While I am an eternal optimist, I have trouble not assuming the worst when I am told that something could potentially be cancerous and thus needs to be removed, biopsied, or screened in some other manner. Sadly, my familial experience with cancer, and more specifically with Lynch Syndrome, has left me unable to not fear the worst when doubt surfaces as to whether something is cancerous or not.
Two months ago, I went to my final appointment of this year's round of cancer screenings. After good news at the gynecological oncologist -- he said that he thought yearly endometrial biopsies are overkill at this point -- I went for my body scan at the dermatologist. I went to the dermatologist feeling like I was in the homestretch. Of all the things I worry about when it comes to Lynch Syndrome, dermatology is definitely at the bottom of the list.
I should preface the previous comment by saying that I know I should take dermatology more seriously. I think that with the plethora of potential cancers I face, I probably regard dermatological cancers as those I am least likely to have because they are seemingly the least correlated to Lynch Syndrome. What I sometimes overlook is the fact that my paternal genetics put me at risk for skin cancer. My dad's father passed away from it, and my dad has had many pre-cancerous growths removed recently. With all that being said, I still went to my dermatology appointment feeling like I was almost done and in the clear for the year.
Stupid me. About a year ago, I picked at what I thought was an ingrown hair on my leg. It wasn't, and I created/exacerbated what was assumed to be a cyst. It was injected with cortisone twice, six months apart. I did not pay much attention to the bump above my ankle because I believed it was nothing more than something gross that I created. I viewed it as a very good lesson in not picking at things.
Anyway, when the dermatologist looked at it she was concerned. She looked at her notes and saw that it had grown significantly since she first examined it. She said, "I don't like the way it looks, I don't like the ways it feels, not to mention how unsightly it is." She said she wanted it biopsied, and thought the best plan was to excavate the entire lesion. Reprise -- best case it's nothing, worst case it's something.
The dermatologist sent me to a plastic surgeon, explaining that the growth was too big for her to remove. I spent the entire week prior to seeing the plastic surgeon completely obsessed and anxious that it was "something." I tried to remind myself that the whole reason I do this yearly (six months in the case of dermatology) screening is so that anything that develops will be caught and treated early. I tried to focus on the fact that most likely it was "nothing." However, I could not shake my anxiety -- I felt, as I often do, that even if this did turn out to be "nothing," eventually there will be "something."
About a week after the excision I learned the results of the biopsy. What was removed was a benign tumor. Firstly, I think the medical community should call benign tumors something else. While I now know that benign tumors cannot become cancerous, I feel that the general population of non-doctors would appreciate a less intimidating term. When I tell people what was removed, they seem taken aback the same way that I was when I heard the diagnosis.
The news that it was a benign tumor was extremely good news, but it was scary good news. My doctor told me that her research suggests that the kind of tumor I had could be related to Lynch Syndrome. It is very unlikely that I will have another similar growth, but hearing that there could be a correlation between the benign tumor on my leg and Lynch Syndrome was disconcerting.
The experience was extremely anxiety-ridden. Even after learning the good news that the growth was not cancerous, I had trouble moving past the experience and could not immediately feel the sense of relief that I should have felt. Instead, I was focused on the fact that while this time I was fortunate, and it was in fact "nothing," I know that the reality is that one day there will be something. I know that everyone has his or her fears of what the future will bring as relates to one's health. It is a blessing that I have the information about my genetics that I do -- I truly believe it will enable me to live a long, healthy life. However, at the same time, I do need to be prepared to have these kinds of health scares. It is the very reason I have these screenings -- to remove and/or treat things that are or could be cancerous in their early stages before they become life threatening. Cognizant that such is the case does not override the anxiety I experience when I learn something needs further attention.
I suppose this experience is a good reminder not to let anxiety get the best of me. Looking back at my emotional state from the time I went to the dermatologist to the point I was finally able to move past this health scare, I realize how useless my anxiety was. In many ways I am writing this as a reminder to myself and to others to stay calm. Anxiety really is not worth anyone's time. Better to put fears in the back of my mind until a time when there is something that truly needs my attention. Until then, and I hope there never is that time, the best thing to do is to have positive energy and hopeful thoughts.