A few years back, I decided have a doctor look at a little sore on my shoulder, that one that didn’t want to heal. It had been there for nearly two years. It would dry up, and I think it was finally going away; then, out of nowhere, it would blister again.
I had no idea what it was, but I wasn’t prepared to hear what my doc told me — I had skin cancer.
When I went to see a dermatologist today, I knew what was coming. The dime-sized red blotch on my shoulder was behaving just like the first one did. I didn’t think she’d want to remove it right away, but she seemed to think we shouldn’t wait.
So her assistant numbed my upper arm and while I anxiously stared at the wall on the opposite side of the room while she dug the growth out.
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When I write here, I often point out my intellectual shortcomings. I do it enough that there’s a whole tag devoted to the subject of me being an idiot.
Much of the time, I’m joking. Today, I am not.
Skin cancer isn’t hard to prevent. But when I was a kid, I just didn’t do what I needed to do to avoid it later. I shrugged off my mother when she reminded me to put on sunscreen. I didn’t think anything of working outside all afternoon with my shirt off. And when I got those blistering sunburns, I just thought it was a normal part of summer.
It’s not. It’s easy to take care of. And I didn’t do it.
I’ve been lucky. My first tumor was a squamous cell growth, one of the two most common — and not especially serious — kinds. My current doc believes that’s what this one is too. Squamous tumors — and the even more common basal cell carcinomas — don’t grow quickly and are easy to treat.
That’s not to say this stuff should be taken lightly. If you’re diagnosed with melanoma, you have a serious problem, because that one moves quickly.
That’s another way I’ve been lucky. In both instances, I was a bit too nonchalant about getting these treated, and I won’t do that again. In fact, when I get these stitches removed in two weeks, I’ll also get a little dry patch on my forehead burned off as well. I’m not waiting to point these things out any more.
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Another thing I point out here frequently: most of my Pittsburgh friends are younger than I am. Guys? Before you dismiss this as more grumpy old guy talk from Uncle Crappy, here’s something to consider. That first growth showed up when I was about 33. It was removed when I was 35.
Not so old, right?
I try really hard to avoid being too serious here, and I’ll stop with the preachy in just a second. However: wear sunscreen. Put on a hat. Stay out of the tanning bed. If you have a mole that changes size or color, if you discover a little patch of dry skin that doesn’t go away, if you have a sore that doesn’t want to heal, ask a doctor about it.
It might only be a basal cell or squamous cell growth. It might not be anything.
Or it might be something much worse. Don’t take that chance. I want to be friends with yinz guys for years to come.