The Luckiest Person in the Waiting Room

by Sarah Harris
Originally Published: 

But I was in the right place. I was awaiting an initial consultation with a specialist, a Mohs surgeon who would eventually perform a special microscopically controlled surgery to remove the basal cell skin cancer that my dermatologist discovered on my forehead.

Skin cancer. Seriously? I’m way too young for skin cancer. Old people get skin cancer. Idiots who use tanning beds get skin cancer.

Of course I knew this wasn’t true. My sister had a malignant melanoma when she was just 28…neither old nor an idiot fake-n-baker. We just have bad skin genes, I guess. I also realized that I was the lucky one. Basal cell is the “good” kind of skin cancer; it’s slow-growing and (relatively) easily removed. The cure rate after Mohs surgery is somewhere in the 97 to 99.9 percent range. Not melanoma. Melanoma is the aggressive, metastatic, scary, capital-C Cancer kind of skin cancer.

I’m quite possibly the luckiest person in this waiting room, and not just because I’m the youngest I reminded myself. There are people in this room who received worse news than basal cell.

“Ma’am,” the receptionist interrupted my thoughts.

Is she talking to me?

“Ma’am,” she repeated, looking me straight in the eye as she reached across the desk. “Here’s your card back. It’ll just be a few more minutes.”

“Ma’am”? What the hell?! I thought, as I crossed the room to retrieve my insurance card. She’s got to be at least five years older than me.

I caught a glimpse of my face in the mirror as I returned to my seat. And who decided to put a mirror in the waiting room in an advanced dermatology office?

I look like a Ma’am. I look like a 35-year-old mother of three. That’s exactly what I am.

When did that happen?

I feel like I was in college just yesterday, but at the same time, I feel like I’ve been a mom forever. I can’t believe I’m old enough to have a kid in elementary school, but I already kind of forget the Baby Days. (Although maybe the sleep deprivation has something to do with that.) I’m old enough to need to have my cholesterol checked regularly. I’m old enough that, instead of announcing their weddings, friends are getting divorced. Instead of baby bump pictures filling up my newsfeed, there are pictures of kids on two-wheelers and tweens with shaggy hair. Instead of hearing “My Mom has cancer,” it’s, “I have cancer.”

How did that happen?

I thought I’d know when it was happening…the growing up, I mean. I thought I’d feel different, like I had at least some of the answers. I don’t feel different.

My friend and I were outside the other day as our kids enjoyed one of the first warm spring days together. Some of the kids were playing pirates in the playhouse, some were drawing with sidewalk chalk. I told her about my skin cancer.

“Are you OK, though?” she asked.

“I’m OK. My appointment for the surgery is in May. It’ll be over. I’ll be OK,” I reassured her (and myself).

“I mean, emotionally?”

We watched our kids giggle and squeal as they used the chalk to decorate their arms and faces. So carefree. So happy.

“I just feel like a fucking grown up,” I said, “and it sucks.”

Then I called the kids over: It was time to re-apply their sunscreen.

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