Sunburns + Fair Skin + Blue Eyes = Skin Cancer

“What?” I hadn’t heard him the first time.

He repeated: “In my opinion, this is likely basal cell carcinoma.” Seeing my look of consternation, he added, “Well, what I can tell you is that if you were going to get any kind of cancer, this would be the one to get.”

I had a biopsy last week on a red bump on the side of my face that wouldn’t go away. On Friday they called with the results: skin cancer. Actually, a physician’s word choice is interesting – at first they call it “basal cell carcinoma” as if they don’t want to use the word “cancer” when talking to you. Then they sort of ease the “c” word into the conversation a little later. I went in today to have my sutures removed from the biopsy, and they told me about the surgery I’m going to need to have. Surgery to remove the “tumor.” There was the “t” word – I’d been waiting to hear it.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. The main factors that contribute to this are time spent outdoors, skin type, and hours of sunlight where you live. As a young, pasty-faced white kid with blue eyes, who grew up in Arizona and practically lived in the pool… yeah, you could say I’d be on the short list.

Nevertheless, I have to say that I’m not really sure how to react to the news. When I hear the word “cancer” a million things flash through my head: the incredible battle that Scott fought. The incredulity when Julie was subsequently diagnosed and the ordeal that followed her. The stories of Blair, Jens, Jonathan, and all the Team in Training honorees that I’ve raced with, and for, in the past few years. When I think of these things I am terrified to utter the word.

But skin cancer? What is that? I don’t know what to feel. I need surgery, yes. But this type of cancer doesn’t typically metastacize and I won’t need any other medical treatment, aside from some cosmetic work to make sure I don’t end up with a big scar on the side of my face. I look at these facts and think “hey, ok, that’s not so bad.” It’s kind of like just getting a wart removed or something. I almost don’t feel entitled to use the term.

But then they tell you some additional stats in some serious tones:

Patients who have had one skin tumor have a 40% greater risk of developing new tumors in the next five years, including melanoma – the one you *really* don’t want to get. And because I’m so young and these things compound with age, I have an extremely high likelihood of recurrence.

They tell you they’re going to want to see you every 3 months for the next year, every 6 months for 4 more years, and at least every year for the rest of your life after that.

They tell you that you have to wear sunscreen – every single day.

And then it doesn’t seem quite so minor anymore.

I don’t really know how to wrap up this post because I’m not sure where my head is at yet. Michelle has been a trooper – this weekend was a bit of a rollercoaster, one day me saying it’s no big deal, and the other day freaking out – not so much about the current situation, but just because I’m only 33 and am not ready to start stressing out about every spot that appears on my skin for the rest of my life.

I’m headed back for surgery on October 2nd…


~ by Nathan on September 17, 2007.

4 Responses to “Sunburns + Fair Skin + Blue Eyes = Skin Cancer”

  1. Hi Nathan. I remember years at the beach with no sun protection. I wasn’t even scared of skin cancer… “no worries mate!” I have several good friend who have had basel cell c’s cut out on a regular basis, and I kind of admired their scars. Then one day after a visit to my dermotologist, I got the call that changed my life. When a Doc calls and makes room for you on his schedule the next day, it’s usually a good indication that something serious is going down. I was “blessed” with dyspalatic maligmant melanoma & squamour cell carcinoma. After multiple surgeries, I can now say that I’m a 4 year cancer survivor. I am also a strong voice for sun safety. it’s a plea that many don’t want to hear. I see my Derm every three months, and have more stuff cut off on a regular basis…so be smart. My prayers for a quick recovery,Bob.

  2. ps…I forgot to mention that I am hazel eyed and brown hair, but my family has a historuy of lots of moles. I believe that there is a major genetic component to melanoma.

  3. Honey, you are entitled to feel anyway you want. Cancer is cancer no matter how ‘minor’ or ‘large’. Just because others have had it worse, doesn’t mean that to YOU this should be made into a small situation. Your reality is yours – and as that, you should be allowed to feel the way you feel. That being said, I have been feeling the same way you have. Confused about my feelings, lack of worry, too much worry… and the future. We’ve been through lots of things so far in this marriage, if we can survive the past – we can definitely survive our future. Together.

  4. Nathan, I just saw your wife’s comment…man are you blessed! My wife was a hero during my adventure. From day one, I had many conflicting thoughts & emotions, and she kept me on course and balanced. It looks like you’re in a great marriage with a great woman! Lean on her when you’re scared/confused/worried/ etc. This will bring new dimensions to your marriage & life. Blessings, Bob.

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