Around the late summer, I went to Murray Hill Dermatology and saw a dermatologist I’d seen several times, Dr. Rabbin, for my annual skin check. I showed her a dark spot on my leg that was kind of worrying me for no good reason. It was small, flat and fairly boring looking. Dr. Rabbin told me it was fine. She declined to biopsy or scrape and showed me some scary photos of melanoma to demonstrate how normal my skin was. Nonetheless, I had a funny feeling and it was bugging me so I decided to make an appointment with a second dermatologist. I couldn’t get in to see anyone for a month and then it was actually a PA, not an MD, but the PA was very nice. She took a look at the little spot and said it was probably nothing but that “We trust gut feelings” so she said she’d do a scrape and a biopsy. I felt better and forgot all about it until I got a message from the PA, saying to call her right away, with a direct dial that skips reception. You know that’s not so good. I called her and she said the pathology report came back and it was “malignant melanoma but early.” I couldn’t believe it. I was shocked. I’d always been told melanoma affects only those who had serious sunburns in that area (I hadn’t) or a family history of it (none that I was aware of). According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, one person dies of melanoma EVERY HOUR and an “estimated 73,870 new cases of invasive melanoma will be diagnosed in the US in 2015. An estimated 9,940 people will die of melanoma in 2015. Melanoma accounts for less than two percent of skin cancer cases, but the vast majority of skin cancer deaths.” (http://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/skin-cancer-facts) . It’s the most common form of cancer for young adults 25-29 years old and the second most common form of cancer for young people 15-29 years old and once you get it, you’re nine times more likely than someone who hasn’t to get it again. See id.
Getting a call like that is not cool. Three days later, they had me in for surgery and the surgeon said, “Well, you’re going to have a sizeable scar.” I was thinking, “If I get to stay alive, I will be happy to trade a scar for that.” This was right before Thanksgiving. I asked when I might get the pathology results and the admin staff was quite blasé. They said, “Well, you know how it is, it’s the holidays. Might take some time.” Of course. The holidays. Take your time, lab people, while I sit here in anguish wondering if I will ever get to be 40 years old. Before, I didn’t want to turn 40 but now I really, really want to turn 40 … and 50 … and 60 … and so on. The Monday following Thanksgiving, I called the office again and the admin was very snippy with me. She said, “I have no idea why it’s taking so long; it has been 10 days but…well, it’s the holidays. Have some patience.” I tried very hard to be polite and said, “Sure, but I am just worried. I know I’m bothering you and I don’t want to do that but do you have a rough idea when I could call back?” She was like, “No.” Thanks. Thanks, Lady. One thing I am discovering about doctors in the US is that a lot of their staff and sometimes the doctors themselves lack basic bedside manner and, even in the so-called “fancy” offices, they’re rushed, don’t take time with the patients and can be brusque and rude. It’s like they forgot this is someone’s LIFE they’re addressing. I understand becoming inured to hurt and pain after seeing it over and over, but maybe just pretend you feel warmth – it will make the patient feel better – especially the office staff! It’s not as though they’re in the trauma ward all day. This isn’t to say I am not so grateful to have had a doctor to do this biopsy and this surgery! I am! And the surgeon seemed really skilled and talented, which is, of course, a good thing.
The other thing besides the waiting that was frightening was the idea that the original doctor was so sure the spot was nothing and declined to even scrape it. What if I’d just said ok and not sought a second dermatologist out? The answer is painfully obvious.
Then there’s the scar. The funny thing is I kind of like it. It reminds me I am strong. It reminds me I am alive. For now. It gives me character. I am ok with a scar.
If you’re reading this, my only take away is that if you have a funny feeling about something having to do with your health, check it out and, if you don’t agree what the doctor tells you, get another opinion. Doctors are fallible and you know your body better than anyone else. Don’t let yourself be bullied or intimidated by someone just because she or he uses big words and has a bunch of diplomas on the wall. And, if you would, wish me luck.