We often don’t talk about the “ugly” side of melanoma especially in its earlier stages.
You may think I am talking about the stitches and the scarring being “ugly” but honestly it is much more then that. Yes, the surgeries can be somewhat disfiguring and for someone who doesn’t have the best track record for scarring I do have my fair share of battle scars. I am starting to look like a road map and I am doing my best to give purpose to each new scar.
The “ugly” side I am referring to isn’t always obvious to outsiders. The “ugly” side I am referring to is the emotional aspect. Having to comfort and hold your crying 12 year old the night before surgery and hear him say to you “Mom, I just don’t want this to keep happening to you. I don’t want you to have surgery again. Please let me come with you so I can know that you are OK”. Having to hug your very brave nine year old who is telling you (while convincing himself) that “you’ve got this Mom. It won’t be so bad”. Holding it all together while you yourself are scared and nervous all while trying to be brave for your family. No matter how many times you reassure your family and tell them that they have “caught it early” once again, they still worry–a lot.
No matter how strong I try to be or think I am, no matter how much I try to use humor and reassure my boys that I am stronger then a super hero, I am still their Mom. Nothing about this is normal. Sitting in front of your kids at dinner with thirty stitches on your face staring back at them and trying to act “normal” is not easy. Going out in public with them and seeing them observe people staring at your bandages, at your scars, being asked questions by strangers “wow, that’s quite a gash, what happened?”. That is the ugly side of melanoma even in its earlier stages.
With each biopsy, with each set of stitches comes a new worry. Will this be another melanoma? Will I need surgery again? How many more times is this going to happen?
With this latest melanoma I am trying to embrace my new scar as being “badass”. I continue to use humor and to respond to strangers questions with “I got into a fight with my dermatologist” or “if you think this is bad, you should see the other guy”. I am strong. I am brave but every time I walk past a mirror I am reminded that melanoma is and always will be a part of my life.
For every person that has ever told me “at least it’s just skin cancer”, I promise you they have not been handed a mirror by their surgeon to see a hole the size of a ping pong ball in their cheek (no picture of that I promise!). To see your husband looking at that hole and trying to smile and tell you that you are beautiful and no amount of scarring will change that. Nothing about that feels good.
I want people to understand how important their skin is and to never take it for granted. It is after all, the biggest organ in our bodies. It may not seem important to apply sunscreen every single day. It may not seem like something you need to worry about. It may not seem like something that will ever happen to you. It may be incredibly challenging to apply sunscreen to your moving, wiggling, fighting kids BUT I am here to tell you that those few extra minutes each day spent protecting your skin or your kids skin can make a HUGE difference later in life. That healthy glow I felt after our trips to the beach or after my sessions in the tanning bed. NONE of that was worth this ugly side of melanoma. NONE of it.
I know the scars will fade and as the old saying goes “time heals all wounds” but right now things are fresh and a bit “ugly”. If I can make a difference in peoples lives by sharing my journey and get them thinking about their skin and how they can prevent and detect skin cancer early, then these scars will be given purpose and make this “ugly” side much prettier.