me feel better when he said "That big thing?" after seeing the cancer.

It was hard to believe this had happened to me. Except for a little extra weight I had always been in good health and was only thirty-three. I had always made sure the kids were protected from ultraviolet radiation. The problem was, I never worried about my own protection. My uncle had asked me about this spot six years earlier, but during the time, I was not concerned about it. Now, I wanted nothing more than to get it off. Increasingly, I found myself looking at it in the mirror while I waited for the surgery.

The surgery was performed one week later. Outwardly, I tried to appear unnerved by everything that was going on. I kept referring to my head cancer and calling cancer the K word. Inside I was more apprehensive than ever. Lying on the table breathing heavy and telling jokes seemed to help me through the experience. After the surgeon had anesthetized the area, he quickly cut and removed an elliptical piece of skin around the cancer. This piece was sent by courier to a lab, to be frozen and the edges examined for abnormal cells. If any abnormalities were discovered, the surgeon would have to remove more tissue to ensure a complete removal. While the lab was doing their work, the surgeon used an electric pencil to burn the bleeders, which filled the air with the smell of burning flesh. He then undercut the skin surrounding the incision, and he and the nurse pulled it together while he sutured it. The relief came when the lab called to tell the nurse that the cancer had all been removed. Only ten minutes after the call, I was dressed and making my escape from the hospital. I didnít realize it at the time, but the easy part was over.

The hard part was the self-assessment that took place afterward. There were so many things that I wanted to do: books to read, projects to build in the garage, and things to learn. The memory of a friend I had not seen in ten years bothered me until I finally called him up and talked to him. My studies at Sinclair Community College had been stopped for some time, and I decided that one way or another I was going back to finish my associate degree. Spending time with my children also became more important. That is how I found myself spending a great deal of the spring and summer out on a baseball diamond coaching T-ball and really enjoying it. Joining Tiger Cubs with my younger son was another activity that I started. These things are sometimes an awful lot on top of the other responsibilities of being an adult, but I still enjoy them no matter how tiring they can be. Watching television is an activity I have cut down on, but when I do watch it, I always try to do something else at the same time. My time has become very precious to me.

Life is full of things that require a personís attention. It seems that some of the smaller, seemingly less important things get pushed off to the side for the time being. Sometimes they stay on the side for months or even years. Eventually, something happens to make a person aware of the existence of this list of items. Mine came in the form of a dime-sized piece of skin.

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