Facing My Fear of the Dermatologist

“WHAT?!  You’ve NEVER been to the dermatologist?!  Redheads HAVE to go to the dermatologist every year.  My daughter is a redhead and has already had skin cancer.  Good thing they caught it early.  I can’t believe you haven’t gone to the dermatologist!”

Those were the basic words and tone that the OBGYN lady said to me three years ago at my appointment.  Talk about feeling like a small child being reprimanded by an angry mom.  Not cool.

I have a strong aversion to dermatologists.  Why?  Well, first, like the OBGYN said, I am a redhead.  Very light skin.  Sunburned many times.  Therefore, I will have skin cancer.  I’d really rather just stay far away from a person who is going to confirm what I already know is going to happen to me.  Better to stay in ignorance, right?!

Facing Fear

I mean, I guess there is that small chance that I will be one who somehow magically avoids that awful C word.  But, it seems like “everyone” around me gets it…somewhere, somehow.  And, for me, I figure my skin is my sure bet to getting the prognosis of cancer (well, breast cancer is a close second).  So, I avoid what I don’t want to know.  I want to live a little longer without confirming I have cancer.  So, I avoid the dermatologist.

However, my husband recently wanted to get a spot checked out on himself.  He had noticed some changes and thought it best to go see the dermatologist.  He had never been to one either.  He suggested we could go together and both have appointments.  Fine.  We’ll make it a date.  I’ll face my fear.

We scheduled our date to the dermatologist.  How romantic.  But, at least I wasn’t doing this alone.

The lady on the phone as I scheduled the appointment told me that I couldn’t wear makeup to the appointment.  Lovely.

The day of the appointment I was incredibly irritable.  I chewed my husband out over I don’t know what.  Some insignificant infraction that probably wasn’t even an infraction at all.  Why can’t I just be calm?  Why can’t I just go face this fear?  Why do I have to get so angry over nothing at the person I love the most?  Thankfully, he’s been married to me for 17 years and I think he understood my blow-up wasn’t a personal attack.  He took it all in stride and stayed calm.

We show up at the dermatologist office.  Before long, I was called back.  My husband was left in the waiting room for his turn.  Um, I thought we were going to be doing this together.  No, the lady walking me down the hall explains, they want to make sure they keep our records straight and so are putting us in separate rooms.  Great.  I sooooooooo do not want to be here.

She takes me into the room where I’ll get to dress down for my over all skin check.  I tell her I don’t want to be there.  Yeah, I said that.  I wasn’t being mean.  I was letting her know my state of mind.  This was not easy for me.  I was fighting myself to be going through this demeaning process all to be told that I have skin cancer.  Surely that will be the prognosis.  She was thankfully very kind, understanding and helpful.

In a short time, the doctor arrived to look me over.  I had chosen this man based on a recommendation.  Still I really don’t like going to doctors (who does?!).  But, he was actually incredibly kind and immediately put me at ease.  I couldn’t believe it.  Here I was with no makeup on, wearing a flimsy, paper two-piece outfit, waiting to be told I have skin cancer, and I suddenly felt at ease.  He treated me with dignity.  I was able to point out a few spots that I had actually wondered about.  He assured me various areas were fine.

There was one spot near my eye the doctor thought best to remove. But, even with that concern, it wasn’t some big huge statement of, “You have skin cancer, lady!!!  You will die!!!”  It was more just a routine, “I’d like to remove that.”  He was calm, kind, amazing.  This was nothing like I expected.

My husband needed something removed as well.  So, we scheduled another romantic dermatologist date to come back after our beach trip and have our bad spots removed.  (Side note: I don’t recommend making an appointment to a dermatologist within 2 weeks before a beach trip…having spots removed and spending lots of time in the water don’t mesh well.  I recommend waiting till after your major water activities and make just one appointment to get the check and removal all done in one visit. Oh well.  Live and learn.)

I started worrying about the appointment to remove the spots.  Would I be scarred for life?  Would I have to go around with a huge, noticeable bandage on my face for a couple weeks?  I was so worried that I ended up getting a nasty cold sore and some other spots on my face.  I had never had that happen before.  Apparently, my stress was causing an actual physical reaction.  Not cool.  Again, why can’t I just stay calm???

Wednesday my husband and I had our appointment.  My husband was more concerned about the pain of the removal process.  I was more worried about what would happen after the removal.  We both were a little unsure how this appointment would go.

But, guess what?!  It wasn’t bad.  Not really.  The doctor told me, “This will be hot.”  And for a split second there was an intense warmth on a very small part of my body and then it was over.  I can’t really say it even hurt.  (My husband thought his did hurt a bit but his pain threshold is lower than mine.  The doctor said women usually handle removals better than men.  Interesting.  However, even my husband’s pain was momentary.)

And, as to wearing a big huge bandage?  Nothing.  Just a dab of Vaseline on the removal spot and that is all I needed.  When I looked at myself in the mirror, the spot looked like just another freckle.  I had to get up close to really even see it the first day.  My recovering cold sore from all my worry stood out way more than that tiny, little spot.

So, what is my point?  Why share this with you?  Because maybe you too are afraid of going to a dermatologist.  Maybe you think it would be better just to avoid hearing bad news.  But, I wanted to let you know that the experience wasn’t as bad as I expected.  Actually, it was pretty cool because now I have way more knowledge about dermatologists and what they can do.  I am no longer scared of them.  I finally faced my fear and I hope my experience will help you face your fear as well.

Many of my posts discuss race issues and this post hasn’t.  So, I’ll take a moment to address race relations from my dermatologist appointment.  Out of five employees that I saw this week at the dermatologist, 3 where white and 2 were African American.  Out of the handful of people in the waiting room, most were white, but one African American lady showed up while I was there.  It felt totally normal to have whites and African Americans all doing what we needed to do in the same place.  The white dermatologist was seeing white patients and African American patients.  The waiting room was for whites and African Americans.  I know this is our normal today, but it was not at all the norm 50 years ago.  These race observations at the dermatologist office gave me hope that things can continue to change for the better.

So, my encouragement to you today is twofold:

First, face your fears.

Second, as you strive to improve racial harmony, don’t forget to notice improvements already made.  It’s not perfect.  It has a long way to go.  But, it has improved.  Praise God, it has improved.

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