Wednesday, July 13, 2011

I don’t have skin cancer: One hypochondriac’s story

I’m not a chronic hypochondriac. Most of the time, I am in pretty good health, and I know it, and I am deeply grateful for it. But every few years, I suffer an acute attack of “Oh my God, I am going to die.” The first one was in college. I was awakened out of sleep by a hammer to my brain, accompanied by lots of lovely puking. I went to the health center as soon as they opened, sure that I was dying. It was a migraine. My first and, thankfully, my worst by a very wide margin. But still, a stinkin’ headache. They told me, “You have a headache. Take Tylenol.” I didn’t die from it, although at some moments in the next few hours, I wished I would.

A few years later, I decided I had a thyroid condition. This acute bout of hypochondria was somewhat substantiated by every single doctor I have ever met, each of whom asked me whether I had ever had my thyroid checked, and when I told them I had, every single one felt the need to double-check for themselves anyway, because my symptoms fit so perfectly. After doing lots of research on the internet, repository of only completely 100% accurate medical information, I even convinced one doctor to put me on thyroid medication despite a “normal range” blood result. Sadly, it did not magically cure my weight gain, allergies, fatigue, dry skin, eczema, depression, and low blood pressure. It didn’t do a damn thing. Because despite my grocery list of vague amorphous thyroid-y symptoms, I do not have a thyroid condition.

Other than being terrified that I was carrying conjoined twins (before I even knew I was having twins), and a brief death-fear during my first gallbladder attack, I have been blissfully hypochondria-free for nearly a decade.

Until two months ago, when a large freckle that has been on my abdomen for years started to change. It wasn’t raised exactly, but I could find it with my fingertips without looking, something that was never true before. And was it darker? Maybe. Not sure. Does that edge count as “scalloped?” Bigger than a pencil eraser, check. Slightly asymmetric in color. Crap. I called my dermatologist, and was shocked at their nonchalance. Two months wait for an appointment, far shorter than the usual six month wait to have them check out my eczema, rosacea, and other non-scary skin maladies, but still far longer than a hypochondriac with cancer-fear wants to wait.

For two months, I became increasingly convinced that I had skin cancer. I felt like this thing on my body was changing by the week, which was quite possibly true or just as possibly my paranoid imagination. And if it could change that fast, maybe it was invading my entire body. But the dermie wasn’t worried enough to have me come in right away, so surely skin cancer can’t spread that fast. Except that it did with Izzie on Grey’s Anatomy, and of course that show is totally realistic. Suddenly every spot on my body (and I have a whole lot of them) was suspect. Is that freckle new? Is it darker than the other freckles? Is that an age spot, or a metastasis? You get the idea.

I finally went to the dermatologist this morning. The nurse, who had not yet seen the spot, was talking about biopsies and pathology and blah blah until I was ready to hurl. After a thankfully brief wait, the doc came in, took one look, and said, “Oh that’s a seborrheic keratosis. It’s benign. We can just freeze it off.”

She froze it off, checked the rest of my skin, and that was that. I was out in ten minutes. Gratitude.

I feel as if a weight has been lifted. I didn’t want to freak anyone out, so I haven’t talked about it much, but I was sure I had skin cancer. A very few people know how scared I have been about this, especially the friend I showed it to despite the fact that I was wearing a dress and had to show her my undies in order to show her my abdomen. But in general, I have tried to keep my fears to myself. But hypochondriacal or not, they were very real fears for me, and I am filled to the brim with gratitude today that I do not have skin cancer.


  1. I have been through the exact same thyroid thing; I was so convinced it was the problem that I cried when the test came back normal--such an easy fix for all your problems!

    When you're a cancer "survivor", you go through pretty much the same cycle of not-thinking-about-it and bouts of hypochondria, but A. ONE time, your hypochondria turned out to be founded, so the "it's probably nothing" internal conversations are much more turgid, and B. doctors become hypochondriac-al on your behalf (I get sent to specialists "just in case" for little bumps *much* more than I used to).

    Glad your spot is nothing. A very good feeling indeed. :)

  2. Heh. You said turgid. This may be the first time I have seen the word turgid used without a euphemism for penis immediately following.

  3. Did I say "turgid"? I meant to say "throbbing".

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