For about a week, I thought I might have skin cancer, and that changed how I viewed a lot things.
Let me back up: awhile back, I read this article at The Mighty: What Nobody Tells You About Self-Care. This part really stood out to me:
Sometimes taking proper care of yourself means doing the things you've been putting off. One part of the article centers around taking care of your body. Patten says, "Self-care is paper-gowned, bare-assed vulnerability, as you do the un-fun work of showing up for your Pap smear, mammogram, or enema...I’m almost 30, and I can no longer indulge the myth that I am invincible and I will never have physical health issues. Right now, self-care means getting the medical care I need, even if it is difficult and scary for me to accept I am a person who sometimes needs medical care."
I'm 35. I have a baby. It makes you think, you know? I finally scheduled an appointment with my GP about a spot on my forehead that looked like a wart. He burned it off, but that didn't take care of it, and when I went back for follow-up (like a real adult), he said it looked like a Basal Cell Carcinoma and we should biopsy it.
Old me would have freaked the fuck out. And to be honest, I did a little bit, because I have a 9 month old daughter, and I want to be there to see her grow up. But there was also a deep-seated equanimity about the whole thing. I have a daughter. This is what I do now. I figure out how to take care of this thing, and we move forward.
Because the stakes are higher now. I can't afford to panic. Panic leads to inaction. The way forward was clear -- get a biopsy and consider next steps.
And yes, I know, skin cancer (especially BCBs) are very treatable, have great odds, and for someone who grew up in Southern California, is light-skinned, and a redhead, it's almost just skin maintenance, hearing "cancer" in your doctor's office is still a bit staggering.
That diagnosis also got me to finally crack open Being with Dying, by Joan Halifax, a Buddhist teacher. Like the article above says, it's very easy to be avoidant when you have mental illness, especially anxiety, because you worry that being close to something makes it catchable.
For so long, I avoided death and dying, because I didn't want to catch it. I was afraid it would taint me. What the cancer diagnosis and Being with Dying has illuminated for me is that we all have mortality, whether we want to or not. There's nothing to catch; we are all going to die -- but how we do it and how we approach it is the part we can change.
We can cultivate compassion and strength in the face of death. We can hold our center, our equanimity, while still having an open and vulnerable heart for others. We can be with dying people and provide care and mercy, while holding on to who we are and not losing ourselves. It is a difficult place to be, but we can find it.
So, I stopped avoiding everything. I'm reading the book and I got the biopsy.
And it came back negative.
I don't have skin cancer. I had a sebaceous hyperplasia -- a blocked sebaceous gland (a big underground zit!) that "middle-aged and elderly" people get when their hormones make them produce too much sebum. Looks like my pregnancy hormones made that spot go a little haywire. The biopsy pretty much wiped it out, so I guess I don't have to worry about it anymore.
I feel very relieved, and also grateful. If this hadn't happened, I wouldn't be doing the very important work facing my own mortality that I am doing now. It is vital, and I'm glad I'm doing it.
So, if you are putting off medical stuff, I urge you to go take care of it. We've only got this one life, friends. As the wise sage Jerry Springer woulds say, let's take care of ourselves, and each other.