05/20/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Saving Face: Skin Cancer

It's always been about my face. My sister pursued her artistic talent. My brother parlayed his smarts into several advanced degrees. I tried to capitalize on my looks. Our parents were all about education, so it's not like I didn't have to think. But the combination opened the door to a career in TV news after graduating from college ('though my dad teased me I'd probably bring back radio.)
My pre-occupation with my appearance was part of what propelled me to the beaches of Long Island half a life ago. Blessed (I thought) with "olive" skin, I rarely burned and frolicked in the sunshine from Memorial Day 'til Labor Day.
Even in school in New England, I was the first one out on the dorm's fire escape bundled up but still catching those first rays of spring. Sun block was never part of the equation. I distinctly remember a classmate (who's now a doctor) warning me of UV damage. I shrugged it off. Vanity ruled.
This brings me to today. I am sequestered in my Baltimore home with a bandage covering stitches the length of my nose. This week a suspicious mole turned out to be more cancer. I have had several on my legs and arms, and joked "there goes my modeling career." But this time it's no joke. My former meal ticket is damaged beyond repair. The good news is I retired from the anchor desk 3- months ago. The only "face time" I should be concerned about is the time left off- camera.
How could vanity trump the alternative? We've all heard stories of women smoking to stay thin. Forgoing mastectomies because they don't want to be 'disfigured.' Passing on chemo rather than losing their hair. I am now cancer- free... an image more beautiful than any mirror could provide.
As soon as I met my husband in the waiting room I burst into tears. He told me he was in love with the inside. Bad sign. Our son came home from college the next day and echoed his dad's sentiments. Sweet boy. A few close friends assure me the scar's not that bad, and will fade with time. What do they know? I search the web for a more definitive prognosis from fellow survivors. It looks like 8 months is the consensus for healing.
But I digress. Consistently. The real prognosis is so much more important, and it's good. All the cancer's gone, for now. Like most of my other 'suspicious moles,' I'll probably be the one to detect future cancers. And that's why I'm going public with this embarrassing and humbling experience. We must be our own health advocates. No one knows your own body or face as well as you do. That includes your doctors. You see something that wasn't there yesterday? Or it's grown, or changed somehow? Get it checked and get it removed. Saving face could mean saving your life.