On a night twenty years ago, when I was in my mid-thirties, I was lying in bed reading. My gaze kept being tugged away from the page to a spot on my left arm. Two freckles (well, moles really) had been there for as long as I could remember. But this night I noticed a third, sitting in between them. Again and again, this uninvited newcomer interrupted my reading, demanding my attention.
I have no idea if bodies are able to send subliminal messages to the mind, but I couldn’t ignore a feeling of urgency and the next day I booked in to see a GP.
“Isn’t that a mozzie bite?” he asked.
The next GP I saw said “I don’t think it’s anything, but if you’re uneasy lets have it whipped off.”
I’m so thankful he did ‘whip it off’ because the young intern who rang me the following week told me that it was a Stage II Melanoma. That meant more than the ‘whip it off’ kind of surgery. The zigzag incision enabled the surgeon to use 27 stitches to draw flaps of skin across what otherwise would have been a ‘hole’ in my arm.
Twenty years later I have had no recurrence of melanoma but I’m considered ‘high risk’ because of my history of sun exposure. I see a skin specialist every 12 months and am given an immediate appointment if I notice anything ‘new’. My partner is also pretty familiar with my constellations of moles and is always on the lookout for a new ‘star’.
Although I still love the outdoors, I remind myself often that vanity is not a priority when it comes to sun protection. My ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ hat and long sleeves are part of my walking gear, as is my long-sleeved rashie when I go swimming.
Whenever I hear of someone who has been diagnosed or who has died from melanoma, I’m reminded of the vulnerability that all those years of sun exposure created for me. Covering up is a habit I’ve chosen to adopt – with a little encouragement from past experience.
About Guest Blogger Karen Manwaring:
Karen Manwaring is a writer and teacher living in Melbourne. Her book ‘A Slow Walk Across Spain – walking the Camino de Santiago’ has just gone to a 2nd edition. Her story ‘Little Birds’ was published in ‘Award Winning Australian Writing, 2015.’
Karen teaches adults returning to study in neighbourhood and community settings. She teaches Intro to Creative Writing and Nonfiction courses at the CAE in Flinders Lane, where she and her partner also run workshops on walking the Camino de Santiago.
Karen rarely finds a hat that suits her but wears them anyway. Visit Karen at her camino calling website