You Should TOTALLY Go Screw Yourself

The other day there were some young women seated behind me in a restaurant. Occasionally bits of their conversation drifted my way. At one point, the two girls nearest me went into this long description of their plans for the following day. It seemed to revolve around going to tanning beds. As someone who’s covered in scars from head to thigh due to skin cancer, it was all I could do to keep from turning around and flashing them my body. I figured that would only get me looks of revulsion, and probably a criminal charge for exposure. You see, once, a very, very, very long time ago, that girl talking of tanning beds was me…

Yes, I was young once.

I know. Just follow along.

In my early 20’s, someone at my work had kindly pointed out my pale skin. When I say “kindly” it was more like, “Oh my God. GROSS! Why don’t you get yourself a tan? You’re so white!” My friend Ken was standing nearby and took up the gauntlet for me, saying, “She’s northern European. That’s just how they are. They don’t tan.” I’m not sure, actually, that was a defense, but let’s go with it. The woman responded with, “Everyone can get a tan if they go to a tanning salon. Denise, you should TOTALLY go to a tanning salon!”

And so I did…

Yes, you can TOTALLY get a tan. You know what else you can totally get? Skin cancer. All three kinds. I’ve only had two. I’m holding out hope I don’t get the third. Here is my story: About ten years ago, I had what I thought was a bug bite on my forehead. But after several months of it not going away, I figured it was just a weird pimple – because, sure, pimples can last for months… Then I started to ignore it, hoping it’d just fall off or something. I ignored it for a year, maybe two. Maybe more. I don’t know. When I decide to ignore something, I don’t mess around. Eventually I had to have it checked out because it started to sting when I applied cream or makeup. It was an angry little lump.

It turns out that slow-growing, angry little lump was Basal Cell Carcinoma. He was my first (I always refer to the growths as “he”…).  To remove that tricky bastard involved the Mohs Procedure. This particular dermatologist only performed it once a month, so the waiting room that day was full. Patients went in, one at a time. Got their numbing injections, had the slice-and-dice, and were sent back to the lobby holding gauze over their incisions to stanch the flow of blood. It was a funny gathering – everyone with gauze being pressed to different areas. There you sat while they checked your cells under a microscope to make sure your margins were clean. If they were not clean, you went back in to have more sliced and diced. Most people went in once or twice, were stitched up, and sent on their merry way.

Most people…

Most people who aren’t this ghastly white…

Most people who aren’t “Northern European,” apparently…

First came my numbing injection. I am not a fan of needles. Then came The Mini Melon-Baller. He basically began to melon-ball my forehead. Not two seconds later, out of the corner of my eye, I saw him get sprayed with blood. It looked a bit like this…

He quickly shielded my view of the proceedings by throwing a towel over my eyes, not too carefully, and frantically called to the nurse who was faffing about on the other end of the room. I’m assuming my blood continued to spray him, because he sounded terribly flustered. Something like, “NURSE, just…if you could just… apply some pressure here!” Then he wiped himself a bit and barked at me, “Are you on blood thinners? No? Aspirin? NO?” 


As they spent a great deal of time applying pressure, I began to hope that I wouldn’t bleed to death on their table. I also began to hope that this experience was over, and that I’d soon be joining the ranks of the gauze brigade in the other room. Um, no. The Mini Melon-Baller returned. The pressure of it as it dug into my forehead (and the ensuing sounds) still make me gag. Soon enough though I was bandaged, and gauzed. Then re-bandaged, and re-gauzed. And re-re-bandaged and re-re-gauzed. As I continued to bleed through all their supplies, and he lost what was left of his patience, he handed me a roll of gauze, said, “Keep your head back, keep this on it with pressure. Do NOT stand up” and plopped me in the waiting room. There the ranks began to dwindle while I propped my head against the wall. The lucky devils around me were one-by-one stitched up and sent away. I was called back in the room for another melon-balling. My margins weren’t clean… Naturally.

Then I was called back in again…

The waiting room was really emptying out now…

Yet again I was called in. Yet again came The Mini Melon-Baller. Yet again I bled like a stuck pig.

After many trips in, I was eventually pronounced “clean.” 8 stitches later and I was sent home.

I have since had Squamous Cell Carcinomas and more Basal Cell Carcinomas. I have had more stitches. In addition to that removal method, I’ve had Cryotherapy. That’s fun. The first time I had that, I ended up with a massive welt the size of a golf ball on the back of my upper thigh and couldn’t sit for nine hours. Nine bloody hours. And, I’ve used the Topical Chemotherapy several times. This burns the cancerous (and pre-cancerous) cells off your body over a course of weeks. That’s an unpleasant experience. For many weeks the growths crack, ooze, bleed, itch, and sting – and you walk around looking disgusting. I have recently been told that I am to continue to use the Topical Chemotherapy – as a preventative measure. I’m basically to rub it across areas of my body that have thus far been affected by skin cancer. Do this once or twice a week. Forever? Who knows. The only thing I do know is that the days of my youth that were spent with baby oil glistening on my body to lure in the sun(burn) were the cause of this, as were the days I spent in those damn tanning beds. I will always need to return for check-ups. The longest I can go is 6 months.

If I ever see the bitch who told me I should totally try tanning beds again, I’m totally going to flash her my hideously scarred body…

Wear sunscreen. Avoid going in the sun during peak hours. Get yourself to the dermatologist for regular check-ups. And for God’s sake, use self-tanning creams. They’re the healthier option. Be good to your skin, poppets, or you’ll end up looking like this.


11 responses to “You Should TOTALLY Go Screw Yourself”

  1. This all sounds horrible for you. And indeed, those ladies at the table have some hard lessons to learn. I hope they read this. I have avoided the sun after years of abuse and am terrified of skin cancer and the sun. I too would let it get completely out of control before I would have it checked. Actually, right at this moment, there are a couple of very odd happenings on my pale body. I am hoping the chemo I’ve already had killed anything that could harm me. Something to deal with on another day.

    Scars, we all have them. They give us character. Who the hell wants a perfectly tanned and flawless body and face anyhow.



  2. OK, now you’ve scared me. I’ve never gone tanning, but I have to admit that I spent all day, every day of my vacation (and whenever else possible during the summer) sitting in the brightest sun I can find and reading. (And eating, but that’s another story.) I mean, I’m an olive skinned Italian girl, the sun is good for me, right? Right??

    So a few months ago, this little pimply thing showed up about 3 inches below my collar bone. I’ve been doing my very best ignoring and hoping that it just goes away on it’s own. Now you may actually be forcing me to go see a doctor. I hate going to the doctor.


  3. We clearly have the same Northern European skin. The only tan I’m likely to get is if my freckles join up. Luckily I’ve only had two suspicious characters removed – one from my upper arm, one from my lower leg. And clearly, as I live in Northern England there are lots of pale people around me to keep me company in my sun dodging habits!


  4. i was just thinking that i’m past due for the dermatologist full-body scan. i’ve been fortunate that all of my biopsies have been negative. thank you for the bravery of sharing your story, Denise ~ please take good care of yourself, sweetheart.
    ♥ *Love* & *Sparkly super-squishy hugs*


  5. You and I have much of the same story. Too many tanning beds, too many summers in the sun! Most do not understand what we go thru at the dermatoligst office regarding the freezing, cutting MOHS. I hated my previous MOHS and now need to go thru another !
    Have you had photodynamic therapy? I am scheduled in a few weeks hopefull it will take care of large skin areas that are showing many precancerous lesions.
    Take care of yourself!


  6. Thank you for posting this. My experiences are so similar to yours … all those procedures. I don’t think it’s possible to over-deliver your message — not when I see people flooding into tanning salons and baking themselves outdoors in the summer.

    I have fish-belly white skin, and so do my father and sister. They’ve graduated to melanoma, and I’ve matriculated to squamous cell. Every biopsy I undergo, I think to myself, “Will this be the one?”


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