I had a brush with death recently. No, not the usual kind that comes with driving or walking across the street or eating blowfish sushi or any of the usual day to day terrors of living in SF. No, in fact, it was the scary word "cancer" that I bumped into and hoped it wouldn't see me. I had a mole that I noticed was bleeding one day (sorry for the unpleasant detail) and instantly became concerned (read: freaked out). I know a little about skin cancer and such so I knew this was a warning sign. I rushed to the computer, naturally, and immediately looked this symptom up on the internet. I know, I know, when you look up a symptom on the internet or in a medical book of course there are a million horrible diseases that your symptoms fit into. And if you have a touch of the hypochondriac, as I'm afraid I do, then it's easy to become convinced of the worst. So I looked at all the sites I could find when I punched in "bleeding mole" and of course they all pointed to melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. I became increasingly concerned (read: terrified) as I read on and found the same answer on all the sites.
The next day I called my doctor's office. Naturally I left several messages before I was finally able to get an appointment despite my imminent death but finally I got one in a week and so I just waited. I managed not to think about the horrible thing that was happening to me (I thought) and went about the usual business of my life. But every now and then a creeping thought would pop into my mind--imagining chemotherapy and my hair falling out, thinking about taking a class in a month and wondering if I would be strong enough to manage--all silly things that I knew would probably not be an issue. But there was that niggling doubt, that little thing in my brain that said 'people do get cancer, you could theoretically have cancer, just because you're a bit of a hypochondriac doesn't mean something might not be really wrong with you.' So I waited, trying not to think about my mole but putting my face up to every mirror I came across to examine it closely, see if it was asymetrical or if the color or size had changed. Everytime I looked at it it seemed different to me, this mutant item that I'd become so used to and now seemed like a living thing trying to take over my life.
To make things worse, during this time a coworker of mine at a different office was struck all of a sudden, with no warning, with Bell's Palsy, a facial paralysis that results from many things including an infection in the nerves behind the ear. It comes out of the blue for most people and some are able to recover while some have it for the rest of their lives. She's 29 years old. And there it was--proof that the universe is randomly cruel, that at any moment anyone could be struck with anything, from Bell's Palsy to a car to cancer. And here I was still waiting for my doctor's appointment.
I saw my doctor yesterday, well, not my doctor but a doctor--I've never actually seen my primary care doctor--and, after a two hour wait in the treatment room, she finally came in, looked at the offending creature, and declared it fine. She said moles on the face often have lots of veins and mine was one of them and it was probably just bleeding from a light trauma that I didn't even realize I'd had. I wondered if it might have been a scrape from my sunglasses. From cancer to sunglasses. The relief was impressive (read: bouncing up and down inside). I had her glance at my other moles and she said they were all fine. I told her how panicked I had been. I told her how I couldn't believe I might have skin cancer as I'm the one who slathers on the sun screen, whom my family has occasionally called a vampire as I shrink from the sun, who has skin so pale it's almost transparent. She told me that all the researchers, all the doctors, are just guessing, hoping, that sunscreen actually can prevent skin cancer. She said no one really knows. I wanted to laugh. The universe does as it likes and we just hope we can try to protect ourselves from it. Still, I put on my SPF15 moisturizer this morning. I might as well go on hoping. After all, for the time being anyway, I'm going to live.