Dear Neighbor

Dear Neighbor,

I’ll never know what possessed you to to confide in me last fall.  I’d only stopped by to see if you and your son wanted to come out and frolic with us on one of the last warm days of the year.  You opened the door with a bandage on your forehead and said, “Hi.  I had skin cancer.  Can you believe it?”  You told me that after having your son a small mole had changed just enough to warrant going to the dermatologist.  “I couldn’t believe it,” you said.  “Aren’t I too young to have cancer?”  Your words made my blood run cold because my son was then 5 months old and I had snapped out of the post-baby haze enough to notice that I myself had a new mole.  I wasn’t sure when it had appeared but I thought it looked suspicious- a bit evil if truth be told.  It lurked under my collarbone, a reddish blob with some dark spots in the middle.  I couldn’t prove it but I had a feeling the dark spots were…. growing.

I found a doctor, something I hadn’t needed since our move from Maryland (aside from the midwife).  She told me that with moles we look at the ABCDE’s.  Asymmetry, borders, color, diameter, evolving.  “You’re borderline for concern,” she told me.  “Here’s a dermatologist referral if you’d like to follow up.”  That was all.  It was placed in my hands and I spent the next couple months unconcerned.  After the term ended and the holidays passed I found myself finally setting up an appointment at the dermatologist where a tall woman with a unibrow seconded my original assessment.  “I don’t like the look of it,” she told me.  “I advise you to get rid of it immediately.  It’s never worth the worry.”  She raised her eyebrow meaningfully.  “Oh yes, I’ll make an appointment, shall I?” I told her.  I got the feeling that very few people ever disagreed with her.  Something about the unibrow combined with the 6 foot frame made her a force to be reckoned with.

Three weeks after the removal of the mole I found myself sitting on a surgery table while a lovely surgeon patted my knee and tears ran down my face.  “Stage 1,” he repeated.  “You are so lucky- it was a melanoma- but it we caught it at stage 1.”  Of course I knew it was a possibility.  It’s why I’d gone in after all.  And yet hearing the words out loud caused a flood of emotion  that was completely unexpected.  Relief was the prominent feeling but also fear for what might have happened if I hadn’t taken the time to be checked out.  A dramatic image of my two tiny children standing with my husband in an alternate reality where they were suddenly motherless, and he widowed, came to mind.  The assistant brought me tissues and a glass of water.  My hands became so cold I couldn’t feel them for the rest of the day.  I took a breath, got a grip, and drove home to tell my husband that 34 year olds can get cancer just as easy as pie.

It’s not over.  I’ll need to go in again for another surgery in April where they will cut a wide margin around the cancer site.  They will stitch me up again, send me on my way and we will all hope that the results come back clean and tidy.

So neighbor, you may have saved my life.  At the very least you caused an awareness that moles can be some scary shit.  I can’t thank you enough for trusting me.  I can’t thank you enough for telling me something that must have still been hard to say out loud.  It is uncanny that two moms living side by side on a rural Maryland road found ourselves with evolving post-birth moles.  It is especially uncanny that you took a moment to bring this awareness into being.

The moral should be clear but in case it isn’t….. get your moles checked out.  Check your children and check your partners.  And if they find something scary don’t be afraid to talk about it.  You might save a life.

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