Stage 0

Treating the beginning stage of skin cancer

Personal narrative written by Kaylee Botting

I nervously handed her my debit card, hoping she wouldn’t notice that I was praying the transaction would go through. As she was typing my card numbers into her outdated computer, I unlocked my phone and quickly looked at my bank account.Ok, so that will be $300 today and $300 next week,” the receptionist said, catching me a little off guard.

$312.42.

OK, that’s fine, I can survive off $12.42, I thought. Then I remembered it was the 24th and I got paid the next day. I felt a brief wave of relief, until I realized I would still have to pay the remaining $300 next week.

The last time I had a cancer scare, my parents paid for the procedure, but I was on my own for this one.

My insurance covered 80 percent of the procedure, but I was responsible for the remaining 20 percent. It cost $3,000 to remove about two inches of tissue from my neck. Both my parents had the financial means to help cover the cost, but neither were willing. Because it was my dad’s insurance that was paying for the procedure, he justified that as his contribution.

Even though I was picking up extra shifts at work, the procedure was still swallowing my savings. Being a college student is hard enough financially, but this was only making it worse.

The receptionist handed my card back along with a stack of papers on an old clipboard. As I was signing the paperwork, I noticed that each signature got worse and worse. I told myself it was just because my hand was getting tired but I knew it was because my nerves were kicking in.

I stood up and handed the receptionist my paperwork then sat back down on the plastic chair. The green cushion felt like concrete pillows against my back. I nervously scrolled through my Instagram feed, trying to keep my mind from wandering back to my finances.

When I was 32 weeks deep in my best friend’s Instagram profile, a nurse called me back. She made small talk then handed me a gown, a hat and a bag to put my clothes in. I went into the bathroom and changed. I looked at myself in the mirror, and realized for the first time that this was really happening. I was having surgery.

When I came out, dressed in the itchy blue hospital gown with my hair in the hat, the nurse must have noticed I was nervous and said, “I like your socks,” with a warm smile. “Thanks,” I said, nervously looking down at my pink Seattle Seahawks socks. I could tell she was trying to make me more comfortable and for some reason it almost worked.

She led me to a pre-surgery station where I got to sit in a much more comfortable chair. As she started my IV, I began to relax. I knew it was the medicine kicking in, but all of a sudden I was a lot less nervous.

The nurse with the warm smile left and a surgeon sat down next to me to talk about the procedure.

Two months earlier, I had two moles removed, each from one side of my neck. The dermatologist was comfortable with leaving them and just monitoring the moles, but I urged her to remove them because they looked like the cancerous mole I had removed when I was 17 years old.

She removed them and they were sent to the lab for a biopsy. A few weeks later I got a phone call saying they came back with stage 0 melanoma. The survival rate for people with stage 0 melanoma is 99 percent. However, the surrounding tissue still needed to be removed to make sure the cancerous cells didn’t spread beyond the moles.

The surgeon explained that he was going to do a re-excision where the two moles were removed and take out a couple inches of tissue, leaving me with a two-inch scar on either side of my neck. He then shook my hand and said, “I’ll see ya back there.”

The nurse with the warm smile came back and went over a few more things with me before wheeling me back to the surgical room.

I was expecting the room to be nice and warm, but when I arrived I was instantly taken off guard by the frigid air and oddly plain, white walls. I looked around the room. “Huh. This doesn’t look like Grey’s Anatomy,” I thought to myself. “Not quite,” the nurse responded with a chuckle. I guess I didn’t think it to myself.

An hour or so later, I woke feeling groggy, hungry and cancer-free.

The scars are usually hidden behind my blonde hair. It took me a very long time to wear my hair up without covering them with makeup or a scarf. I thought they were ugly because they symbolized an ugly time in my life and I didn’t want people to see that side of me.

But now, a year later on the rare occasion that I wear my hair up, I embrace my scars because they remind me of how uncertain life can be.