Monday, June 19, 2006

Run From the Sun

Let's talk about the C-word and being PC. No, not that particularly vulgar Anglo-Saxon C-word that is the equivalent of going thermonuclear in an arguement involving both sexes, nor am I about to go all politically correct.

I am speaking of the other C-word. The Big C. Cancer. Skin cancer to be exact, and PC is short for pre-cancerous skin lesions, or as they like to say down at the lab - Actinic Keratosis. The bush league version of the Big Leagues, the Basals, Squamous, and the biggest of them all, the Melanoma Cancers, baby!

It sounds hideous, and let me tell you, under a magnifying glass and after ten days of slapping 5% Efudex Fluorouracil on a colony of them, it
looks hideous. I may as well be a leper in James Michener's novel Hawaii...

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I was suspicious of a patch of skin on my forehead that just wouldn't seem to heal (and a tiny spot at that, no more than one or two millimetres across). For a couple of months the spot wouldn't go away, and every once in a while, after coming out of a shower and toweling off, it would begin to spot with blood all over again.

The irony of the following is that last Fall I wrote a script about a writer who finds out that he has incurable cancer and an unagreeably short shelf-life.... Yada-yada-yada... The rest of the plot details are another Blog. Anyways, I am a bit of a research fiend - finding it one of the most enjoyable aspects of writing - so I was soon knee-deep in all kinds of material on cancer.

I vividly recall my skin crawling at the time as I read all about more kinds of cancers than you would ever want to know about. As I eyed this little patch of petulant epidermis, I already
knew that it was all fucked up and probably cancerous. So when I was referred to a dermatologist who confirmed what I already suspected, it was no great surprise. But it was a little unsettling to be examined by the Doctor like a bug on a pin as he slipped on his Buck Rogers magnifying glasses, with high-beam lights for extra measure I hasten to add, and pored over like I was the latest edition of Playboy magazine at Summer camp.

The Doctor and I reviewed a couple of treatment options. One was a quick and dirty, freeze the little bastards on the spot. The second, based on the premise that for every abnormal skin lesion you see, there are four more hiding in the bushes, was slather on a chemical ointment for 45 days and rout out ALL the abnormal skin cells. And let me tell you, the before and after photos of the ointment treatment are nothing to sneeze at. And the Doc was right up front about asking me if I was worried about my appearance over the next month and a half...

Never having made a living with my mug, and rather than freezing the visible trouble spots, we said, well, I said, let's go the scorched earth route and spray my face down with chemicals and see what happens. Ten days in it is a sight to behold. I have bright-red, very sensitive and extremely painful lesions all over my forehead, cheek bones and temples. All the places that get lots of rays.

My bid to be the poster boy for skin cancer is not really that surprising. I fit the classic profile in any number of ways.

Here are my qualifications to be this year's Cancer Boy:

Fair Skin - even worse, I am a freckle-faced red head. The single highest risk group. Yikes!

Sunburns as a child - growing up outdoors on the Canadian prairies, I spent my summer shedding my skin like a little snake.

Age - at 45 going on 46, it would be more unusual if I had no Actinic Keratosis, than if I did. Which, trust me, I do.

Sun Exposure - a large part of my life has been spent outdoors, and I also had increased exposure from years spent skiing and being on the water. I have travelled a lot near the Equator, and as much as I have used sunscreen, I have also used tanning booths in the mistaken belief that they would help me "pre-tan" before being exposed to the sun. I have logged many miles outdoors in the sun.

I have smartened up in the past ten years, waering lots of sunscreen and many a hat, but the Doc tells me that by then, most of the serious damage was already done. The skin lesions I have today are the result of a lifetime of over-exposure and neglect.

So I have thirty-five days of treatment to go, and based on the pictures I've seen, it's going to get a lot uglier before it gets any prettier. Of course in my case, that might mean ever! The good news is that the Efudex really does seek out and destroy all the abnormal skin cells present. Afterwards, it will be 60 Sunblock plus.

The bad news is that it is estimated that anywhere from 2-5% of actinic keratosis, or in laymen's terms, "pre-cancerous skin lesions", go on to develop into basal skin carcinoma's, or squamous skin cancers. Some people think that all such lesions are ALL precursors to skin cancer.

So for your reading pleasure and edification - and maybe a little education - I enclose the following Links.

And as for that troubling little spot on your forehead: when in doubt - check it out!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Vince can I have your yellow racing flats if you bite the big one?

Shoes that pretty shouldn't go to the grave with you.

And whenever we see little yellow blurs go by - we'll think of you.

2:45:00 AM  
Blogger Scooter said...

I was at a race yesterday evening. Because of a pre-race cloudburst, I'd put on my sun hat. One of my friends started teasing me about how the hat would ensure that women would avoid me. During the course of the evening, it became something of a running (no pun intended) joke, with women approaching me offering themselves because of the hat.

I guess that having a face that can frighten gargoyles for a few weeks isn't that big a deal. Good luck with the treatment.

I'll probably use Steamtown (October) to take a crack at Boston re-Q.

5:48:00 AM  
Blogger Vince Hemingson said...

Scooter, I am a living testament to the fact that is nearly impossible to underestimate the generousity of women.

That or their propensity for making rash decisions while under the influence of alcohol...

Good luck in Steamtown.

6:45:00 AM  
Anonymous Dan said...

Nice to see you still have your usual irreverent take on matters.

6:54:00 AM  
Blogger Vince Hemingson said...

Hey, I'm only losing my face, not my sense of humour.

7:27:00 AM  
Blogger Vince Hemingson said...

And notice I'm wearing a hat in my Blog pic?

Where's the justice in that?

7:28:00 AM  
Blogger Justin Callison said...

In the spirit of recognizing it could always be worse, check this story out:

Yikes ....

7:57:00 AM  
Anonymous kelly said...

well, that just killed any desire i had to get to the tanning salon to start on my summer tan. I guess it takes hearing about the effects on someones life to realize that tanning is just not worth it!

9:05:00 AM  
Blogger Joe said...

Wow. I hope the treatment goes well for you Vince. Take care of yourself.

10:28:00 AM  
Blogger Anthony Epp said...

Hey Vince,
This is from the "it will never happen to me" category of youth... It is vitally important to make sure people do understand these things are to be taken seriously. It's not about avoiding that pesky sun altogether, but be smart. We are all outdoors for a LONG time and, while it is tough to see my friend go through this, I'm glad you have an outlet with your blog and the running groups to make sure that those of us who put ourselves at the most risk (the outdoorsy sun-worshipping types that we are) get the coverage up...
Godspeed my friend and you'll nick this one like you've overcome so many other challenges!

3:57:00 PM  

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