"We'll work on the arms first so that the scars have time to heal before the big day."
My doctor stares down at her pen as she carefully circles the next three moles she will biopsy to check for the melanoma that was trying to form on my leg before my boyfriend discovered it. "Was that always there?" he had asked me one morning. "Did it always look like that?"
It hadn't, though I'd been considered "at risk" since at twelve my father had taken me for my first visit to the dermatologist and that doctor explained the likelihood of developing skin cancer. I had all of the risk factors: blonde, fair-skinned, thin-haired, mole-covered.
When I went back fourteen years later, the doctor had said confidently that I had "nothing to worry about." I was young. I stayed out of the sun. I'd be fine. Then she began started the examination, her fingers climbing over my skin and through my hair, and the list of atypical moles grew to the end of the standard form. Then she left the room to get a second sheet of paper.
As the doctor, also newly engaged at the time, numbs the spot with a local anesthetic— one shot for the scrape biopsies done three at a time, more shots for the excisions and stitches done two at a time — I pray that none of the newest tests will come back positive. Please be mild, I tell the mole on my arm. Please be mild, I tell the mole on my shoulder blade. Please be mild, I tell the mole on my back. All of them perfectly situated above the line of a strapless dress. Or, more specifically, a strapless wedding dress, should I decide to purchase one.
"How are the plans going?" the doctor asks me, perhaps trying to distract me from the pain.
"Great," I say, but nothing specific comes to mind. Right then I don't care about my dress, or my hair style, or my engagement party, or the seating plan. All I care about is the needle that waits for me, ready to sew me shut like a doll, if any of the biopsies come back positive. All I care about is escaping the tiny room with the crunchy exam table paper and the nurse who smiles too much and the receptionist who swipes my card every two weeks. All I care about is going home.
When they tell me that I owe them my entire insurance deductible, several thousand dollars, I cry in the waiting room. I'm getting married this year, I tell the receptionist on the other side of the divider while another woman gets me a tissue. The timing couldn't be worse.
But melanoma doesn't care about timing, and we all know it. I'm sorry, I repeat over and over again to no one. I hand over my card. Swipe.
In the examination room, my doctor's hands shake when she finds out how much I owe; she even drops the tool in her hand and has to start again. I feel terrible, she repeats.
Before I leave, she hugs me.
The biopsies become routine. I get Obamacare, and I no longer owe that large deductible. I know when to shower, and when to clean the wounds, and when it's okay for the stitches to fall out. Only the surgeries still shake me. Only the knife.
In the beginning, twenty-one atypical moles must be tested. In the end, seven will require excisions. Most of the scrapes and removals leave permanent scars, many on my arms and shoulders.
But I'm not thinking about the moles when I slip into a strapless white dress while my sister waits by the mirrors of David's Bridal. I'm not thinking of the moles when I walk like a princess in my tulle gown and twirl so that I can see myself from all angles, the shiny pink places where my scars are healing just stars in a very big sky. I'm not thinking of the moles when my eyes tear up, or when I say I'll take it, or when they ring the bell that means I've found my dress.
Later, after the removals are over and it's time for me to get married, I do think of the moles once: when the spray tan technician tells me to take off my clothes and step into the booth. The frigid air meets my skin and I shiver, but every freezing, awkward second as she paints my body is worth it. As I dry in the strange whirl of the fan, I think of every girl who has lain down on the tanning beds on the other side of the store—every bride who's desired a "natural tan," never mind the risks.
Never mind the fact that a few years later, they might end up like me.
Two days later, I marry the man who potentially saved my life. I meet him at the altar in my strapless gown, while two hundred eyes follow my every move and evaluate my every style choice. Two hundred eyes see the places where, even under the fake tan, my scars show like accessories on my bare skin.
But I don't care. I don't even think of them.
In that moment, I feel flawless.