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.

– – –

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.

– – –

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.


  1. Unfortunately I spent wayyyy too many hours in the sun when I was younger and was stupid about it, also. Now that I’m older I’m very careful (as I’m totally making Nick) but sometimes I get scared that something is coming on my skin.

    I’m so glad you’re okay!


  2. Skin cancer is one of the easiest cancers to help prevent. Sadly, most of us love the sun too much to understand the damage it does.

    I’m happy you were able to take care of this situation before it got worse.

    I’ve been a volunteer at the American Cancer Society (shameless plug: for about a decade now and preach about this stuff.

    Thanks for sharing your story and helping others see how serious the sun can be. :)


  3. I hate that word. But you probably already knew that.

    The only thing worse than that word is finding out you’re not as invincible as you thought. Heed our dear Uncle’s warning. For your own sake.

    Preach too much and we may have to resort to calling you ReverendCrappy…


  4. Y’all listen to Caroline. She knows a thing or two about this.

    But: Reverend Crappy? That’s never gonna happen.

    Kim: In this ONE instance, I’ll accept being the wise old guy.


  5. Always listen to your Uncle Crappy…and Mary Schmich!

    I come from an Eastern European background, but by luck, I never managed to burn. That is, until my first trip to the New Jersey shore at 19. The sunblock I wore wasn’t enough, and I woke up with blisters all over my back. They went away after a week.

    I’m still uncertain if the blisters were something to worry about. They never came back. However, these days I slather on the sunblock every two hours and wear a good facial moisturizer with SPF every day.

    I will also recommend that if you are going to be outdoors, get some clothes that are UV-resistant.

    UC, I am glad that you took this seriously and talked to your doctor about it. Many people would have ignored it!


  6. I’m so glad to hear that you’ve had the area removed and things look good. Here’s to doctors who favor quick action!

    As a mushroom-pale person with a love for computer screens, I had little reason to spend much of the sunny season outdoors. This only reaffirms my plan. :)


  7. I’m glad you are ok. My Grandpa had Melanoma, but he worked outside on roofs and by the river almost his whole life, I’m sure shirtless. So I go to the Dermatologist every year just to get checked out. I’m very pale and have lots of moles already. I’ve had several removed, luckily they were all just normal moles. I’m in the same boat as you, I didn’t care much until I was about 19….pretty young, but I’m still afraid not young enough.
    Thanks for sharing.


  8. UC: Thanks for the solid advice. I’m a preacher too, having gone under the knife a couple of times for this stuff. Let me add this one tidbit. Your predisposition for this type of cancer is strongly tied to heredity. I offer my family as exhibit one. My mom, sister and I have all had melonomas removed. Your family should keep a watchful eye on their bods.

    So what do I do now? I dip myself in a 55 gallon drum of sunscreen (minimum 30 SBF) before going out in the sun. Like Achilles, I’m only vulnerable at the heel.


  9. Great I’m 33. another thing for me to worry about. There is a reason why I don’t leave my house and if I do its in a bubble.

    I’m glad you had it taken care of crappy. Yer a mentor to us younger dumbasses.

    The sun and I don’t usually get along. Heck I got burned on the March of Dimes walk.

    Oh yeah if you do want to become a reverend I can help you out :)


  10. The dermatological community thanks you.

    The sun and I have never been good friends. I’ve been a sunscreen devotee since my teens, and my children regularly get slathered in “magic lotion”.

    Thanks for your wise words. I’m glad you are well and taking care of business. And that you put that hammock in the shade.



  11. aw geez, i’m glad you got that taken care of… but now i’m overly paranoid about that little spot on my upper lip. aaagh….


  12. I had skin cancer removed right after jr. was born. I go once a year for a full body check-up, and I always wear sunscreen. I am glad you are a take-care convert!

    I am so glad you’re okay, because I don’t want to live in a world without Crappy.


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