When I went to the dermatologist for my annual check-up, she checked me all over.
“Everything looks good,” she said. “Before you go, let me just check your face.”
She took one glance and told me I had some pre-cancerous spots on my nose. I couldn’t see them at all, but I wasn’t in a position to argue. She prescribed a cream for me to use.
Sort of as an afterthought, she said, “It’s a chemo cream and it will make your nose really red.”
Um, OK, whatever, sure. A doctor I know and trust had just used the term “cancer” and “chemo” with me. Yikes.
After we met our deductible, I went and got the fluorouracil cream (which was an astonishing $1,000 for a tiny tube before we met our deductible; afterward it was free). And I started my prescribed 30-day regimen.
Week 1: It burned and stung a little. It was a little red, but people didn’t stop and stare. This isn’t so bad, I thought.
Week 2: I started explaining to my friends and colleagues what was going on. I had to. It was starting to look red and the skin was peeling a little. This isn’t so great, I thought. Most people thought I had been somewhere on vacation and sun-screened myself thoroughly except for my nose. “You’ve been somewhere fun!” I heard a few times. Sometimes I explained. Sometimes I just smiled.
Week 3: My nose looked awful. It was bright red and I felt like I was constantly shedding skin. I would go to use the restroom at work and glance in the mirror and think maybe I should go home because I was so repulsive. But there was no stopping now. And, as I would discover, the worst was yet to come.
Week 4: I was still shedding skin (how did I have any skin left?), and now parts of my nose were red and crusty. (That’s apparently where the cancerous spots are the worst.) A couple people actually recoiled when they saw me. I was torn between being amused by this and thinking I should have performed some kind of sociological experiment on how people were responding. I did quite a bit of explaining. Some people never asked, and I am sort of grateful to them and sort of amazed at their lack of curiosity.
Week 5 (which I have just begun): I’ve stopped using the cream. My nose is extremely red—bright enough to lead Santa’s sleigh through a foggy night. “Mama, you could be a clown,” one of my sons said, not being mean, just marveling at this new facial feature for his mother. We discussed whether I should buy a pair of over-sized shoes or a little car that I can stuff my 15 clown friends inside. I think I’ll go for the car.
Apparently it will take two weeks for my nose to look more normal and then it will fade more over time.
I’ve learned a few things along the way. I’ve learned that I’m vainer than I thought—or at least I don’t really like talking about my appearance unless someone’s complimenting me on my haircut or lovely evening gown. That doesn’t happen often.
I also haven’t decided whether I preferred for people to ask directly or not to mention it at all. Maybe it depends on the person. Or my mood.
This situation has made me think about people who live with physical differences throughout their lives. They deal with stares and questions all the time—not to mention actual physical challenges.
It is humbling to realize that I am so very blessed to have all I do have. I am grateful to have the cream. I am thankful that it seems to have done its job. I am so very grateful to have friends and colleagues who have acted as if nothing unusual was happening with my nose. And soon enough I will have an ordinary and very boring nose once again.
Oh, and by the way? Going to the dermatologist is a really good idea, even if you don’t think anything is wrong.