Last year while living in Portugal I went to see a dermatologist. I had a freckle on my lip that my kids thought was bigger than before. I am a red head. A red head who has an awesome mother that coated me in sunscreen since birth. I am old…and sunscreen wasn’t a thing in the 70’s, but she found the only one that existed, Clinique, and she spent a small fortune keeping me safe. As an adult, I always wear sunscreen, even in the winter. I wear swim shirts. I wear hats.
The dermatologist thought my lip freckle was just that…a freckle. She said to come back in 6 months, just in case. Well…I didn’t. We moved to South Carolina and I sort of forgot. When I remembered, I made an appointment with a dermatologist here, but it was 5 months away. Then coronavirus hit. I thought my appointment would be canceled. It wasn’t.
The dermatologist inspected my whole body and gave me a cream to remove any dangerous freckles on my arms and she said she wanted a biopsy of my lip. 6 weeks later a large chunk of my lower lip was biopsied. Then the doctor started talking about my prognosis. My follow up. Cancer. Melanoma. I really didn’t hear anything she said. I think I just blocked it out. My priest (who wasn’t allowed in the building due to COVID-19 policies) picked me up. I couldn’t talk. My lip would bleed every time I opened my mouth. I didn’t really know what to say, so I said nothing.
Fast forward one week and we are on a family vacation in the mountains. I was driving down the Blue Ridge Parkway and my phone rings. I am on Bluetooth, so the whole car hears: “Mrs. Elliott, the results of your biopsy came back. You need to see an ENT immediately. You will need surgery to remove atypical cells from you lip.” What? What does that even mean?
Then everything moved quickly. I was referred to an ear, nose and throat doctor who specializes in face cancer and plastic surgery. I am terrified, but also a little numb. I see the doctor three days later. He is fabulous. Truly sent from Heaven just for me. He was a professor at UC Davis and trained and worked at Johns Hopkins in plastic surgery. He is kind. He explains everything clearly. He wants my pathology sent to two different experts. He gives me his cell phone number and his personal email. He calls me the next day and says that he is working behind the scenes and he will be in touch as soon as possible. I feel relieved to have someone who is so attentive and caring.
My doctor has a meeting with the tumor board (sounds ominous) and they unanimously agree that I need surgery. He received the second and third opinions he wanted and my surgery is booked.
In my mind, this was going to be easy breezy. Just remove a pretty big section of my lower lip. End of story. I just kept telling myself it was no big deal. It was out of my control and in God’s capable hands. The surgery was more intense than I had expected. The incision was much bigger than I anticipated. The recovery is much longer than I wanted. I can’t speak for 9 days. If you know me, you know that this is almost an impossibility. I must stay still. I look like a creepy Halloween doll with stitches sticking out of my mouth and chin. My kids are scared of me. My priest is completely spiraling.
Now, I am at home in bed, not speaking, not moving and praying that all of the scary stuff has been removed from my lip. Praying the pathology comes back clear. Praying that I need no more intervention.
This is a cautionary tale. First of all, stay out of the sun. Second of all, even if you do stay out of the sun, get checked yearly by a dermatologist. They see more than you do. Third of all, don’t wait if you see something weird. Stay on top of your health. You are your own best advocate.
I know I will be fine. My doctor is the best. My priest however is not coping. He pressed his face to the glass of the surgery center until the nurses told him to go away. My kids catch him crying in his closet or the bathroom. Say a prayer for him…he needs it more than I do.