Not Always Fun and Games.

Image courtesy of Kids DIscover

The other day after I got back the diagnosis, I had been debating whether or not I should write anything, whether it would just be better to forget it and move on. If I’m honest with myself though, writing something would really help, and frankly, I don’t want to forget about this moment. I want to move forward from here, but I don’t want to forget. I’m not writing this to create any sort of suspense. That would be dumb. I just spent a week in agony not knowing myself, so it would be silly to structure a blog post to mimic the situation that I abhorred, so I’ll start off by saying that I’m okay. I do not have skin cancer. What I had was a “dysplastic compound nevus with mild atypia.” Layman’s terms, an odd mole that looked and followed the same patterns and criteria as a cancerous growth without actually being one, but one that could have potentially turned into cancer if it was allowed to stay. But it was fully removed, and save for a yearly visit to the dermatologist and upgrading to SPF60, life will continue as normal. And for that, I could not be more grateful. The word “cancer” is an ugly, showstopping word. I suppose everyone would have their own unique reaction as they sit on the doctor’s table and hear words that they don’t want to hear. It doesn’t matter if you’re 5 or 50, you can still feel like a little child sitting there. I only checked myself because of a PSA someone had posted on Facebook, because I figured, “what would it hurt to look?” And when I found something that didn’t just fulfill one, but 4 out of 5 criteria, I got scared. Scared enough to make an appointment that same day at the walkin clinic and get checked. And when I heard the doctor utter the word that I was terrified of, all the surrounding words sort of became a muted, jumbled mess that didn’t really stick. Adjectives and phrases like “potentially,” “could be,” and “might be” were just rolling around in my head like marbles in a jar, and all I kept hearing was that one ugly one. Cancer. That’s what held firm. As dirty as that word is, “biopsy” felt equally frightening.

No fun.

It’s a very precarious situation to be in nowadays. The internet gives us more information than we can possibly handle, and it lets us be more informed than ever. But sometimes, it lets you be informed just enough to know something’s wrong, but not enough to actually understand. And if you don’t know for sure, it’s really easy to assume the worst. Especially when it’s potentially fatal. Easily treatable if caught early. Great. But what time period describes early? After frantically flipping through every one of my Facebook albums (that’s where everyone stores their pictures nowadays, right?), I isolated the oldest shirtless photo I could find where the right side of my back was viewable. 2009. It’s been there since at least 2009. Is more than 5 years still early? Is it too late? What if it’s been there longer? This mole still looks small, but what if it grew straight down like some do? I’m finding posts at skincancer.org from 28-year-olds that were diagnosed with class 3 melanomas, people that had no idea that this was slowly burning beneath their skin. What if it had reached my lymph nodes like them? What if it’s inside of me already? There are a group of photos on this website of small moles like mine captioned “all of these cases were fatal.” I’ve only been burned twice in my entire life, once on my back when I pounded tar paper onto the roof of a commercial building as a teenager for 80 dollars. Did I unwittingly earn 80 bucks to contract skin cancer? Reading about health conditions is a terrible idea most of the time, and maybe if I did more reading I could be better informed of other options but reading is how I got to this point right now and all that I am sure of right now is that I. AM. SCARED. What’s going to happen to me? Maybe I overreacted. Maybe I shouldn’t have been so worried. But in the week that passed between my initial appointment and the call to come in and “discuss the results” (could there be a more ambiguous phrase for them to use over the phone?), it was an up and down journey almost every day. One moment I felt like I would be fine. The next moment I was terrified that they would tell me that it was malignant and I needed radiation immediately. What I came to understand later, is that it’s easy to look at numbers and scenarios and be optimistic about them when it’s someone else. But as my mother told me earlier this week, it’s different when it’s you. It’s different when it’s your potential diagnosis, your time to wait for test results, your potential cancer. It’s not all that easy to consider the best case scenario when you and a deadly disease have been mentioned in the same sentence. I suppose I could attribute my fear to the fact that cancer is already something that I know by name. I have some very important people in my life that have had to fight this ugly disease, and sadly, you’re probably just like me in that regard. My mother has Non-Hodgkin lymphoma. My stepfather had class 3 melanoma. My grandmother had lung cancer. My most dearest friend, the sister I never had was diagnosed with brain cancer. In each case, they have fought against and have either safely managed or outright beaten their form of the disease, which is… nothing short of amazing. But cancer makes it personal. I’ve had to listen, to offer encouragement and prayers, and shed mutual tears with people I care about over it. I’ve often heard the phrase that “cancer affects everyone,” and I hate the fact that I know it. So if I became terrified at the notion that I may have a treatable-yet-highly-aggressive form of it, I suppose that can be excused. This week of being in the dark has really made me evaluate myself, which is what you do when you don’t know what will happen next. What it comes down to is, I have worried far too much about the small stuff in this life, to the point where I have let it get in the way of what is otherwise a very blessed and fulfilling journey. Do I have enough in my checking account? Am I properly saving for retirement? What’s that noise my car is making? Did I sound okay in that meeting? Should I have said hello to that person instead of being bashful? Was the phrase “sounds good” in that email genuine? Will that pole rust if I don’t do a second coat of paint? Am I being a good dad? I have three beautiful, fun, messy, loving daughters. I have a fourth child coming any moment now, and couldn’t be more excited. I am married to a woman who is exactly the kind of person who makes me unbelievably happy, and a better person by simply being herself. I have a job that I worked so very hard for, one that I adore because I get to do what I love and get paid for it. I have a great life and I am very, very fortunate to have it. And I’ll be damned if I’m going to let my silly worries take a moment away from that.

Dog walking in tiaras and one set of pajamas. Average day.

My wife oftentimes says that I’m exhausting. (She usually smiles after saying it. Usually.) I’m inclined to agree with her. The brain I have between my ears almost never shuts off, and it’s quite the double-edged sword. It makes me really good at my job and a really great problem-solver, but a potential basket case when it comes to downtime. There have been multiple instances where I can be sitting on the lounge chair, relaxing outside in the lawn that I have painstakingly manicured and not even realize that I have suddenly leaned forward and begun removing a starting patch of creeping thistle that I spotted near my foot. “Nathan. Stop pulling the weeds and re-LAX.” Then I smile bashfully because she’s right, and I take my place in the chair again. Typically, my skin does not scar all that much, and the spot where the biopsy was done will be no different. I’ll have a tiny, almost undetectable spot in the middle right of my back, and as weird as it is to say, I’m glad it will be there. I’m glad that I will be able to see it years on down the road. From now on, whenever I worry about something silly, whenever I feel like I’ve lost my focus, whenever I am sweating the small stuff, whenever I am on the verge of consuming myself with fear over things that have not yet come to pass, I am going into the nearest washroom and look at that mark. I will look at it and remember just how very fortunate that I am, that I have many days on this earth ahead of me, and that my life is far too rich to be spent worrying. 

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