Like a music group of old, “We Are Family”. Sly and the Family Stone, Sister Sledge, The Righteous Brothers… I’m wrapped up in a genetic family that leaves me with the desire to go solo.
Cancer is the glue that holds us together.
If you don’t think I’m scared out of my mind, then you just don’t see the smoking gun I’m staring into the barrel of right now.
Not only does my sister have breast cancer (thankfully she’s doing great), I found out that my mother had Stage IV uterine cancer a while back. She just didn’t think it was anything she needed to share with her handful of daughters. Why….
Now my father has Stage IV esophageal cancer that is inoperable and has spread to his liver (also inoperable). Turns out the lump in his esophagus was so large that eating anything solid was impossible.
I’m pretty fair-skinned. Like a Norse damsel in the tropics, I’ve had my share of serious sunburns. I was raised in the time before SPF. Our suntan lotions had labels like: Dark, Medium, Light. Well, hell, I wanted to be dark like the rest of my siblings so that’s what I used when I wasn’t slathering on the baby oil and iodine.
Damn you, Coco Channel…
“…in the 1920s, fashion-designer Coco Chanel accidentally got sunburnt while visiting the French Riviera. When she arrived home, she arrived with a suntan and her fans apparently liked the look and started to adopt darker skin tones themselves. Tanned skin became a trend partly because of Coco’s status and the longing for her lifestyle by other members of society. In addition, Parisians fell in love with Josephine Baker, a “caramel-skinned” singer in Paris, and idolised her dark skin. These two women were leading figures of the transformation tanned skin underwent, in which it became perceived as fashionable, healthy, and luxurious.” ~Wikipedia on Sun Tanning
Around age 16 the dermatologist, who was treating me for my raging teenage acne, looked my mother in the eye and said these words that are burned into my memory:
You can’t keep taking her to the beach. She will get skin cancer.
Even my 16 year old self, mired in my invincibility, sat up and took notice at the emphasis he put on the word “will”. Sure, I knew I would die someday, but that was like 80 years away… Cancer. Now that was something that snuck up on people.
To this day, I look younger than my actual age. I credit it to my time in the shade. I didn’t try to tan again after that day.
Skin cancer is easy to detect. Look for funny moles, new and mysterious discoloration, basically anything out of the ordinary, then have it scraped off, sent to the lab, and checked out. I’m good with skin cancer. It’s easily to find early and my dermatologist gives me the official once-over each year.
But this family cancer… this is scary. How do you check your esophagus for a funny spot. What if the breast cancer or uterine cancer is fast moving and feels like waging war on your body between mammograms and pelvic exams? How do you guard your fortress against these silent threats?
I’ve made a new round of appointments with my OB/GYN and GP. When they ask me about my family history, my answer will no longer be “my dad has high blood pressure.” Now it will be, “My sister has breast cancer, my mother has uterine cancer, and my dad has esophageal and liver cancer.”
If they want to poke and prod me a little bit extra, I’m OK with that.