Elizabeth Taylor and I were always pretty close. I can’t remember the first time we met but she’s been in my life for as long as I can remember. Sometimes I wished she wasn’t around but other times I liked having her there because she always made me feel unique. The only time she really worried me was two weeks ago, when I thought she was trying to kill me.
I should probably mention that Elizabeth Taylor is the mole on my right cheek and not the legendary Hollywood actress. My mole was baptised Elizabeth Taylor for two reasons:
#1 – Elizabeth Taylor, the actress, had a beauty mark on her cheek in the same spot as mine
#2 – I hate the word ‘mole’
I wonder how the real Elizabeth Taylor would feel to know I named my mole after her.
Two weeks ago I decided to have a skin check because I’d never had one before and I thought it was about time. I’d noticed a freckle on my arm had gotten a little darker and I wanted to get it checked, so I made an appointment and ventured into the city.
The appointment was going well (as well as can be expected for an appointment where you basically have to get naked) until the doctor noticed Liz Taylor. He began questioning me about her, asking how long I’d had her, had she gotten darker? Bigger?
I told him I’d had her for a while, since early high school at least, because I remember being very offended when a boy had told me I had black texta on my face. I thought beauty spots were supposed to make you beautiful.
The doctor said he was as suspicious about Liz Taylor as Eddie Fisher was before he found out she was cheating on him with Richard Burton. He didn’t really say that, but for the sake of the story, lets pretend he did.
He told me that under the microscope Liz was a blue-y, black colour (normal moles are supposed to be a solid colour), that she was an irregular shape (normal moles are supposed to be symmetrical) and she measured 5mm which was close enough to 6mm (a warning sign) for me to get it checked. He recommended I get a biopsy done, to make sure the mole wasn’t a melanoma and he referred me to a dermatologist.
I left the office feeling sad, scared and vulnerable. I’m 23 and all of a sudden, for the first time in my life, I had a health concern. I’ve always considered myself to be in pretty good health. The worst I’ve come up against is a broken arm and a tonsillectomy, so I’ve had a good run. I do get a little paranoid though – like the time I stepped out of the car in Yarrawonga and stood on something sharp and immediately self-diagnosed AIDs. I was 12 and there were no syringes in sight. False alarm. But now, all of a sudden I was faced with the prospect of something very real and very scary.
A few days later I had my appointment at the dermatologist and she also expressed concern about Liz Taylor. She said rather than taking a sample of Liz and leaving me with a scar on top of a mole, she’d rather remove the whole thing and get it biopsied. I made another appointment to have it removed and the five days in between were not pleasant.
In the past Liz had only worried me for vanity reasons. My right cheek, where Liz had made herself at home, was my ‘bad side’, so in photos I always posed with my cheek turned. Now Liz felt like an enemy, who had invaded my life and was threatening to ruin me.
My main concern wasn’t being left with a scar on my cheek. If there’s one thing this experience has taught me, it’s to be grateful for my body, even the parts I don’t love so much – a sentence I came across in a book I was reading last week summed it up perfectly. The protagonist had just found out she had breast cancer, when she had a revelation,
“Too late you realize that your body was perfect – every health body is.”
I felt stupid for all the time I had wasted worrying about imperfections (as most of us girls do) and all I wanted was to know that I was healthy again.
The week before my surgery, I spoke to friends and family about it. I was going overboard with worry and although everyone was telling me ‘It’s going to be fine!’ I really needed the reassurance. At times, I imagined the side of my face was hurting and had to convince myself that I was imagining it, terrified that there could be evil cells spreading throughout my face. Finally Wednesday came and I waved goodbye to Liz Taylor for good.
The surgery was minor, only requiring a local anaesthetic and it didn’t hurt much at all but I left with a few stitches and a fresh wave of worry. I would go back Friday to have the dressing changed and they would hopefully have the results by then.
That’s when the paranoia kicked it. I started remembering all of these instances that might have been signs from the universe, telling me to go and get my skin checked – the article I wrote last year where I interviewed a plastic surgeon about detecting skin cancer. Kathy Gardiner, the incredible woman I met through one of my freelance jobs who was battling Advanced Metastatic Melanoma. Even the Cancer Council poster on the back of the toilet door at The Golden Vine Hotel on trivia night. In hindsight it seemed like I had been ignoring all of these signs and I was angry at myself for not having taken action sooner.
Today I got a text msg from my dermatologist:
Msg from Dr Schofield: Hi Hannah, no cancer cells on the specimens from surgery. Just strange moles, all gone now. Best wishes, Clare.
The RELIEF. All of that worry for nothing. Ok, so you are thinking what a drama queen I am and yes, you are right. But when you come up against something like this, your mind can’t help but tick over at 100 miles an hour. You can’t help but imagine what your life will be like if it is something sinister and you regret the time you spent worrying about trivial things when you were healthy. I’m so lucky that my results were fine.
I wrote this piece for a few reasons (not just to showcase what a babe the young Elizabeth Taylor was) and I don’t mean to make light of this topic. I wanted to describe what it’s like to have a health scare and to make people realise how lucky they really are when they have their health. However, the main reason I put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) today is because I want everyone who is reading this to go and get their skin checked.
At 23, it had never crossed my mind to have a skin cancer check and I’m sure there are many others who haven’t considered doing it either. But do it.
It’s better to catch something early, than catch it when it’s too late. It’s better to know your skin well, to know how at risk you are and to keep an eye out for any changes.
I’m so lucky that Liz Taylor was just an unusual mole and I’d much rather be left with a little scar on my cheek than having to constantly worry about it. I have also resolved to wear SPF 50+ sunscreen everyday and next time I’m at the beach I won’t be trying to get a tan. Don’t give me that look, Liz. It’s not worth it.
Now that I know she wasn’t trying to kill me, I kind of miss Liz a little. Who knows, one day if I get sick of my scar and you notice a spot reappear on my right cheek, it might be black texta afterall.
I’m no expert, but if you want to find out more about the signs of skin cancer you can read up about it here
If you’d like to follow the journey of the beautiful Kathy Gardiner, aka The Naked Gardiner, check out her blog here