Ok, before I tell you this story you have to understand that I am an extraordinarily paranoid person. I hide it relatively well (well, except with people like my Nat, who knows me far too well to be fooled…) but it simmers under the surface, so that when an idea is put into my head it develops until I end up trying to face my own certain death before I even have a diagnosis.
Which is how I ended up lying in bed staring at the ceiling at 3am this morning, knowing without doubt deep inside that I was dying of skin cancer.
It started the night before we went to Sarah and Kawika’s wedding, when Chrissie and I watched a Channel 4 programme about embarrassing illnesses (incidentally? Not for the squeamish!). As part of the programme they ran a mole check and highlighted the four point check you should carry out regularly on your moles:
A – Assymetry: The two halves of your mole do not look the same.
B – Border: The edges of your mole are irregular, blurred or jagged.
C – Colour: The colour of your mole is uneven, with more than one shade.
D -Diameter: Your mole is wider than 6mm in diameter (the size of a pencil eraser)
(Borrowed from the Cancer Research UK SunSmart Microsite – do check it out for more detailed explanations, health tips and advice, especially if you’re fair-skinned as I am.)
Now, I have a lot of moles – and I mean A LOT (my ex once tried to count, got bored somewhere in the 200s). I love them, I think they make me individual, add interest to my hands and arms, and I even have one on my decolletage that is in prime position for the early 18th Century “beauty spot”. I have one on the palm of my right hand that fascinates me, five that create a straight diagonal line across the back of the same hand that amuse, and a cluster on my left arm that make it unmistakably mine. In the summer, these moles become interspersed with freckles, giving the nearest my blue skin ever comes to the impression of a slight tan…
But I also have two new ones on my left hand which vary in colour. The cluster on my left arm have recently merged, no longer appearing as individual moles of various colurs but as one multi-tonal mass. One by my right armpit has a very dark centre, and one on my tummy has a very distinct halo. It’s these five that had me convinced I was dying.
So before work this morning I went to the Dr. He actually gave me a very thorough examination – having checked the moles I was worried about, he then took a quick glance over the rest of my most exposed areas and gave me the all clear. He explained that a halo was actually a good thing as it suggested the body was clearing a mole away, and that I might find that it disappeared altogether in the coming months or years. And he drew me all sorts of illustrations to demonstrate what I should and shouldn’t be looking for in problem moles.
I’ve had moles checked before, and been rushed out of my GP’s office feeling like a hypochondriac fool. But Dr Thomas told me to come back any time I saw changes, that it was better to be safe than sorry – almost made me feel like I’d done “the right thing” in getting myself checked over. With the rate of skin cancer in my generation being such a cause for concern (it is most common among young people of working-age (15-34) who can’t get time off to see a GP over something so “trivial”), you’d think more doctors would act this way. After all, malignant melanoma rates in the UK have quadrupled in the last 30 years with 1 in 150 men and 1 in 120 women likely to be diagnosed and over 2000 malignant melanoma deaths every year. With such high diagnosis and mortality rates, we really should be taking it more seriously.