Searching for Cancer

The evil nitrous oxide spray

The evil liquid nitrogen spray

This week, I read a dreadful article in the NY Times, called “Why Everyone Seems to Have Cancer.” It explains how living longer will just end in malignancy anyway: inescapably, in our old age, the choice will lie between dying from cancer or from complications of alzheimer’s, which doesn’t deserve a capital letter. Insanity ensues (pun unintended).

I didn’t even care for the promise at the end, the “consolation” that we soon might live until 200 — well, not everyone; just those among us who are fortunate enough, because it will require tons of money to benefit from all of these new medical advances.

As for me, you know, I’ve made my peace with the high odds of a fierce fight against good old Alois A., “the German,” as one of our authors called it on Facebook. It is my genetic inheritance, after all; what can I do? And I don’t believe that, as another writer said, “when we get there, science will already have found a solution for all of this,” because I’m very aware that, at sixty-two, I’m already there.

Now, I don’t feel half as good when it comes to the “Big C,” as described by another of our authors, this one a contributor to our new book of essays No divã com as esteticistas  — maybe to escape the “curse of saying it out loud,” I guess. Although I can say the whole word, I panic even at the thought of it, so much that I’d avoided, for as long as I could, joining in the contemporary custom of searching it in every corner of our bodies, well before it decides to make an appearance. Honestly, count me out.

For the last six years, I confess, I’ve been dutifully avoiding my gyno. After all, why would you visit a gynecologist, anyway? Precisely. You go there every six months to search for cancer, as recommended by good medical practice.

Ok, let me clear something up: I’m the exact opposite of socially responsible role models such as, say, Angelina Jolie. She’s tall, I’m short; she’s beautiful (even in name), and I… well, never mind. My lips, with time, have become a mere tense line carved in my face; hers, on the other hand… I have no children of my own to raise; my stepsons are adults, and I should have no worries (although I do worry about those two strapping, tall and gorgeous boys anyway, it’s an addiction.) And, last but not least, for the past nine years I’ve been married to the perfect antithesis of Brad Pitt  — ok, I’ll spare you from the painful truth. (Incensed by the comparison to Brad Pitt, Alan got his revenge by telling me he once saw Angelina and her opulent lips across the street from the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, at the corner of Rodeo Drive, boarding a crowded bus to uncertain whereabouts.) When it comes to body parts, there’s an even sharper contrast between us, as I’m overly attached to every inch of my own decaying matter, including the pieces that were removed yesterday, much against my will.

I can’t remember when it started: one of those ugly spots that usually appear on fair skin — I don’t want to say, that show up on “older people’s skin” — grew into something still tiny, but irregular and dark, almost black, right beneath my jaw. You couldn’t really see it, as it was hidden by my intractable mass of gray hair. But Alan could see, or point, at nothing else. He already pictured me disfigured and jawless, as the late Lucy Grealy, poor thing.

Melodramatic, he even took me downhill to Rio de Janeiro to meet my cousin, who had recently removed a small, but decidedly invasive melanoma from her back.

“Everything starts small,” said the skin whisperer. There was no escape, so I scheduled an appointment for two weeks later with the same wise doctor who had diagnosed my cousin and saved her life, thank goodness.  If it came down to that, I would be saved as well.

Those were a couple of hellish weeks. Between hysterical and concerned, Alan even postponed the down payment for the Greenville lot I so badly wanted: “My wife has an appointment with an oncologist on the 3rd, to perform a few biopsies,” he overstated to the stressed-out South Carolina realtor. Born again and sympathetic, the poor guy could only promise to “pray for me.” Amen.

Ok, then. After several sleepless nights, the fateful day arrived. I forgot to tell you I would be seeing my gyno as well — why not go the whole nine yards, right? April 3rd would be a full C-day; from the 3rd it should not pass, the threat of cancer would finally be in the past.

To tell you the truth, after a lot of miserable googling, I’d reached the conclusion that it was no more than a keratosis of some kind; it was already fading away — but this was still cause for concern: while 25% of all keratosis go away on their own, the rest might evolve into a malignant tumor.

Anyway, to make a long story short, I had three small skin patches removed by the dermatopathologist, one of them almost unnoticeable, but “highly suspicious” — this one goes on the “saved my life” list. It was right in the middle of my back and, without professional help, it would have never been found. To sum it up, the medical appointment was not only painful to my budget, but also affected some twenty spots all over my body. I’m still burning from that evil version of a popper, the ice-cold liquid nitrogen spray with which our enterprising tropical Dr. Jekyll chased me out of his office in Botafogo.

As I left, the proficient specialist still tried to sell me a marvelous chemical peel that, in his words, would make me “very happy.” How could he know… such things don’t make me happy at all. My best moments come from very different sources, such as, let’s say, a positive literary appraisal.  Nevertheless, I got bit by the bug, went to a drugstore and bought the prescribed tube of retinoic acid anyway; however, with all those depressing side effects, it will never be able to give me “beauteous skin,” especially considering that, when it comes to — as Alan says — the crime of  “slathering deodorant on my face,” I was declared not guilty: the doctor approved of my daily, basic Nivea Creme. What a relief.

Something to think about. Tchau.


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