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A very small shark bit my arm

Raigmore

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!

December 2013
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.

January 2014
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.

February
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”. (Edit: it was 5.3mm, I’d misremembered)

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.

March
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!

April
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.

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About Shauna Reid

Ahoy there! I’m an author, copywriter and old school blogger. I love telling stories about life and helping my clients to tell theirs. Find out more about me and how we can work together.


35 thoughts on “A very small shark bit my arm

  1. I hope you’re all OK Shauna. As a NZer (even one who can tan), I’m paranoid that I’ve got time bombs all over my body from NZ nuclear-weaponised sun burns.

    I may have been away from a (long) while but Australasian burns are the worst and I’m more worried about the lasting effects of them than the UK’s sun.

    I hope it all goes well and you’re back to normal soon – and more worried about whether to blog or not rather than whether to visit the doc or not.

    Scott F

  2. Thanks for the happy spoiler, but it sure sounds scary anyway. So good you had the instinct to get it removed! Waiting with interest for the Part II post.

  3. Scary stuff. Thanks for the spoiler and you’ve inspired me to go get some of my suspicious ones checked x

  4. Very glad of the spoiler. But you don’t fool us, it was terribly scary. I’m pale with a lot of moles, I look over myself, once went for a check – which was clear – but actually finding something is another matter entirely.

  5. Oh my, Shauna.

    How scary.

    Good on you for doing something about Wally.

    And glad the story has a happy ending.

    The middle I feel for you.

    Sounds like you only had a local anesthetic.

    Props to you.

    Big virtual hug.

    Kathy

  6. Get well soon Shauna! Thanks for sharing on your blog, very brave, inspiring and importantly highlighting that you should always get checked!!

    ps as a fellow redhead I now have learnt that I am Type 1 … always burns never tans – even tho I use factor 110 (from Vegas)! Take care x

  7. How incredibly traumatic for you – so glad to have the happy spoiler at the top of the post! Trying to convince my 19 year old F Type 2 daughter (at Uni in Scotland) who is spending the summer working at camp in sunny parts of Canada that not only sunscreen but clothing coverage is essential. She is not super good at covering up in the 37C heat, though.

  8. I’m sure I read somewhere that one bad Australian sunburn when you’re a child can result in melanomas when you’re an adult. Which means I’m screwed. Must check in with skin doctor…

    Glad to hear this has a happy ending. xo

  9. Glad Wally is outta there….good decision to take care of that thing. Hoping all is well for you. I must be a 1.5 Fitzpatrick… brownish reddish hair/ gray-to blue eyes..freckled head to toe. burns baby burns

  10. My husband Duane (Du) is a Fitzpatrick 1 as well! Red haired,freckled, blue eyes and never ever tans. His experience with melanoma was 8 years ago this summer. His melanoma was a large spot on his leg. The lymph node biopsy showed that the C had not spread there so no further treatment was needed. I hope your case had a similar happy ending. What a cliffhanger Shauna.

  11. Hi Shauna, I’m sorry to hear about your melanoma scare. Glad that Wally has been vanquished and you have triumphed. My cousin had a skin melanoma, too… he pretty much grew up boating in Florida… but his lymph nodes were not affected and I’ve never never heard about it again. It must have been 15 years ago. So I hope this will be the end of the scare for you. Props to Gareth for getting you to have it checked and I guess he has a new job as Official Skin Inspector.

  12. So glad you are ok, Shauna, that’s really scary! I love “Fitzpatrick 1”, sounds like an exclusive club to be in 🙂

  13. Eeek! We hate scary moles down here in the south pacific! Good on you for getting Wally sorted! You and Gareth can play where’s Wally now it’s gone!

  14. So glad you included the spoiler! And good for you for going with your gut and getting it thoroughly checked out. My sister just did the same after the doctor said twice it was fine. It was also melanoma. A lesson for us all–this sunshine over here is lethal even when we don’t think it comes out very much!

  15. I had the SAME THING- only in my shoulder. I do have a gnarly scar, but it beats skin cancer any day! Ironically enough, my doctor told me it was likely from not putting sunscreen on enough as a kid, and yes, my hair and complextion make me more likely to burn- as does my daughter’s so I LATHER her up as often as I can. It’s a mild surgery, but surgery none the less. Prayers to you.

  16. Now that I know you’d tried to get someone to take it out ages ago, I’m angry with the NHS again. (They didn’t do a chest x-ray on my Gran after she was knocked down in a crosswalk. If they had done it, they’d have seen the lung cancer and not given her cough syrup for six months for the “cold” she didn’t have. Grrr.) Nevermind, though, all’s well that ends well!

    xoxo

  17. Thank goodness you decided to get it out and didn’t just leave it to spread. But a horrible experience. I have known a few people who have had malignant moles and I have regular checkups of mine – especially after being in the UK where they freaked when they saw my moles (and even took one out just to be sure). Good luck with the surgery. And when you said they were doing a skin graft I thought well that is one way to lose a bit of weight off your thighs 🙂

  18. That’s so scary and I’m glad it turned out ok. You just inspired me as a fellow ranga to book in for a skin check.

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