I’ve been updating this post offline for months, but was too chicken to publish until I knew if there’d be a happy ending. Spoiler alert: there was. Woohoo!
There’s a mole on my forearm, two inches above the wrist, that Gareth has christened Wally.
“When are you going to do something about Wally?” he keeps saying, “I don’t like the look of him.”
I’d asked my Dunfermline doctor about it in 2012 and again in the summer of 2013. Both times she said it was nothing to be concerned about, but the second time I insisted on getting it checked anyway.
She wrote a referral to the specialist but with waiting times, I’d moved to Inverness by the time an appointment came through.
So I visit a new GP, who says she can remove it at the surgery, rather than restart the referral process.
“It’s up to you though,” she says, “It looks innocent and doesn’t need to come off. The scar would be bigger than the mole itself.”
I’m a total wusspants about needles and gore so briefly consider leaving it, but end up booking in. It’s annoying and I keep knocking it on things. And it does seem to be getting darker and taller, rising like a rogue panettone.
Is 36 too old to ask for a jellybean? I try not to vom as the doctor digs away at my arm. I inform the doc and the nurse that the mole is named Wally and they crack up.
“Did you want to take a photo before we chop him out?”
“No thanks, I don’t want to see his sorry mug again!”
The nurse holds up a little vial with the floating blob of tissue. “Say goodbye to Wally! He’s off to Raigmore now!”
One week later
The doctor calls me in to talk about the test results.
“Unfortunately it turns out you have a malignant melanoma. I have to say I’m completely flabbergasted. It did not look suspect, at all.”
I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say “flabbergasted” out loud before. It sounds charming with her English accent.
The report says the tumour is quite deep, possibly larger than the biopsied area. Further excavation is be required. So the GP writes an urgent referral to the dermatologist at the hospital.
I feel shellshocked. But being an Aussie I know a gazillion people who’ve routinely had these things chopped out, no worries.
All I can think about how is how Wally was born and bred entirely in Scotland. I’ve spent nearly eleven years trying to convince the locals that even though their sun is pissweak and elusive, it still wants you dead. And now I have PROOF! I feel strangely triumphant, but kinda shitscared.
Raigmore Hospital has a SYSTEM. Holy crap I love a good system! Instead of a baffling array of ologies and ists and isms, they’ve sorted the departments into numbered categories. So instead of wandering around for hours trying to find where you’re meant to be, you just report to your number.
The dermatologist is a funny guy, combining bluntness with a calm, “let’s keep our heads here” that I find reassuring.
He begins by explaining Wally’s size. “1mm, we’d be concerned, so 4mm? That’s a thick one”.
I must have looked a bit blank so he says, “You do appreciate what a melanoma is?”.
“Oh yeah, I grew up in Australia!”
“You grew up in Australia?”
“Yes. But I was always fanatical about sun protection!”
He pulls a face like I’d told him I’d camped on the surface of the sun itself.
He explains that it could be a simple matter of taking a wider chunk from my arm and that’s it. Or it could be that the rebel cells have spread since they’ve been there quite awhile. There’s something about his matter of fact way tone that almost makes me laugh. I feel kinda humbled and powerless. What can I do about any of this? All I can do is wait and deal with it as it comes.
He looks over my galaxy of freckles then feels my lymph areas. He notices the Fitbit clipped to my bra. “Now what is that thing?”.
“It’s a Fitbit. Like a pedometer.”
“Oh really?” he raises an eyebrow and grins, “Or is it actually… a recording device? And a hidden camera too? Are you from Channel 4 Dispatches or BBC Panorama?”
He says the procedure is too involved for a local surgery, so the next step is a consultation with the Plastic Surgery department.
Afterwards, Gareth and I flee to the Dores Inn for that mega scone.
A week later
The plastic surgeon says they’ll do a wide local excision, which means going out about 3cm in each direction from the original site. This is to catch anything left behind and to help prevent it coming back.
Because of the melanoma depth, family history, and my young age (sorry doc, say that last one again?), they’ll also do a sentinel lymph node biopsy, which involves injecting radioactive isotopes into the Wally Area. That will light up the nearest lymph nodes in my armpit. They’ll remove those nodes then test them to see if the cancer has spread.
Apparently I will wind up with a cool scar and a kind of dent in my arm. I poll my friends for crafty ways to explain it. It’s where the aliens implanted the chip. It’s a skateboard ramp for tiny squirrels. I decide to go with, a very small shark bit my arm.
The doctor calls me with surgery dates and reads out the letter from the dermatologist. “Did you know you are a Fitzpatrick Type 1? Have you heard that term before?”
“Does that mean… ginger as f*ck?”
Apparently it’s a numerical classification schema for skin colour. Type 1 is pale white; blond or red hair; blue eyes; freckles. Always burns, never tans. Yeah, that’s the fella!
The surgery is two days away and I’m bricking it. I keep thinking about the skin graft and having a piece of my thigh being welded to my forearm. I’ve never been a fan of my thighs, and now I’m going to have to look at them, on my arm, every day? That’s crazy talk.
This is getting long so I will continue later in another post!
Update: here is Part 2.