" This is not good," said my 19 year old dermatologist as he looked at a spot on my scalp. "This is coming off."
For the last 10 years I have been going to the dermatologist on a fairly regular basis due to chronic eruptions of spots on my scalp called "Solar Keratosis." When I was first diagnosed by the doctor I had then, who has since retired, he told me that the spots got started when I was a kid playing outside. And probably all the time I spent on the tennis court didn't help matters any.
"Yeah," Dr. Keeran said. "We tell folks to get out and be active in the fresh air. Well, this is what can happen. All your years of baseball, running and tennis. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle that any doctor would approve of. Now this. Ironic, isn't it?"
"Yeah," I said I was I recoiled from the blasts of liquid nitrogen. " Petty damn ironic."
And so, I examine my skin on a pretty regular basis. And a few days ago, I noticed one of the spots on my scalp looked darker than the other spots. So I made an appointment even though my next scheduled appointment was in September. I'm glad I did.
After looking at my scalp, 19 began intently studying my face and ears.
"Notice anything different on shoulders, neck or back?"
"No," I said.
"Good," he replied. "But that spot has got to come off. And I mean, with a scalpel this time. I need you to let me do this."
"OK," I said. "Do what you have to do."
After he had finished hacking on me he put the offending spot in a plastic jar. He turned and started writing in the chart.
"Am I going to die of skin cancer?"
It just came out of my mouth. What a pussy thing to say.
"Not today you're not," he said as he furiously wrote in the chart. As an aside, I don't see how that will provide him any useful information. You should see his handwriting. It is illegible by doctor standards. I had a pharmacist ask me once which doc at Little Rock Dermatology signed a prescription that 19 had given me to fill. And pharmacists can read anything.
Anyway, he rolled the chair around to face me.
"Look," he said. " If it is anything it is most likely squamous cell. And if it is squamous cell, I probably just took care of the problem. If it is the next likely culprit, I probably just took care of that too."
"Here's what's gonna happen. I'm gonna look at it under the microscope. Then we're gonna send it off and you'll get a call in a couple of days."
Hand on shoulder.
"Try not to worry, Mr. Bowen. No get out of here before I think of something else to do to you."
"Well," I said to myself as I rode down the elevator. "at least he didn't send me straight to the hospital like they did Andy."
My buddy Andy went to the GP with a sore hip. Andy played baseball in college. Figured it was arthritis or something. 3 months later he was dead from melanoma cancer. He was 50 maybe. 19 didn't send me off to the med school the same day like Andy's doc did.
Then again, up until the other day 19 had never referred to me as "Mr. Bowen" either. My overactive mind wondered what that meant. If anything.
As a friend's doctor told her, "If you live long enough stuff just starts happening. Mother Nature didn't really design us to live as long as we live."
So stuff starts happening.
And I am not complaining. Like most folks my age I have a few chronic medical conditions. Much to the shock of both myself and the cardiologist, I have a lot of plaque in my arteries. Bad genes. I have asthma and allergies. Not my fault. I have arthritic changes going on in my lower back. Ditto.
It's frustrating because I really didn't do any of this stuff to myself. As the cardiologist says, "What am I gonna do? Tell you to quit smoking? Take up exercise? Lose 50 pounds?" I'm very lucky that all of these issues are being followed and managed well by an armada of exquisitely gifted people in white coats. My biggest issue is the asthma especially in this heat. And if that's the worst that happens to me I will be truly blessed. Check that. I am truly blessed.
But, like every sane person, I didn't want to be any where in the same Area Code as the "Big C." Luckily, I wasn't there for long. 19's office called to say that the biopsy revealed that the spot was pre-cancerous. No golf or other prolonged exposure to sun on that incision cite for a week. Otherwise, see you in September.
I'm not going to die from skin cancer. At least not today I'm not. I'm blessed. And I know it.
And now maybe 19 will go back to calling me "Paul" again.