Hiding the cancer face
Day 14 with the chemotherapy cream; 7 more to go.
Twice a day I apply the poison.
I see the text on the tube. It is called something 5FU. Each time I read that I feel it is effing me over 5 times.
Two lesions have opened up.
A sore on my cheek has been weeping; oozing.
It’s the size of a large coin.
Red, open, skin-flaking scab, the crust extends to just beneath my eye. That tender skin stings when I dab it with saline solution. Looking closely, I start to cry. Now I don’t know if it’s tears or the solution searing the wound, burning the skin even more.
I should stop feeling sorry for myself.
Really, I brought this on myself.
I was the wild girl running away from mum when she tried to apply sunscreen.
Vain, I didn’t want a nose painted with pink or white zinc cream, or that sticky liquid Sun Block-out that smelled funny either.
I was a free-spirited teenager who slathered Reef Oil all over pale skin at the beach every school holiday day, and baked herself on a towel for hours.
I was born in Newcastle, NSW, Australia.
A sun burned country where I had more than my fair share of sun burn.
We lived on a coastline with beautiful beaches crowded with beautiful brown beach bodies.
I’ve had over 111 potential skin cancers burned/iced off my body.
One cancer was dug out of my arm with a cookie cutter gadget. A biopsy showed they didn’t get it all the first time. Weeks later a doctor had another go with a bigger cookie cutting device. It had nasty steel teeth. I watched again as they screwed the tool in, then pulled it out with it’s tube full of my flesh. I kept watching as the physician sewed it up again.
I saw the Dermatologist again today.
My husband had to take me because I can’t wear my driving glasses just now. The bridge of my nose has other potential melanomas on it. Three lesions there are like open cuts, scabs, scales, wounds.
I wore a floppy hat into the surgery. It probably drew more attention than walking in with my scar face on show.
When I entered the consultation room, I moved the chair to the side so nobody walking past could see me.
A timid little old lady in the corner, wanting to be invisible.
I am embarrassed to catch a glimpse of myself.
The doctor arrives, saying he couldn’t see me.
He asked if I was hiding, wondering why I was sitting next to the sink.
I admit to shifting the chair.
He says that’s alright, that he understands.
He’s excited 5FU is working so well. His mannerisms are exuberant. Just one more week of applications. Dr says my face isn’t too bad as he counts the number of raised red dots on one side of my forehead.
‘One, 2, 3, 4…18. That’s 18 little brutes that could do you quite a lot of harm; they’ll all be out of action now,’ he adds with a wave of his hands.
I should be happy, but I’m still paranoid. I leave, thanking the specialist who thinks I should go back to school teaching, to tell the children what the inflamed skin is if they ask:
‘What happened to your face Mrs Ralston?’
‘Miss, Miss; what did you do to yourself?’
‘Why does your nose look like that, Mrs R?’
But I can’t.
I’m so ashamed of appearances, I won’t even go to a restaurant for lunch.
Instead, I sit moping in the car with my hat pulled down; hibernating.
‘I’m hungry, it’s late, you must be hungry too.’
‘You look fine, come on.’
‘I’m not getting out.’
‘Oh, get over it; no one will know.’
But, I will.
I’ve never been a beauty, but I was kind of pretty in my twenties. I have thick hair to the middle of my back; green eyes, good lashes, and my skin was smooth and so soft; creamy and even.
I turned 53 last Saturday, but I still feel the same as I did at 23 inside. The photo above was taken just over a year ago. Though there’s 100 flaws, I’ve got used to my face.
I like it.
It’s such a vital part of me I’m not comfortable wearing it so disfigured.
Others would be ecstatically happy that the sun damage isn’t going to kill me anytime soon, but I’m not.
Wishing and wanting to be like some gym junkie vegetarian slim Amazonian muscle bound woman that exudes confidence isn’t going to make me so.
I’m writing this to be honest, and honestly, I feel hideous; wanting to hide away at home and not going out in public until I’m healed. Refusing to go back to teaching until I can place my make-up mask back on.
I say I’m a feminist, but I love dressing up, putting my face on, dyeing my hair.
I’m conceited and as shallow as a dinner plate.
My husband bought me crimson grapes, white grapes, tiny crisp red apples and two pastries to eat in the car on the way home.
I picked at a few grapes and nibbled the Danish like a sparrow.
I’m an emotional eater, but just felt morose.
The only person at my own pity party.
I shouldn’t indulge in self-sabotage, making everything worse with put downs and sullen moods.
I could say I can’t help it, though that would be fibbing.
Yet, it’s not easy to pull myself out of these dark moods either.
I did go out on Easter Sunday, to my in-laws down the road. I nursed my great nephew until he slept. I gazed at his perfect baby skin. Skin that is mottled and fine, smooth, soft and perfumed with baby products you could breathe in all day. Only months old, the plump skin has folds and creases. You can see tiny capillaries through it.
He has a velvet skinned face, never exposed to sunlight.
For once, no one took any photos or offered to take any. That was for my benefit. My family and extended family was kind. They didn’t mention my skin, pretending nothing had changed. And cuddling a sleeping boy and gobbling chocolate Easter eggs all day did make me feel better; the best distraction.
It is after 10 at night. My daughter made wonton soup for dinner. I slurped it down with delicious home made focaccia.
I feel okay now I’ve been warmed and nurtured and reassured by those who love me regardless. Less moody now I’ve disclosed all my ridiculously unfounded fears and fickle ways.
It’s not the first time I wanted to hide my face. Like the Brady Bunch’s Jan, I didn’t like the 200 freckles across my nose, aged 8. Like any other, I didn’t like being a hormonal teen with a face full of pimples either. Even with plastic surgery faces don’t stay the same.
Changing faces; creased in places.
I’m not that brave, but know things will get better. The 5FU cream is working as it should. My sun spots and cancerous lumps and bumps will fade; then me and my face can get back out there. Only this time I’m not going anywhere without a hat and sunscreen everyday, even through winter.
I’m going to be fine. It’s just one of those deep, dark, introverted months of the soul type things; a time when I’m sour and over-sensitive.
The dishwasher is on.
I’ve brushed and flossed teeth.
I’m wearing silky green pyjamas.
I’m going to go sit beside my husband and watch an old Indiana Jones movie. I’m going to laugh at every lame joke we hear from the script. I’ll be listening as he tells me again that he married me for the person I am, not how I look.
If I’m lucky he’ll give me 3 chaste kisses on my forehead.
Then, I’ll snuggle closer. To relax, stop being petty and realise I can’t undo the past by getting upset about it. To rest my head on my man’s warm chest and be content my face won’t look like it does now for long.
It’s possible that I might also stop being such a superficial twit, and let the black dog thoughts drift away like clouds in the breeze. Then, I might fall asleep beside this guy who loves me for me, despite the blotchy nose on my face.