Meghan Rothschild is a melanoma survivor, activist and the founder of the non-profit organization Surviving Skin. In this essay, originally published on Surviving Skin’s Facebook page, Meghan talks about having to undergo another minor surgery after her dermatologist finds a potentially dangerous mole on her body. You can read more about Meghan’s story here.
As I’m laying up staring at the unflattering, nasty, neon “doctor’s office” lights today, awaiting my appointment with the derm, it dawned on me — I should write about these shitty experiences. I go out and speak every chance I get, so why not share the gory, messy stuff too?
Once you’ve had melanoma, for lack of a better way of putting it, you’re screwed. You’re more likely to get it again, you’re subjected to endless surgeries, mole removals, and your body basically becomes “Swiss cheese.”
Since my original diagnosis I have had over 30 moles removed. Some have healed up nicely, some have bumped up and become “keloids,” and my personal favorite: some have split the fuck open and become infected. That’s always a treat — when your incision rips open, starts to ooze and the next thing you know you’re back at a doctor’s office and they’re sticking a Q-tip into your open, bleeding wound.
Sometimes your biopsied moles come back as “just a freckle,” sometimes you get a “moderate dysplasia,” and sometimes, hopefully not often, you get one that’s “severely dysplastic.” All of these diagnoses are better than the dreaded “M,” but the severe one sucks too. That’s what I had to go back in for today. And that’s when it hit me: you never get used to this shit. As a melanoma survivor I’ve been poked, prodded, cut open, injected, filled with radioactive dye, stitched up — and you never get used to it. Ever.
Every time is seemingly the same. The derm comes in, reviews your file, then pulls out the needle and starts shooting you up with numbing solution. If you’re as “lucky” as I am, your body starts to shake post-injection, your heart pounds, your chest tightens. You can feel your body’s anticipation to what it has come to know as “normal.”
And then the derm leaves you. Leaves you laying there, by yourself, waiting for the dreaded cut. It’s here where I usually lose it. I feel the tears burning the back of my eyes because it’s not just the worry about whether or not you have another melanoma. It’s the fact that this is another scar on your already damaged body. The whole reason you’re here is most likely because you were so vain you just “had to have that tan” and now your skin is being destroyed in a whole other way — scarring.
Then comes the actual removal of a chunk of flesh you were wishing you could hold on to. You’re numb so you don’t feel the pain, but you feel — and hear — the cutting, the pulling, the sewing motion as the doctor stitches you back up and laughs about your Frankenstein-like appearance. “This one won’t heal as well as the first time,” he says. “This is one of the worst places to get a mole removed due to the tightness of the skin.” Thanks, jackass.
And then you’re on your way, left to care for the wound for the following two weeks. Depending on where it’s located you usually have to adjust your sleeping style, stop working out and refrain from lifting anything above 15 pounds. It’s not just the day of that you’re affected, it’s weeks after you’re left changing your lifestyle to accommodate this stupid condition.
So that’s that. Another day in the life of a melanoma survivor. I’d do it 100 times over to prevent anyone else from having to endure it. But is it worth it for vanity? No. So if you’re reading this, thinking “It won’t happen to me,” or “I have a tan complexion, I’m fine,” ask yourself: does any of this sound fun? Because if it doesn’t take the hint — and start protecting yourself.