It started with a mole. Not the velvety small-eyed tunnel-dwelling mammal that leaves mounds of earth on the garden.
But a more insidious reddy brown lesion which, much like a mole hill, seemed to appear out of nowhere to rest brazenly and conspicuously in the mid centre of my right shin.
To this day its appearance remains a mystery.
One day my shin was the bony milk-white mole-less shin it had aways been through the 43 years of my life. The next day it was here, perfectly formed in its symmetry and around the size of (but more circular than) a twenty pence piece.
The doctor and dermatologist assured me it was fine. And a biopsy gave my mind – which was was experiencing some unease due to an exploratory foray into the world of cancerous moles via Google) – some temporary reassurance.
Until soon after the mole began to change and raise slightly from the skin. And an over exuberant stroke of the leg with a body scruchie led to the demise of its surface and an outpouring of blood.
The doctor at this point – in what in hindsight seems to have been a tragic miscalculation – began a process of cryotherapy: the freezing of the mole with liquid nitrogen in order to remove it from the body.
And repeated this process again and again as the lesion reappeared with the seeming persistence of an entity that had no desire nor intention of being banished from its new home on the surface of my skin.
Some three years later, undeterred by this persistence, the mole once again reappeared as the scar from the freezing healed.
But this time some pink petal-like protuberances were growing out of the main core. And the main core itself was no longer symmetrical but had begun to lose its definition – as if dumfounded and dazed and perhaps a little annoyed by the onslaught of the aggression it was experiencing.
Now a different doctor made an immediate referral to dermatology. And dermatology made an immediate referral for removal.
The removed tissue was biopsied and diagnosed as malignant melanoma, leading to an immediate referral to a further excision around the original site.
This left an open and somewhat painful wound the size of a tennis ball – not unlike how it might look had a medium sized shark taken a small nip out of the innocent and somewhat perplexed right shin.
Worse than all of this was the consequent ‘not knowing’ if the disease had spread.
The total absolute uncertainty of not knowing.
The understanding that though this excision may have taken away the cancerous cells from the body, equally there could be several tumours growing this very minute, unknown and undetectable somewhere in its depths.
And that even if this was not the case right now, it could become so at any time in the future. Any time at all, be it next month, next year, in five years, or ten to twenty years time.
This unfortunately is the fate that awaits myself and fellow sufferers of melanoma. The disease is hidden and can reappear at any time.
And whilst it is true that each and every one of us humans inhabiting this small blue green rotating planet wakes up each day with the potential of an accident , a horrible sickness, or death by some unforeseen means….
With a melanoma diagnosis that fact is so much more in your face.
I write this article not as a means to scare you. But as a simple warning. Moles caught early and removed do not proceed to melanoma. Moles left to develop do.
My advice to anyone reading this is to be vigilant.
If you do have moles, watch out for any change. If you don’t and one appears, get it removed.
Check yourself, check your partner. Check your loved ones, check your kids.
And maybe use those excavated piles of dirt you see on the roadside or the garden or the fields around, to remind you that though hidden, moles do exist, and are best not hidden or lost from your memory.