I have cancer.
I wasn’t going to make this a blog post, but as I’ve tried to work through this over the past few weeks, it’s become really clear that I need to. One, because this blog is where I figure life out. This is where I go to share what I’m going through and work through it. Also, since getting this news I’ve sat down to write about other things, regularly scheduled content, and it just didn’t feel important. This is all I’ve wanted to write about. And lastly, I’ve been searching the internet trying to find someone, anyone, to tell me it was ok to feel the way I feel and I found nothing, so I’m writing this in hopes that it will help someone like me in the future.
Here is my disclaimer if you choose to read ahead. This is probably not going to be my best, most well-written post. This post may jump around and it may not make perfect sense. It’s probably going to be a little messy. It may be disjointed or feel incomplete. I’m writing this to get my feelings and thoughts out. And I’m writing this in hopes that it might help someone out there like me not feel as guilty or as alone.
I have basal cell carcinoma. It is a type of skin cancer. The most common type of skin cancer. It is slow growing, not very aggressive, and when caught early, usually curable…I’ll circle back to this later.
I have spent my entire life scared of skin cancer, melanoma specifically, but skin cancer nonetheless. My dad was diagnosed with melanoma when I was a baby and he was “cured” or so we thought until he got sick at my high school graduation and shortly after passed away from melanoma that was traced back to the original spot they found when I was a baby.
Skin cancer has been a part of my life, my vocabulary, and my day-to-day actions my entire life. Growing up I was always super aware of sun exposure and sunblock. Anytime I’d go to the beach or the river or the park I would be covered in sunblock. When I would be sent out with my family or friends’ families all the adults always knew they had to make sure I didn’t burn.
But no one is perfect and sunburns happen. And when they did I would panic. My anxiety would go through the roof. I would cry and worry. I was convinced that sunburn was going to give me cancer.
As an adult, I was super careful about tracking my skin, monitoring moles, and getting annual checks. I was on top of my stuff. I knew there was a genetic component to it and I knew my dad had not only caught it young (40s) and died young (late 50s). I knew there was a good chance I would someday have to fight the fight too. But I was determined I would catch it early and although I was watching it, I never thought I’d have to start my fight this early, (in my 30s). The average age for diagnosis is in your 60s.
Now thankfully I don’t have melanoma, but I do have skin cancer and that has been really hard for me to come to terms with.
I had my annual exam in February of this year and my dermatologist (a new dermatologist) found nothing. I didn’t feel great about the exam. He didn’t seem to pay much attention and just quickly scanned me, but I didn’t have any spots at the time that I was actually worried about so I let it go and figured I’d get a new dermatologist next year when I had better insurance.
Then in July, I noticed a new weird mole pop up on my neck. It was small, but it didn’t look like anything I’d ever seen before, so I went to my doctor to get a referral back to my dermatologist. When my doctor looked at it, she said it was nothing, but I insisted on the referral. When I got to the dermatologist, they said it was nothing, but I insisted on a biopsy.
I found the mole in July, I finally got the biopsy in early October. The results came in on November 9. The dermatologist’s office called me and let me know the biopsy came back positive and I had basal cell carcinoma. I simultaneously froze and started to fall apart as the dermatologist’s office explained the diagnosis and the treatment. (I wear a Fitbit now and I can track the minute they said cancer, my heart rate shot up.)
Basal cell carcinoma is the most common cancer with 3.6 million cases annually in the US. It is slow growing, not very aggressive, and rarely metastasizes. When caught early it can usually be treated by just removing the cancer tissue. And with the Mohs procedure, which is what I will be getting, there is a 99% cure rate. So it’s bad news, but as I said when I started telling people, “it’s the best bad news.”
If I have to get cancer I guess this is the cancer to get, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is cancer. I realize how lucky I am, and I realize it could be much worse. I’m so thankful that I caught it early, and I know I’m probably going to be just fine, but I still have cancer and that is still scary.
Since getting the diagnosis, I have been really struggling with my emotions around this. I have been scared, and sad, and angry, and all that has made me feel so guilty. I can’t help how I feel, but I also can’t help feeling like I don’t deserve those feelings. There’s this little voice in the back of my head saying my cancer isn’t real enough, or serious enough, or scary enough. That little voice has been telling me that my feelings don’t matter. That my feelings aren’t justified.
So I turned to the internet. I figured if over 3 million people a year get this diagnosis someone else out there has to feel like I do. I wanted someone to tell me it was ok to feel the way I feel. And I found nothing. All I found online made me feel even more alone. Made my feelings feel even less validated. I felt like I had no right to be sad or scared when there are people out there really fighting for their lives.
So I tried to ignore my feelings, but that didn’t work. It made them worse.
Finally, I started opening up little by little to my husband about how I was feeling. Both the part about me being scared and sad and about feeling like I didn’t have a right to feel that way. And after many late nights and long talks, a part of me still feels like I shouldn’t feel this way, but I also know that it’s ok to feel this way.
Cancer is cancer, and no one wants to be told they have it. It’s a scary word. It’s a scary diagnosis. And no matter how prepared you think you are for it, it’s ok if you’re not. I always thought I’d have to fight this fight someday, I just never thought I’d be in my 30s. But even with that, hearing those words was a blow. It hurt and it caught me off guard.
No matter what that little voice in my head is telling me, my feelings are just that, they are my feelings and they matter. They are valid and they are earned. Just because things should be ok, and things could be worse, that doesn’t mean I’m not allowed to be scared and sad. I was careful, I took steps to avoid this, and I watched my dad die. All the emotions I am feeling around this diagnosis are coming from somewhere and it’s ok for me to feel them and acknowledge them.
And I want anyone reading this to know that whatever they are feeling is ok too. This is your diagnosis and you get to feel however you need to feel.
Cover image by Erik Karits from Pixabay
Beautifully written Alex. I’m so sorry about your diagnosis. Here for you!
Thank you Amy.
We just had spent the evening together. I never would have thought anything was wrong. Having lost many people in my life to cancer, it’s so hard and scary. Like you said, “Cancer is Cancer”! Your feelings matter! We barely know each other, this I know. Please, what ever I can do to make you feel like someone really cares! Call me
Hello, I am fair skinned, blond hair. I’m bald now. 68 years old. I developed a strange dark brown crusty mole, about the size of a dime on the top of my head. Slightly soft. Also a crusty light brown brown patch on my cheek. I applied Aloe from a leaf my wife bought at the grocery store. Twice a day and after 1 week the one on top started to stiffen up and shrink. After 11/2 months it flattened out and was an about the size of a BB and fell off. You can’t tell where it was now. The one on my cheek comes and goes. The skin “cover” peals off occasionally. I won’t go to the doctor. My personal feelings about knives and drugs keeps me away from them.
It’s worth a try and doing something instead of just worrying might be half the battle.