I get my moles checked once a year. That’s because my body is riddled with them. For most of my life they have been benign. There’s the spot on my face that my mother called my beauty mark, then there are the veritable constellations covering every inch of me from head to toe. Like my height, my moles are a flawed part of how I look that I’ve never thought to beat myself up about. I could verbally demolish myself for having too-big feet and a terrible nose, but I can’t muster any ire over being short or mole-covered. I just sat back in my chair for a moment and tried to mentally castigate myself for this sin of appearance, but all I actually managed to do was picture a pale, blue Cadbury Mini Egg with its imprint of cocoa freckles. A delicious failure indeed.
I had my first problem mole when I was 14. It was straight-up on my pubic mound. They numbed my front bottom with a topical agent, and burned that thing right off — I could smell my pubes go up in smoke and the tangy, fleshy scent of my own blood. I’d gone to the appointment right from school, which meant that, on the ride home from the doctor’s office, I’d had to hold a plastic bag full of ice pressed to my ladybits over my thick wool catholic school uniform kilt. Once I got home, I changed into cozier clothes. The oversize polo shirt grazed the seeping hole covered in a frosting of antibiotic cream and left a greasy smear of blood and ointment on the hem. “That’s grim,” I said, and got into bed to continue icing my nethers.
Though the mole was removed because of concerns that it was abnormal, I don’t remember being scared at the time that it was. I don’t remember anyone telling me that the results came back and everything was fine, and I don’t remember waiting for those results. I remember feeling slightly miffed that no one had seen fit to tell me that I’d have a permanent nickel-sized bald spot, a crop-circle in the midst of my nether-thatch.
The next mole I had removed as an adult after moving to New York. I mourned the loss of it, my favorite belly mole, and remember being more fascinated by the weird shape it healed into than by any concern that it could be cancer.
Since my mother had breast cancer, you’d think I’d live in fear of the big C — and I do, but for her, for other people, not for myself. It never occurred to me when I was shown the cyst in my brain that the growth there was cancer because that couldn’t happen to me. When I felt a strange lump in my wrist (yet another cyst, I am a cyst-filled girl), there was no lightning bolt of terror striking my guts.
It’s a strange reprieve, as an anxious person, that I do not diagnose myself with a series of fatal illness as a way of passing the time. Maybe it’s naive of me, or maybe it’s just that my brain has bigger fish to fry in terms of self-generated terror.
That’s why finding out that I have melanoma has been a bit of a royal mind-fuck. Before we begin to collectively clutch at our pearls, let me assure you that I’m fine. I’ve just got these two moles that have activated their self-destruct buttons so they are going to be hacked from my person more deeply than moles are usually hacked, and then they are checking out my lymphs to make sure I’m golden. I’m in the early days, the stage 0 and stage 1 respectively, those days which no one in the dermatological community calls “the salad days of melanoma,” but they absolutely should.
I got the news and examined the guilty moles in private once I got home. There’s one right above my left breast just below my collarbone and another on my innermost left thigh. I try to feel panic and I try to feel fear as I study them, but nothing comes.
I wonder if the pills are making me numb, I wonder if they’ve built up in my system freezing me like ice so gradually that I’ve confused their effects as a humanizing agent, keeping me from constant histrionics when in fact they’ve just been pulling me back and away from earth and real feelings all along. Do I really mean that? Do I really think that’s true? I am asking myself. Asking myself questions is a trick I’ve learned to pull me back from the edge. When I’m fixating, when I’m freaking out, I can now actually stop at the precipice and say, “Soooo what exactly is up right now? What’s going on?” I can’t always answer the question. But the simple action of asking it is often enough to stop the perseverating roller coaster of awful that I can so easily leap upon.
Sitting naked on my bed, asking the question brings me back to myself, but it’s half of the equation and starting to be not enough. I’m scared, I’m actively, actually, real-life scared, and I don’t know how to express that. That’s as far as I get.
It’s strange, I’ve always thought of myself as being an emotionally in-touch person, but as I get older it becomes increasingly clear that, while I appreciate emotions, I’m not very good at having them, at sitting with them in any capacity. Realizing that was just enough to move me forward. Realizing that, it made sense that when going to bed that night I had the first panic attack I’d had in months.
My roommate was out of town and suddenly at two in the morning, from a sound sleep, I’m sitting up right, soaked through with sweat slapping myself in the face over and over and over again. I scream out for my mom, which I’ve never done before. The feeling begins to subside and I get up and get a glass of water and, trembling, I understand why it happened, I know exactly where it’s coming from, this terror and fear and sadness. It should feel like a tiny victory, tracking and understanding. But it doesn’t feel that way. Instead I just feel chilly, tired, scared, and alone.