Is this a cautionary tale? Family saga? Exploration of skin as metaphor? Without really knowing I’ll just begin as I sit here recouping from yet another Moh’s procedure. If you know what this means, I’m sorry. Having been the recipient four times in twenty years, I’m way too familiar. Twice a year Mr. Dermatologist inspects for dry scaly areas, which he painfully freezes so new healthy tissue has a chance to emerge.
Sometimes these lesions require biopsy. The dreaded squamous cell diagnosis means the skin cancer has gone deep. On to Moh’s surgery where each layer of visible cancer is removed one at a time and microscope checked. They continue cutting away until the the wound margins are clear. So now I have a dime-sized crater in right shin and enough medical knowledge to know that lower leg wounds heal very slowly due to poor circulation. Do not fracture your tibia! This tender hollow aches under pressure and I am called to ghastly wound care once daily but other than that I am good to go.
Except I’m left to wonder about the meaning of this recurrent condition. Left pondering the energetic quality of skin, this organ that completely envelops my being. The ultimate line of defense between me and the rest of the world. What does it mean that this flesh wall does not hold? With all that I’ve learned about my history of being defended, with all the work I’ve done peeling away layers, with all my willingness to allow my vulnerability to show. Is this some metaphorical sign from the universe that I’ve gone too far? Not far enough? I sure don’t know. Just musing.
The intriguing story is that the medical roots of this issue reach all the way back in time to when those very lines of defense were arising. Being carefully constructed layer by layer in order to survive a childhood fraught with peril. And the truth is that, hand in hand with the peril, there was beauty as well. Because my mom and dad were deeply in love with the wilds of California and they fed me with this love. Each spring my dad pored over topographical maps of the Eastern Sierras and every summer of the 1960’s we’d head out to Lone Pine or Bishop for two weeks of raw down to earth adventure.
Now, mind you, this was way before backpacking was a thing. For us, there was no tent, no stove, no water filter. We would just dip cups into rivers, cast fishing lines into pristine lakes, cook over fire, lay flannel bags out under the stars. It was a literal paradise and these experiences instilled an intense appreciation for all things outdoors. Ironically though, it was all those hours of high elevation sun exposure that set the stage for Moh’s. This was before sunscreen and I never wore a hat…note picture above. The cautionary part of this tale? Climate change makes sun exposure ever more perilous. Sigh.
So there you have it: cautionary tale, family saga, skin as metaphor all wrapped up together. Make of it what you will. And may it serve to set you wandering/wondering about your own body tales. The weaving of history with the unique challenges each of us face over the arc of a lifetime. Fascinating.