Thursday, May 05, 2011

Dear 16-Year-Old Me

It's not often that I share viral videos on my Facebook and even rarer that I share them here. But for me, this is one worth watching.

When I was 16, I had my first stitches. They were the result of my first biopsies. Now, where moles use to form the constellation of Cassiopeia on my stomach (or so I liked to think), neat little Xs mark the spot. They were removed with a cookie cutter-like instrument and when the flesh was gone, I watched blood pool neatly into the holes. And just above my bra hooks, there is a gouge. Just a little blemish. But it was big enough that the cookie cutters wouldn't do the trick. As my doctor inserted the scalpel into my back, he told me that maybe someday I could have laser therapy to remove the scar.

But I really didn't care about the potential for scarring. It was the least of my concerns. Because at 16, I had already watched my brother have a chunk of cancerous flesh removed from his ear a year earlier. It had started as a tiny fleck on his earlobe and nightly at dinner, as I shuffled my green beans around on my plate, I would look across the table at him and watch it grow. At 16, I had already seen my brother crying in the bathroom, fearful of what would happen next.

It was just his earlobe, which is minor, right? Nothing to worry about. Try telling that to a teenager who used sunscreen consistently for his entire life, but didn't know that the lips and the ears are where it usually starts. (Because who remembers to put sunscreen on their earlobes? Well, hopefully after reading this you will.) Try telling that to an 18-year-old who knows skin cancer can kill.

Try telling that to someone who has cancer, any kind of cancer.

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