Here's a fun trick to play on someone:
First, become a doctor. Then, when you're examining a patient for some standard physical malady the flu, a broken arm, slicing your finger open by using a chef's knife to try to saw a plastic cover off a bed caster wheel post (like you've never done anything that stupid before), proceed to freak that patient out by making them think they could have a far more serious medical condition than the one they came in to have treated. Like, for instance, cancer.
Wait, did I say fun? Because I meant horrible. Mean. Reprehensible. Awful. So bad you should be damned to an eternity of listening to Chumba Wumba's one and only hit song (at least I pray it is): "I Get Knocked Down (but I get up again" ... repeat a million times).
OK, I may be overreacting. I'm sure the doctor had no malicious intentions in letting me know I may have a life-threatening disease. I'm sure it was in my best interest that he pointed out a "suspiciously" shaped mole and told me I should see a specialist because I may be at risk for melanoma.
Nevertheless, I wanted to shove a stethoscope somewhere where the sun don't shine. And I don't mean the ear canal.
Me, have melanoma? That's like skin cancer, right?
This is how efficiently my brain works when faced with a statement I can't or don't want to comprehend.
My mind simply is not set up to process that kind of news. I have several set categories that I file information in, including:
Important information I want to remember but am bound to forget the moment I try to recall it, including the location of my car keys, whether I've paid my electric bill this month and the name of the person I'm talking to.
Embarrassing moments I want to forget but are burned into my long-term recall, including ... we'll just skip this part.
General trivia-type knowledge that I crammed into my brain at one point, usually for a test, that since has been lost for good, like the name of that French guy who painted that really cool picture of the lilies. Or was it daffodils? Irises? Maybe he was German.
Happy, calming thoughts I like to conjure up to keep me from saying or doing something I would undoubtedly regret later, for instance something with a stethoscope.
The knowledge that I may have cancer simply does not fit into any of my established mental categories. It just sort of lurches around in my brain, threatening to foul up everything it comes in contact with kind of like a person prone to motion sickness getting off an Era Twin Otter flight from Anchorage to Kenai on a really windy day.
I have a three-step method for dealing with medical conditions of any level of severity:
Step one: Ignore the problem.
Step two: Convince yourself that the problem will heal on its own.
Step three: See step one.
Up until this point, that method has sufficed for most of the maladies I've contracted in my life. Cancer, however, is a different story. It's such a different story that I did something completely uncharacteristic for me: I followed the doctor's orders.
I went to a specialist and had some "suspicious" moles biopsied and sent off to be tested at some fancy screening facility in Ohio. Two things bothered me about this situation. One is that, in my opinion, "biopsy" along with "mortgage," "child support payments" and "life sentence," is a term that should never apply to a 24-year-old.
The other is that my oddly-shaped moles, which may very well be out to kill me, are now better traveled than I am. The farthest I've been away from Southcentral Alaska in about forever is Southeast Alaska, yet these mutinous, melanoma-harboring moles get an all-expense-paid (with me footing the bill) trip to Ohio. Granted it's not Vegas, but a trip Outside is still a trip Outside.
Then, it was time to wait. On one hand, I knew the chances of me actually having melanoma were pretty slim.
On the other hand, I knew it wasn't impossible. I, of course, blame my parents for this them and the rest of my ancestors. Both sides of my family are so Irish they didn't get acne so much as they did spots of potato blight. Both sides claim to be of purely Irish lineage, although "Neyman" is not actually an Irish name so there had to be a stable boy, butcher or farm hand in the genealogy somewhere that somebody's not owning up to. I just wish it could have been a stable boy or farm hand of some other ethnicity Italian, perhaps, or Greek or African. Any ethnicity with a skin tone that isn't pasty white and prone to burning when exposed to a light source stronger than a 60 watt light bulb would do.
But no. They were pasty, and so I am pasty. Up until this point in my life I never liked being pasty for aesthetic reasons, but I never before had cause to be afraid of being pasty.
Thankfully, the test results turned out to be negative, but this whole experience makes me wonder what other physical characteristics I should now fear. Could my poor eyesight be a bigger problem than I thought? My second toes on both my feet are slightly longer than my big toes could that somehow be lethal?
This experience has provided more questions than answers for me. One thing I have learned is that I am sadly ill-equipped to deal with a situation that requires such mental fortitude, and I have an even deeper respect for the members of my family and other people who have gone through cancer and retained a firm grip on their sanity.
However, I do rest easier in the knowledge that if the situation should ever arise where I must think up a creative new use for a medical instrument on the spur of the moment, I'll be ready.
Jenny Neyman is a reporter and design editor for the Peninsula Clarion
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