Like I Need a Hole in the Head

Escaping reality by taking a long walk with my husband

Saying this year has brought many challenges is like saying the first presidential debate was a spirited exchange of ideas. As my mother says, “the world is going to hell in a handbasket!” I think we’re already there, Mom.

Like most of you, for seven solid months I’ve barely hung onto that last sliver of sanity by silently repeating the mantra: It could be worse! It could be worse! It could be worse!

As this pandemicpalooza rages on, my husband and I are lucky to still have full time employment. My kids are wearing masks five days a week for in-person school and so far, no one has gotten sick. They both have that pandemicky-shell-shocked-weary-resignation down pat. Kids are resilient. My mother, who lives with us, is still healthy and watching The View religiously. She’s inching toward 87 years old and still manages to drive me up the friggin’ wall, god love her.

It could be worse!

I can do this. I can survive 2020. Right?

Still the looping worries, the simmering dread, the endless stress of what if?…the waking up each morning feeling like you’re in a Stephen King/Groundhog Day nightmare…the realization that politics has morphed into a WWF steel cage death match. My family is struggling with anxiety, depression, panic attacks. It’s all too much for just about everyone. Except Tom Hanks. Does anything ever rattle this guy?

Tom Hanks on surviving coronavirus: 'I had crippling body aches, fatigue  and couldn't concentrate' | Film | The Guardian
“No.”

Many a sleepless night I snicker and whisper in the dark at the universe: What else ya got? Is this the best you can do? Huh? WHAT ELSE???!!!

Little did I know that the universe would answer back so quickly. And be so snarky about it. Well played, universe.

A few days after my 50th birthday, I noticed it. A tiny pimple up near my hairline on my gigantic billboard-sized forehead. I immediately knew it wasn’t a pimple. I just knew. Of course, I had loads of zits in my early 40s, but after I plowed through the hellscape that is menopause a few years ago, I figured I was done with all that hormone shit. Nope, this was no pimple.

But because I didn’t want to trust Dr. Google, I decided to wait a few weeks to see if it would go away. It only got bigger and more painful. Finally, I woke up one morning and called my doctor and said I wanted to come in the next day.

“Hmm…looks like squamous cell carcinoma,” she said gently, like she was talking about the weather. I didn’t even flinch at the news. I barely cringed when she stuck the needle into my forehead to numb the area for the biopsy. If anything, I was shocked it wasn’t basal cell carcinoma, the more common one, the one that rarely spreads (thanks Dr. Google, you asshat). Why, Hugh Jackman has had a bunch of basal cell tumors removed from his face and he’s fine!

The pathology report from the lab came a week later. I was diagnosed on my son’s 18 birthday. My doctor told me her suspicion was right and now I’m to see a dermatologist for surgery. Squamous cell carcinoma, skin cancer. Not as common as basal, not as deadly as melanoma. Right in the middle, like Jan Brady. It doesn’t get the respect it deserves and spends its life jealous of the other skin cancers in the spotlight.

Jan Brady And The 3-Star Review
Melanoma! Melanoma! Melanoma!

Squamous cell carcinoma is common in the elderly and men, and the fair-skinned, super ditzy, kiss-me-I’m-Irish blondes like myself. It’s caused by long-term UV sun exposure. I’ve had many sunburns over my lifetime. My entire childhood was spent outside. It was the 1970s! My parents didn’t want to see us except at dinnertime. My favorite thing to do in high school was “lay out” which meant no sunscreen, baking in the blazing sun with Sun In frying your hair while listening to a radio blaring Van Halen.

Squamous cell skin cancer can metastasize, but most likely won’t. I have a good chance of getting another one in two years. I also have a spot on my ear that looks to me like melanoma so that will have to be checked next. Now I have a much higher risk of developing other cancers in general. Oh, and there’s that hole in my head thing, too. But like my good bloggy buddy, Jules said to me, “Eh, who needs a forehead?”

Fittingly, this Election Day, I will be having Mohs (pronounced moze) surgery. It involves cutting a hole into my forehead, taking a slice of skin, looking at it under a microscope for cancer cells, then going back in for another slice of Darla pie…repeat as necessary until all cancer goes bye-bye.

It might take 2 hours, it might take 6 hours… or all day. They won’t know what cancer will be lurking under that big fat forehead of mine until they start digging around. These tumors tend to be “icebergs” so what you see above the skin is only a small portion of what’s underneath. I will be left with stiches and a scar.

It might be a small scar, a medium scar, or a huge Frankenstein scar. That is the worst, the not knowing. Oh…and it’s ON MY FACE. I’ve had multiple major abdominal surgeries in my life, but this one scares me more. As frightened as I am of this surgery I know it’ll be okay because it has a very high rate of success at removing all of the cancer. All I’m asking the universe is that I don’t leave the office with a massive scar or a certain haircut.

GALLERY | americanmythology

The funny thing about getting a cancer diagnosis is how people react with the news.

“Skin cancer is the good kind to get!”

“No one dies from skin cancer! I have [insert other cancer here] and it’s much worse!”

And my personal favorite:

“Well, at least they caught it early!”

There is no good kind of cancer. Thousands of people do die from skin cancer every year. Yes, your cancer is also pretty shitty to have, probably more so. I’m sorry that you have cancer, but it’s not a contest.

I was talking with a friend who was diagnosed this year with stage 1 breast cancer. She said she was going in for radiation treatment and the receptionist leaned in and asked, “Tell me…do you ever get sick of people telling you that you should feel lucky that you ‘caught it early’?”

Answer: YES.

I know people mean well, but it’s scary at first when you are diagnosed with any cancer. For me, it was a shock. It means that something is wrong with my body and my immune system is off. My cells are multiplying and not in the good John Travolta in Grease way. It’s not a “lucky” thing to have. It’s not “good they caught it early.”

Okay… it is good to catch it early, but please try to remember this person may not be feeling so thrilled at the moment that they have cancer. If you think it’s no biggie, then please by all means, take my skin cancer. You can have it. Have the hole in your head too! It’s kind of like handing someone a live grenade, pulling the pin and yelling, “Well you’re lucky it’s not the bad grenade that kills you, this is the good grenade that only blows off your hand!”

Until you yourself are diagnosed with cancer, you will not know how you will feel or how you will react. All I know is how I feel.

Universe, you got me. Good one. Oh and one more thing, no more holes in the head, please and thank you.

49 thoughts on “Like I Need a Hole in the Head

  1. Oh, Darla, I’m sorry to hear this. I’d be scared, too. Maybe that’s why people sometimes say what ends up being unreassuring things — cancer IS frigging scary and at least here in this nation, it seems all but inevitable. Anyway, I’ll be praying for two biggies, now, come election day. 🌷

  2. I too grew up baking in the sun and can relate to your fears. Thete are simply no good words of comfort re Cancer. But be assured your family, friends and many of us in the blog-us-fear are searching for the right way to tell you we care.

  3. I stand by my previous statement. Honestly, besides providing a stage for the eyebrows, what use is a forehead? Hang on. In 2020 it WOULD be a shame if you couldn’t smack it. Will you run a blog contest and ask people to come up with a forehead-less version of this emoji? 🤦🏼‍♀️

    In all seriousness, this is some scary shit and I’m so sorry you’re going through it. I love you, DP!!

  4. I spent many hours baking in the sun – with and without sunscreen (or, as we called it then, suntan lotion). In addition to an extra helping of face wrinkles, I developed melanoma and several basal cell cancers. I got tired of the “at least you caught it early” too, but I also realized that early was best and people struggle with finding the right thing to say (I have probably said something similarly awkward to someone else facing a health challenge). Best of luck to you.

    1. Sorry you went through having skin cancer! I agree, it’s hard to find the right words and I have been guilty of saying (or thinking to myself) well, it’s a good thing you caught it early. Because it truly is a good thing. But sometimes it seems like people dismiss it like it’s the same as having a nasty cold or something though…Thanks for reading my story!

  5. You, my dear, will kick its ass. Foreheads are highly over-rated. Send lots of positive healing vibes your way. My husband had many a Mohs procedure and I spent countless days in the surgical center with him.

    1. Thanks so much, Katy! I’m afraid having this procedure might become a common occurrence with me and I’m not too keen on having several holes in my face or head. Yikes! But if it has to be done, it has to be done. I suppose I’m really nervous because Jim can’t be with me at all during this day of surgery due to that freaking virus. He has to stay outside of the building. I can text him or call him in between though so that will help a little.

  6. Sorry you’re going through this, Darla. Don’t we all have enough on our plates right now? I hope everything goes OK and you don’t wind up with a moon crater on your forehead. I learned I had thyroid cancer at the tender age of 21. I got the same platitudes about it being the good kind of cancer and how lucky I was they caught it early. The grenade thing was pretty apt, in my case, since it’s still skulking around 30 years later, and surgery and four bouts of whole body radiation have left me with a smile-shaped scar on my neck, hearing loss, two weepy eyes, irritated sinuses, headaches, damaged salivary glands, rotten teeth, and a partridge in a pear tree. When I was in the hospital for the thyroid surgery, a co-worker left a gift on my bedside table. (I was asleep and she didn’t want to wake me.) It was a mug that said “Someday we’re gonna look back on this and laugh our asses off.” That day has still not arrived. Had I been awake, I probably would have read what it said and poked her eyes out. 🙂 Good luck.

    1. Oh my– you went through so much! Cancer really can ravage the body (and mind). Sorry you endured all of that (and the mug!) Thanks so much for the well wishes. It is insane how much everyone is going through this year. No one is spared the stress of 2020.

  7. I am sorry to hear your news and can relate in so many ways. I fought my own beast battle with cancer and won. While everyone means well saying “at least we caught it early” it does not deter from what the C word can mean. It does not deter the fear. It does not prepare us for the battle. The journey will feel long and arduous. Lean on those around you, and cry/scream/rage when you need to…sometime just a quick burst of insanity allows our sanity to remain in tact. We are all with you there in spirit. You will survive this. And god knows, it takes more than the C word to take a Maine woman out of this world (I speak from experience.) Wishing you much strength and light through your journey.

    1. Oh thank you for such inspiring words! Hearing from women like you who have survived cancer makes me feel like this is doable, I will be just fine. Maine women are some of the toughest on the planet, that’s for sure!

    1. Oh I didn’t know my story on Erma Bombeck’s was a bad link! That was years ago so maybe it’s a broken link now…I’ll have to search for it. Good for you for winning! I’ll have to check it out (and the virtual humor workshop!)

      1. When you re-link it, can you respond here with the new link? I think you’re a brilliant humorist and have thought you should enter your work in humor contests. LOL, turns out you do. Erma is my hero, along with RBG and the Golden Girls.

        1. Bummer! It appears they have an entirely brand new website for Erma Bombeck. My links are dead and I can’t google it to find it in their archives. Well, it was a long time ago. I will look forward to reading your post, congrats on the big win!!! Impressive! (I also love Erma, RBG and the Golden Girls)

          1. Thanks, Maineiac! I bet you’e had a similar swimsuit experience. Both of your posts were hilarious! Whenever you pop up in my feed, I know I’m in for a treat. 🙂

  8. Holy shit, girl!!! Talk about a shocker! I’m so very sorry to hear of the cancer. And I can only imagine how relieved you’ll be when it’s removed. Yes, I’ll admit one of the first thoughts I had was I’m glad it’s not melanoma, and I’m glad you acted on it quickly. (My husband wouldn’t have).

    They’ll likely make an elliptical cut, so it will end up pulling your forehead up. Facelift!

    But in all seriousness I’m glad you’re on top of things and you’ll be free of it in a few weeks. (I was at the dermatologist office last week getting a new mole under my eye frozen off).

    1. Facelift sounds good to me! haha! I have to laugh because it is so typical this year to get skin cancer. I mean, I guess my soul wanted to shake things up a little? I cannot wait to get this surgery over with and move on! Of course, now I have to be extra careful about being in the sun (I always was as an adult anyway). But now I’m wearing a wide-brimmed hat and sunscreen anytime I go out. 🙂

  9. I’m so sorry to hear about your diagnosis. I won’t say I know what you are going through, but I do know what your mom might be feeling. Great worry – would trade places with you if she could, maybe. At least, that’s how I felt both times my kid got a cancer diagnosis.
    Sounds like you are a fighter and you already know that humor under the worst possible circumstances is what gets you through every crappy thing that comes your way…
    … and bangs (or fringe, as the Brits would say…)
    Best wishes.

  10. Hi Darla, I am sorry to hear about your diagnosis. It is shocking to hear a cancer diagnosis any time but during a pandemic?!
    You’re correct no-one knows how they will react to a diagnosis till they hear it. Cancer visited our family three times. It was not easy, but thankfully we got lots of support from nursing staff, Doctors and friends and family. Despite the difficulty of what you are going through, you will see a lot of kindness.
    You are doing all the right things: visiting the doctor immediately, having your operation and what is also very important – talking about it. I wish you well for your operation and I wish you a good recovery.
    Thank you for sharing your writing. I enjoy reading your blog. Keep writing. x

  11. It’s a mark of year 2020 that after hearing the words “a scary C-word diagnosis” people don’t even think of cancer first. I’m sure you’re going to beat it, and if it makes you feel any better, 2020 is going to leave a hole in everyone’s head, only for you the metaphorical hole will actually coincide with the literal one. So 10 or 20 years from now, you could point to the hole, and say, “2020 did this to me”, and people will be like, ok, ok, that makes sense.

    1. Hahaha!! I love this comment so much. Jules really made me laugh with her comment: “Hey Darla, look at it this way…if Trump is reelected that day of your surgery just have them drill even deeper and give you a lobotomy!”

  12. Darla, I am sorry to hear your news. It sucks. Things are all Fun and games until someone brings up the “C” word.

    Wishing you the best of luck with your surgery. Doctors take care of faces. I know that from when I had my melanoma diagnosis in 2013 (of course it was 13. Just like 2020. 😡). The only people who have noticed the scar across my right cheeks are folks with brain damage who speak with no filters. 😳)

    Really, you will do ok. You will be terrified, and probably won’t be allowed to bend over for a month or so (not making that up). But you WILL be fine.

    1. Sorry you had to go through that, Elyse! I know I’ll be just fine, you’re right. Your words are very reassuring! I just hope that when I get home from surgery that day, there is some good election news.

  13. You turned 50? Where the hell have I been? Sending LOTS of positive energy your way. Don’t let anybody one-up you on your diagnosis. Cancer is cancer no matter the stage, size, or system it invades. Your sense of humor seems intact. Welcome to the fifties! Where shit happens fast. Slow down and let it sail on by. ~Best~

    1. Honie! So good to see you! Yes, the 50s have proven to be just a huge dumpster fire so far. Ah, well. It’s strange how when you reach this age you really do just feel lucky to be alive (even in this screwed up insane world we’re living in currently!)

  14. Sorry about your diagnosis. I’m reading this on the day of your surgery and will keep a good thought for you. As I’ve said to many people in many situations (including myself) in the last eight months, hang in there.

  15. So sorry that you have the crappy cancer. Whether its skin, lung, breast, wherever the little posse has set up camp, its cancer, the scariest word, the word I was frightened to even say before my diagnosis in case it heard me and descended upon me like a cloud of locusts.
    Hope your op went well. Sending hugs and luck and everything positive and good your way 💗 xxx

    1. Thanks so much for your kind words! The surgery went very well. It’s been a few weeks and I’m all healed up. I had it easy compared to most people with cancer. Hope you are doing well. Take care of yourself!

      1. Hi glad you’re recovering well. I’m ok, had last lot of fec chemo today before moving into weekly paclitaxel. Not too bad atm thank you so much for asking. Take care and keep on keeping on xxx

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