Still Paranoid But Headed to London

I realized that I never followed up from my previous paranoid post. I did go to the doctor, who looked at the growing red thing on my leg and wasn’t sure exactly what it was; but she thought it might be some kind of dermatitis, or worst case, maybe basal cell carcinoma. She gave me a prescription for a steroid creme to try to see if that would take care of it. I’ve been slathering the stuff on my spot on my leg for a week now. I’m looking at the spot now. It’s got some peeling skin over the top of the spot but underneath is exactly the same pink. And it’s still slightly raised.

I’ve got a follow-up with her after Thanksgiving so if this thing doesn’t clear up by then, I guess she might do a biopsy then. In the end, I guess I just need to wait and see. Which I suppose worked out since I was in Denver last weekend and having a biopsy would have made it more difficult to run around with friends of mine that live in the area. (I had a work meeting there on Monday so I figured I might as well take advantage of needing to be there anyway to catch up with some long-lost friends.)

On Sunday, I head to London to fulfill a promise I made to myself back in May to return there. I’m really looking forward to this trip. We have tickets to see a blues guitarist; we’re going to an EPL match at Wembley; and we’re staying in an apartment in Soho. It’ll be like trying on London as natives for a week. It was my favorite city in the world and after Spain, I’m curious to see if it still holds that spot in my heart.

So, I’ll worry about that pink spot once I return. I don’t want to be stressed and worried the entire time I’m in London. I want to experience life and be thankful for what I’m able to enjoy now. And if I return and need another biopsy, I’ll remind myself that I’ve been through this process before and came out of it with only a scar… But for now, London-bound!

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Yes, I am Paranoid, Right?

Ok, so a couple of posts ago, I mentioned that I had weird pink spots that I thought was an allergy-related thing. Well, one of them has decided to really jack with my head and expand rapidly in size to about the same size my previous Loki was before I had him removed. It’s only been a couple of weeks since this thing appeared and I was waffling on calling the doctor since I have my next follow up in early January – and quite frankly, I have a lot of stuff coming up between now and the end of the year that I don’t really want to mess up.

But then I realized that I harp on you guys all the damn time to call the doctor to get something checked out if it doesn’t seem right. What kind of hypocrite would I be to be all “stern mom” on you and then not take my own advice, particularly since I have an aggressive form of melanoma on my medical history?

So, I made an appointment today. The doctor’s office must have my name on a sticky note next to the phone because as soon as I mentioned my name and said I needed to have someone look at this thing, she gave me an appointment for tomorrow morning. I even joked that I was paranoid and they didn’t need to make me feel even more so by getting me in so soon. I mean, it’s on the total other leg! She kinda laughed and then said, so we’ll see you tomorrow.

I really, really hope I’m just paranoid. I really, really hope that the doctor is going to look at my leg and just tell me I need to use exfoliating lotion more often. Unfortunately, I really, really am sure that I’m going to have another biopsy tomorrow though… another bullet hole for me, yay. I’m getting flashbacks to a time 3 years ago (to the month) that I had some random pink spot on my leg that I thought was nothing that turned into something that I had never expected.

Keep your fingers crossed for me…

Symptoms You Can’t See – Really?

I found an article that notes that although 99 out of 100 cases of skin cancer has a lesion that is found on the skin; there is a possibility that you could have skin cancer without a visible lesion. How? As Dr. Jeremy Davis, a clinical instructor and surgeon at UCLA Health explains, “It’s not common, but there are situations where your immune system takes take of the primary mole or skin lesion even though the cancer itself has metastasized.”

First, that’s freaking scary… Second, how the heck do you know you have skin cancer then? The article goes on to list the symptoms you can’t see.

So, if you have lumps beneath the skin, specifically where your lymph nodes are, you should get checked. Now, your lymph nodes could be swollen for a variety of reasons. Every time I get really sick (usually once every 3 years), my lymph nodes in my neck swell up and make me look like I’m carrying marbles around in my neck (it’s highly attractive). Lymph nodes usually swell due to infection, illness or even stress. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re walking around harboring a case of hidden skin cancer.

What’s next on the list? Abdominal pain… I’ve mentioned before, but melanoma likes to go to the lungs, brain, and liver when it spreads. If you have pain in the upper right quadrant, it could mean that melanoma has spread to your liver. Or it could mean you have gallstones, ate too much spicy Mexican food last night, should stop drinking so much on the weekends or a myriad of other things. (Pain on the lower right quadrant is likely appendicitis so you probably should go to the doctor to get that checked out.)

The third thing on the list is “breathing problems”. As noted above, melanoma likes the lungs as much as the liver. So if you’re short of breath or have a persistent cough, you could be in trouble. Or, more likely, you have asthma or bronchitis or even horrible allergies. Heck, being overweight or out of shape can give you breathing problems.

Ok, next is achy joints. According to the article, melanoma may spread to your bones. But of course, you should see a doctor to rule out arthritis or inflammatory diseases or even psoriasis for your aches and pains before you stress about cancer in your bones.

Fifth on the list is blurry vision. So, some backstory. Melanoma is cancer of the pigment-producing parts of your body. Most of the time, people think it means skin; but melanocytes are also found in your eyes (unless you’re albino). Melanocytes make your eyes whatever color the irises are. According to the Mayo Clinic, you can’t see melanoma in the eye ordinarily when you look into a mirror. And typically, you don’t have any symptoms. So, the blurry vision thing might mean that you’ve got eye melanoma growing but it’s on the bigger side. Naturally, of course, there are a host of other reasons why your vision may be blurred. Things like aging, staring at a computer or phone screen too long, and a thousand other things that do not mean melanoma. If you’re experiencing consistent blurry vision, go get your eyes checked – but mostly because you need glasses or contacts.

Where else do melanocytes hang out besides your skin and eyes? Well, in your digestive system – which leads us to the next symptom on the list – gut problems. A whole host of issues in your belly could be a signal of hidden melanoma. Or, you know, it could mean anything else ranging from the aforementioned spicy Mexican food the night before, menstrual issues, lack of fiber or too much fiber in your diet, complications from medications, or anything else you can think of.

And finally, headaches… Apparently your brain has melanocytes too (who knew?) and therefore, you could have melanoma if you get headaches, seizures, or cognitive problems. Or, you could have migraines, seasonal allergies, tension, benign brain tumors, or epilepsy. Obviously, if you have persistent headaches or seizures or difficulties with coordination or memory, you should get checked out.

But this list drives me freaking crazy. First of all, the likelihood that any one of these is from a hidden melanoma is absurdly low. There is a much more prosaic reason why any of those symptoms would occur – especially on their own. This list is more likely to alarm people than actually do any good. And the other reason this list irritates me is that I have all of these symptoms right now. And I have a history of melanoma so it’s not like I’m being hypochondriac reading this list and thinking to myself, “well, damn that’s another checkmark”. But it lists a bunch of nebulous symptoms that most people, melanoma patient or not, will experience. Sometimes all at the same time.

So, should you read the list and decide that you are part of the unlucky 1%? Absolutely not. If you do have all of these symptoms, you might want to go to a doctor to see if you can get some relief. And you should be getting an annual skin check. But definitely don’t use a vague list of symptoms to self-diagnose hidden skin cancer…

Oh Allergy Season!

Our weather here in Austin has suddenly turned fall-like, with temperatures in the low 80s during the day and in the 60s at night. This weekend, we’re supposed to get temperatures that normally happen in the winter, with highs only in the 60s! Time to bust out my sweaters and of course, I would need to wash all of them first since they’ve pretty much sat collecting dust for the last 6 months.

And dust is the last thing I need. I’ve gotten some severe allergic reactions going on since I came back from a work trip to California last week. I am about to rub my eyes raw, which is not good because I love to read (just finished Anna Kendrick’s book, Scrappy Little Nobody – highly recommend. If I were famous, could sing and act, and write coherently, that would be the kind of book I would like to write. She is exactly the type of person I would like to be friends with, except I’m an introvert who can’t really make friends and there’s no way I could ever be friends with someone who’s consistently funnier than me, what would I bring to the relationship then?).

What the hell was I talking about? Oh, allergies… Anyway, the other bad thing about this latest installment of runny nose, itchy eyes, and sneezing is that I’m developing what is likely just a skin reaction. Except with my amelanotic melanoma history, every freaking little weird skin spot makes me obsess. And these spots only seem to be on my legs, which as readers of the blog know, have already demonstrated an enthusiasm for growing bad bits of skin.

I literally cannot take more benedryl without exceeding the recommended daily dosage and yet these weird reddish pink spots continue to taunt me. I’m 95% positive it’s just another in the ongoing quest for my skin to experiment with ways to jack with my head. But the other 5% is playing along with this game. Would it be weird to circle these things with a Sharpie to see if they’re growing? Is it weird that I just typed that question?

Anyway, one of my best friends and her husband are coming to stay with us this weekend. And I suppose I can’t go out looking like I’ve got the strangest case of chicken pox (which I do not currently have; for one, these spots don’t itch, and for two, I’ve already had chicken pox). Wish me luck that whatever the hell is causing me to break out in pink spots goes away soon…

How Early to Start Protecting Skin From the Sun?

I just read an interesting article regarding how early should you think about protecting your skin from the sun. Now, I have some issues with the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force for their lack of recommending annual skin exams; but this time, they are recommending physicians talk to parents of young, fair-skinned children even earlier than previously recommended. Want to know why they recommend talking to the parents instead of the patients themselves? Because they’re counseling physicians to start the conversation when a child is 6 months old…

The task force recommends that doctors with fair-skinned patients aged 6 months to 24 years of age should talk with them, or their parents, about ways to protect skin from sun exposure to reduce the risk for skin cancer. This can include talking about consistent application of sun block, wearing protective clothing, and not tanning indoors. Oddly, they recommend for patients older than 24 years of age to only receive counseling on a case-by-case basis. As usual, the Task Force makes a recommendation I don’t fully agree with. As you get older, you can still prevent skin cancer if you apply sun block and not tan indoors. It’s not like you have a magic threshold where you suddenly are immune. And let’s face it, most people aren’t too concerned with the distant future even at age 24. (I know I was still thinking that I wasn’t going to live past 37 when I was 24 because that felt incredibly ancient to me…)

While I’m happy that they’re recommending telling parents – hey, you should think about protecting your kid from the sun, especially when they’re not even coherent enough to go to the bathroom on their own – I am disappointed that they specifically called out only for fair-skinned patients. Why not recommend that all parents receive that information? Skin cancer doesn’t only affect the pale. And the term “fair skinned” is so freaking nebulous. Who decides someone is fair or not? If you’re olive skinned and your doctor is super pale, is the doctor going to assume that you don’t get that information because she or he is more fair skinned than you? Honestly, would it really derail the U.S. medical system if they just told all parents with babies – hey, you shouldn’t let your kid get a boatload of UV exposure and here’s what you can do about it?

So, on one hand, I actually like that the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force made an update to their recommendation; but on the other, it still feels incomplete and to be honest, a bit discriminatory.

Super Sad Day for Me

Today is not a good day for me. Or for my husband. Or for some of our friends back in Ohio. Today is the funeral of one of my husband’s best friends.

I met Joe the same night that I met my husband. He, Joe, another male friend of theirs named Mike, Joe’s then girlfriend, and her sister were all hanging out at the same place I was hanging with a bunch of my friends. My hubby and I exchanges glances all night until he finally got the courage (probably beer inspired) to come talk to me. During our dating phase, we hung out with Joe and his girlfriend-then wife-then ex-wife often. We went to their wedding, their Halloween parties, and once went to an amusement park together. Joe was an amazing guitar player, could play a song after hearing it once. We used to go watch him play with the various bands he was in. When my hubby recently decided to finally learn to play guitar, he texted and Skyped with Joe to talk chords. We hadn’t seen him since we moved to Texas but there were plenty of texts and phone calls.

We got the news late last week that he killed himself. I can’t even type that without my heart breaking. He apparently thought he had contracted rabies through the bite of a bat. Supposedly he was on the treatment for the virus and I don’t know the specifics – maybe he thought it wasn’t working, maybe he was too far along for it to work – I don’t know. I do know that his father found him in his garage with both cars running and he had shot himself. I didn’t even know he had a gun.

I managed to find a really good last-minute deal for my husband to fly back for the wake and funeral. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the same for me to go along. Obviously, my hubby needs to be there more than I do. But I’m really sad to not have the chance to say goodbye and to hug all of us that are left wondering what the hell happened and how we could have lost a friend this way.

RIP Joe…

Back from Spain (Catalunya) – Part Six – The Journey Home

Thursday morning, I woke up earlier than I needed to and probably still under the influence of a boatload of rosado. I repacked as quickly as I could, grabbed a shower and woke up the hubby. Previously, there had been some issues getting through security at the Barcelona Airport because there were work slowdowns by the security forces in the airport. I had heard horror stories of 3+ hour waits to get through and was paranoid after the referendum debacle that there would be more of those stoppages. As a precaution, I wanted to get to the airport at least 3 hours in advance.

As luck would have it, there was a taxi literally at the end of the street as we exited the apartment. It was like he was waiting for us. And even better, he accepted credit cards – which as anyone who has taken a cab anywhere in the world, that’s not a guarantee. So, oddly enough, we went through this entire trip without needing cash. With me, I had some random Euros from my previous trip in the Spring, but never needed it. So glad we were able to put everything on the card to get points and miles!

The ride to the airport was quick and before I knew it, we were dropped off at T1. Thankfully, we didn’t need to check a bag because that line was a good 150 people deep. We waltzed through security fairly quickly, although my hubby jacked us up by scanning my boarding pass rather than his because he didn’t look closely enough when he pulled it up from the app. The security guy was kinda laughing about it though so all good. My hubby did get randomly selected for additional screening, meaning he had to get swabbed. I somehow forgot my hoodie but lo and behold, the security people had it pulled to the side when I went back to retrieve it 15 minutes later. Honestly, the security and the lost and found people were awesome.

In the airport, we wandered around and Zara called to my hubby like a “beacon of shining light”. Fortunately, he didn’t buy anything because he would have been over the bag limit and the way the United gate agents have been lately, that would have been no bueno. Apparently, we needed to get McDonald’s one last time but I sorely needed some food anyway. We did have a fairly long, tedious wait at passport control before we could enter the sterile gate area but after we made it through, we boarded pretty quickly. We got settled in for our 8 hour flight back to Washington Dulles and I passed the time playing games on the entertainment center (which randomly would go blank screen every 4 minutes – United, get your entertainment displays fixed) and reading. Finally, we were making our final descent and touching back down on U.S. soil.

Fortunately for me, I have Global Entry and TSA Pre-check so I was through passport control, customs, and rescreening security in less than five minutes. Quite a change from the hour I spent during that process the last time I flew international through Dulles. I cooled my heels sitting at a random gate waiting for my hubby who does not have Global Entry but I was sucked into a book as it was and didn’t mind waiting for him. The gate for our flight to Orlando was the exact same gate we had to fly out to Barcelona, which was kinda weird. We also had the bag sizer dragon ladies at our gate who made even first class people put their bags in the sizer (seriously). Mine and my husband’s both had to go in the sizer, which is dumb because my bag was smaller than half the ones that the dragon ladies let through unchallenged. I hate randomly applied rules and United seems to do that all the freaking time now.

In Orlando, we stood in the drizzle for the hotel shuttle, and finally got to check in for our last night on the road. At check-in, I mentioned the issue with the AC from our previous time and the boy at the check in desk assured me that we could switch rooms if there was a problem. Well, lo and behold, our AC unit was broken and leaking water onto the carpet. And when we went back downstairs on our way to dinner, there was a different person at the desk. She told me that they were sold out and there were no other rooms to move me to but she would get engineering to look at it. I have to imagine the look on my face was not pleasant. We went to dinner a short walk away but I spent the whole time stewing about the AC situation. When we got back, of course the engineer couldn’t fix it but they managed to come up with a room that did have somewhat working AC, but with two beds rather than the king I had booked. I was so exhausted that I collapsed on one of the beds and fell asleep – but I had to wake up every four hours to reset the AC to cool the room. Suffice to say, despite my elite status with that hotel chain, I will never stay there again when I need a room in the Orlando Airport area. The only good thing is that they honored my late check out request and so we could relax in the room until 3pm without the maids banging on the door every five minutes.

We took the shuttle back to the airport and I was never more grateful for having both TSA Pre-Check and Clear because the lines were insane at security. As it was, we had to wait 15 minutes but the lines without would have been at least 45 minutes, if not longer. I overheard someone complaining they waited over an hour! And of course, I got my bag pulled aside for extra screening because I apparently did too good of a job rolling my clothes. The TSA agent was impressed with my packing abilities but he couldn’t get everything back in “just so” to make the bag not look like it was about to spew my clothes everywhere. Fortunately, JetBlue is less militant about putting bags in the sizer and I didn’t have to worry about struggling to jam it in one of those. The flight from Orlando to Austin was extraordinarily pleasant and again JetBlue deserves some props for making air travel nice.

One of my friends offered to come pick us up from the airport in Austin, and seeing as I’ve had to set an alarm clock to take him to and from the airport a few times, I took him up on the offer. It was nice to ride in his car rather than the bus home. We walked into our condo to hear our kitty meowing incessantly for the next couple of hours. I guess she had a lot to tell us.

We had a great trip and I’m really glad that my hubby seems to enjoy wandering Europe just as much as I do. I’m looking forward to having him experience my favorite city – London – next month. I just won’t have him be in charge of directions…