When Life Hands You Lemons

There is never a good time to be overconfident about your health.

Posted Dec 12, 2018

I’ll admit it. I was smug. I had begun to compare myself to others my age and decided I was fairly oblivious to health concerns -- kind of like skipping over disasters while playing "Mario Cart" as cheery music continues to play in the background.  I had looked forward to hitting on all the fun topics I mentioned in my first installment here — about exercise, having a great attitude, looking good and feeling good about your age, and dressing elegantly. But none of that seems as important to talk about at the moment. Because health concerns did indeed hit me in my 67-year-old face just a few days after posting to my introductory blog about aging. 

Source: pexels

Let me explain.

A product of the times, most of my adult life I slathered baby oil and iodine (I eventually graduated to Bain de Soleil’s orange gel in a tube) all over my uncovered parts whenever the temperature reached at least 60 sunny degrees. In my 20s, 30s, and 40s I’d stretch out on towel-covered concrete or any semblance of a lounge chair (inverting a patio chair worked well on the ground) wherever I happened to find myself. Women of my era swore by suntans, showing off our bronzed arms, legs, shoulders and faces, often after the “initial burn” of the season took place.  We thought of this burn as our pre-emptive “base,” after which we could maintain our browned limbs with regular homage to the sun. I thought NOTHING about sun damage, wrinkles, or skin cancer back then. I was blissful in my brown-ness and felt disgustingly “pasty white” in between seasons.

Fast-forward to my early 50s. I see a mole appear on my left leg that had not been there before. So I head to a dermatologist to get it checked out. She slices it off, and I wait. Soon I get a call telling me that it is not the lesser of the 3 types of skin cancer. It’s melanoma. The very sound of the word terrifies me. My next appointment is with a plastic surgeon, since the scar would be on a visible part of my leg. After numbing me, he makes an elegant s-shaped incision in wide margins around the original mole. The results come back negative. No more pesky cells were found. The mole was an “in situ” or superficial melanoma. I am relieved, of course. But does that stop me from wanting to be brown during subsequent summers? Nah. I figured this was a one-time scare. 

Suffice it to say it has happened twice more since then, the more recent evidence of this in the form of a 4-inch zipper scar on my right forearm received just a few weeks ago. All superficial melanomas. While I did stop tanning long ago, the damage I did to myself over the years lies latent within the sun-caused freckles, Greek moles I’ve had since birth, and age spots that began forming a few years ago. My every-6-month skin checks continue, but not without anxiety at a new discovery that will leave me with more evidence of my youthful addiction. I have now become a foremost authority on sunless tanning products because I STILL cannot bare my arms or legs without shuddering with white blindness. I rationalize this by saying Sally Hansen's tan in a can ("Deep Glow", please) is just there to cover the freckles and even out skin tone. But I know better.

It's true. I am not a great patient. I tend not to trust doctors to do all they can to ease my worries, perform their procedures in the most cutting-edge (pardon the pun) way possible, or give me enough pain medication to keep me from flying off an examination table. This means I enter the room angry to begin with — a side many of those close to me have never seen. This was the reaction I had to ANOTHER phone call just a day after I got my prize arm scar. Caller ID indicated I was hearing from the radiology lab where I had placed the girls in their vice grip torture device ten days earlier. Now I was ordered to return for an ultrasound and eventually a biopsy to see what was going on in my left boob. It’s not that I have never been called back for something like this before, but to have fate pile this onto my recently wounded body was more than I could take.

I don't discriminate. I angrily pummeled both doctors with questions, asking them about percentages, pain recovery time, the possibility of this occurring again and even questioning the need for all of it.  To top that off, I asked about their experience levels, as if I were hiring someone to do a flawless tuck-and-roll to my car's upholstery. During the skin surgery I swore like a sailor. During the breast biopsy I asked repeatedly if they were done, like an annoying kid asking if we were there yet. I have no idea what these people thought of me and I didn’t care. THAT is the beauty of age, after all. Inhibitions and people’s opinions seem trivial when the world seems to be crashing down on your head.

But I’m back. Everything on both counts turned out to be clear, so I have returned to perfecting smoke-and-mirror makeup tricks, wearing pumps with sufficient toe cleavage, and hunting for that elusive turtleneck poncho to hide a body that now needs serious exercise and a reduction in food intake. Will I cut myself some slack because it’s the holidays? Are you kidding?  Look what can happen in the course of just a few weeks! I don’t have that kind of time. Besides, age 90 is only 23 years away. And that's my minimum benchmark for sticking around.