The $700 Haircut my Health Insurance Paid For (and more…)
This post may straddle the line of too much information, so if you don’t want to hear about my recent biopsy at the dermatologist, this is your warning to stop reading.
I share all of this in hopes that no one will take their seemingly good health for granted. I consider myself pretty darn healthy. I’m 25 years old. I’ve never had a major illness, surgery, and I don’t have any conditions such as diabetes or thyroid problems. I’ve never been overweight. I eat pretty well. I don’t consume too much caffeine. I have maybe 2 or 3 alcoholic drinks a week. I exercise 3-4 times a week. I don’t have horrible acne. And I apply SPF 15 to my face and neck every day. Now that you’ve read my medical history, you could assume that I’m a healthy young adult.
I do have a history of atypical moles, or dysplastic nevi, though. I had my first mole removed when I was 8 years old. What followed in the years after were regular biopsies that led to about 10 scars and a lot of emotional trauma. As a kid, I feared going to the dermatologist. I started resenting her as a person. The fact that she had absolutely no bedside manner didn’t win her any points with me. Almost every single one of my biopsies came back benign. I believed she was trying to make a buck and that’s why she kept removing things from me. There was one mole on my scalp when I was about 12 years old that came back atypical. They had to go back in, excise it, and get clean margins.
Despite that scare, I was fed up with the dermatologist. Frankly, I was embarrassed that I had to have 10 moles removed. I lied to some of my friends about a scar on my collarbone. I used the classic “burn from a curling iron” tale that people use for hickies. In reality, it was a scar from a mole biopsy. I inherited skin that instead of developing freckles from sun exposure, it develops small moles. They’re not big – thank goodness. They’re dark freckles that are less than a centimeter in diameter.
In January of 2011, I went to the dermatologist for the first time in about 10 years for a head to toe check-up. My mother noticed a mole on my scalp during all our wedding hoopla and was pressuring me to go. I knew she was right. I should go. Adam did some research and found a dermatologist we could both go to. My head to toe went well. She made a few notes and said all looked fine and there might be a few places we should keep an eye on.
In an effort to take better care of myself, I made sure to be vigilant about self skin exams and checked myself out about once a month. If something looked a little odd, I went to my first doctor: my husband, the pharmacist. I think I only did this twice and it was on moles that hadn’t changed. He told me they looked fine and I should make sure to have the dermatologist look at them at my next exam.
At the end of November, I was attempting one of those braids at my hairline when I noticed the mole on my scalp that my mother saw almost a year before. It was about a ½ inch back from my hairline above my left eye. I part my hair on the right, so I hardly ever see my scalp on the left side. Call it instinct, call it a gut feeling, call it divine intervention, I knew something was not right. Have you ever had that feeling when everything else pauses, you feel a punch in your gut, and you just know that something is wrong? I had that feeling standing in our bathroom looking in the mirror with a fistful of half-braided hair in my hand.
You see, I haven’t had this mole my whole life. It is so close to my hairline and I used to part my hair on the left that I know it developed from sun exposure. In a way, I’m lucky it was so close to my hairline or I wouldn’t have caught it. From the time that my mother saw it in the fall of 2010 to November 2011, it had grown. It had grown enough that I noticed it with my naked eye through my thick hair in our bathroom mirror. I asked Adam to look at it and from what he could tell; it displayed two of the ABCD rules of melanoma.
I called my dermatologist and asked for her first available appointment. I went on December 23rd and she went ahead and removed it to be safe. She said it didn’t look too concerning, but we should go ahead and take it off. Her Physician’s Assistant shaved it off without giving me any anesthesia. Yeah, I’m a bad arse. And I won’t lie. It hurt.
I got a phone call a week later. Good news: it wasn’t cancer. Bad news: it was very atypical. The nurse’s words, “The pathology report shows that the mole was very atypical. Actually, there were some cells that were particularly abnormal and we’d like for you to come back in and meet with our mole surgeon.”
Yikes. Thank God it wasn’t cancer, but it’s still very scary that it came back as a dysplastic nevi. I went one week later and met with the mole surgeon. I brought my mom with me this time. She was naturally worried and I knew she would ask him good questions. And let’s be honest, it’s always good to have mommy there when you feel nervous or uncomfortable. The surgeon told us that dysplastic nevi are rated on a scale of slightly atypical to severely atypical. All dysplastic nevi are pre-cancerous; they may never develop into cancer, but they are more likely to than other moles. My biopsied mole was moderately atypical, not severe and not slight, but in the middle. Because of that and my history of having previous dysplastic nevi, the surgeon excised it. He cut it out deeper and wider. I got internal and external stitches. They sent the second biopsy to the lab to make sure the diagnosis is the same as the initial pathology report and that there are clean margins on a microscopic level. Good news: it came back benign and margins are clean. I had a big bandage and a wrap around my head for a day. I was told no strenuous physical activity for a week – no running, no weights, no vacuuming, and no heavy lifting. Oh darn. Well, I was a little sad about no exercise. I do like to exercise, but at least I didn’t feel guilty for not doing it. I’ll tell you what; I did look forward to Adam doing a lot of the house cleaning.
The first few days were a little uncomfortable, but not too bad. I have a weird reaction to lidocaine. It makes me a little woozy and groggy. Once it wore off, I was still tired and my head started to hurt at the incision. I iced it, took Tylenol, and took it easy. The surgeon warned me that the swelling could travel down my forehead and give me a black eye. Luckily, I didn’t have that problem. I iced it like crazy the day of the procedure so I could avoid a black swollen eye. I pretty much carried on as usual after the first few days. I had to be very careful when washing my hair, but that’s about it.
Without staying on my soapbox too long, I share all of this because it is so important that we take care of ourselves. Sure, my mole wasn’t cancer. But it was a pre-cancerous lesion and because of my awareness I did not give that spot the chance of turning into something worse. Don’t be ignorant about your body. Don’t be stubborn if you don’t feel good or something isn’t as it should be. See a doctor. Check yourself out in the mirror more often. Look at your skin in the shower. Get your partner or a loved one to look at your back or your head. Ladies, give yourself breast exams every month. And if you get that gut feeling like I did, it’s usually right and you need to follow your instincts.
For more information on skin cancer prevention, visit these sites: