When Good Freckles Go Bad

Fair warning: I was hit (again) with some bad news, so this is not your usual peppy little blog entry.

When is a death sentence not a death sentence?

A year ago I went to my GP and asked her to freeze off a suspicious freckle. Gotta watch those freckles, they can be sneaky. With my mixed Irish/Northern Italian heritage, I’m pretty darned pale. I burn easily, turn bright red, then freckle.

Lots of freckles.

So January 27th I visited the Doc and lo and behold, she was out of freezy spray. She referred me to a dermatologist nearby for a consult. Said dermatologist, we’ll call her “Derm1,” wasn’t in, so the PA gave me a quick once-over and said, in a decidedly off-hand manner, “That spot’s okay, but have you ever had a head-to-to freckle check?”


“Hmm. Then you’re due. If you’ve got time, let’s do it now.”

“Sure,” I said. “I’m pretty open for the remainder of the day. Why not?”

The PA checked me over, quite literally, from head to toe and found two suspicious looking characters, one on my right calf and one on my right shoulder blade. She made quick work of them and off I went, with the assurance that “no news would be good news,” and I most likely wouldn’t hear from her.

Tuesday, February 3 dawned. I awoke at 3:15 am, inexplicably wide awake and certain I needed my cell phone. I got up, walked through the darkened house to retrieve the phone and returned to bed just in time for it to ring. It was my stepmother, my dad (birthfather) had succumbed to the brain tumor he’d been fighting for 13 months.

I made it to my two classes that day, giving token lectures and generally guiding the students in self-study. By 4:30 pm I was utterly exhausted. I went home and laid down for a nap and only vaguely heard the house phone ring. It was Derm1 calling. It was critical that I come in the next morning to have “large excisions” removed from not one, but both sites.


Leg and back.

Two fairly disparate sections of my body had “early evolving melanoma.”

I canceled my Wednesday appointments and together S. and I headed for Derm1’s office. I should add that I wasn’t comfortable having items removed from my body that could potentially kill me while up front they were making appointments for facials. Add to that the fact that I never did hear from Derm1 what the results of both excisions were. I called, left messages, and finally changed dermatologists. I got the results of the two excisions from Derm2.

Luckily enough, I had seen the woman who became Derm2 several years ago and was still listed as a patient. This is lucky because Derm2 is so renowned in the area that you simply cannot get in to see her as a new patient. When I called Derm2 for an appointment they stated that they wanted to do their own head-to-toe but were overbooked. Due to time constraints they said they’d do one half first and then we’d schedule the other half for later, which half did I want to do first?

How the heck should I know? Derm1 had found potentially deadly freckles on both halves of me! How to choose? Rather frantic, I explained again to the nurse my dilemma and together we worked out a compromise. She was marvelous, calming me down and helping me focus. They’d do lower first, but if I had any fears about anything in particular on the upper, they’d address that too.


Anyway, Derm2 followed up on Derm1’s notes and she, too, did a head-to-toe check. She also gave me strict instructions that if I saw anything on me that looked suspicious, unusual, or that I “just have a bad feeling about,” I was to call the office immediately.

Since March of last year I have had eight more freckles banished from my presence. Each time they were “a-typical” events, meaning that each one had the potential of harming me.

Every single one. What are the odds?

Two weeks ago I was getting ready to teach and noticed that what had been an ordinary freckle on my shoulder just the day before now had a teeny little white dot in the middle. Dutifully I reported the suspicious freckle activity to Derm2. Derm2’s fantastic staff scheduled me in for the first available, which was last week Monday, five days past the 1-year mark when I got the first round of bad news.

I should have known.

Just minutes ago Derm2’s office phone. Not only was the misbehaving freckle “atypical,” it was also “aplastic” and a few other “a’s” that I can’t quite recall. We quickly agreed upon a date (3/22) for yet another “large excision” to remove it (and a good chunk of surrounding skin and muscle).

Will Derm2 get it all? I have absolutely no doubts whatsoever.

Is there another freckle just hanging about, waiting for its chance to come back as “Evil Kirk”? Again, I have absolutely do doubt about that, whatsoever.

Some things to look for: The ABCD system may help you remember features that might be symptoms of melanoma:

  • Asymmetry: One half of the abnormal area is different from the other half.
  • Borders: The lesion or growth has irregular edges.
  • Color: Color changes from one area to another, with shades of tan, brown, or black (sometimes white, red, or blue). A mixture of colors may appear within one sore.
  • Diameter: The trouble spot is usually (but not always) larger than 6 mm in diameter — about the size of a pencil eraser. (Let me add that in my case, NONE of the “trouble spots” were larger than 4 mm. None.)
    (Source: Mayoclinic.com)

If you’re pale…check your skin. If you’re not pale, check your skin. If you’re in-between, you check too, okay? Check it often. Get a buddy/loved-one/significant other/spouse (in whatever state spousehood is legal, or not…bite me)/neighbor to check the bits of you that you can’t possibly check by yourself. Check your neighbors, you children, your friends. I don’t care how you do it, or who does the checking, but for the sake of anyone/anything you hold dear, get checked!

It’s one thing, I think, to have had breast cancer. I had it, they excised the encapsulated cells, put me on meds for five years, and here I am, 17 years post diagnosis. Yay me. (I know my case isn’t typical, but hell, I was diagnosed with BC at age 25!)

It’s another thing, I think, to look down at my own skin everyday . . . skin covered in a myriad of freckles in all shapes and sizes and wonder, “which one of you little suckers is gonna kill me?”

How ignominious. To be taken down by a freckle.

Tonight: dinner out for our M’s birthday. Everyone else is out of town, so it’s just us.


4 Comments on “When Good Freckles Go Bad”

  1. Donna Josie says:

    Polly, honey- I feel your pain. Those little skin suckers are a bitch. I’ve had Basel Cell carcinoma more times than I can count and they’ve all been in the radiation field from when I had Hodgkin’s Disease as a kid. I’m told Basel Cell is something normally seen in elderly Mediterranian men, but I’ve been had those suckers crop up since I was in my early 20s. Happily (??), they grow slowly. Melanoma is a completely different kettle of fish.

    I’m also a mole factory. I’m told it’s called displastic nevi. In other words, every time I turn around, I have a new mole.

    You’re absolutely right that it’s really hard to monitor your own body because you just can’t see some places, like your back or butt. Sadly, I no longer have someone who I am comfortable with monitoring that stuff, so it tends to wait until I go to the doc for an annual exam.

    Be well, my good friend.


  2. Cags says:

    Hugs Pol.

    I’m trying to think of saying at least you got to them early but there’s really no way to make you feel much better about the fact you could be under threat any time.
    You sound really clued up about it and that’s good and, actually, you’ve prompted me to have a good hard look at my own skin; I’m not freckly (being more olive skin type) but I am absolutely smothered in moles. I mean I counted 86 on my forearm once and I do get lots of new ones every year. I’ve always been really blaise about it because I have always had a lot but really, I know I have more than average and I ought to keep an eye on them.

    HUge hugs and positive vibes.

    Carrie x

  3. Tammi K says:

    Just this past Sunday I noticed the scar on my 18 year old daughters leg and for the moment I had forgotten that it came from the freckle removed 5 years ago that our dermatologist was certain was melanoma.
    Turns out it was ‘a’ typical, ‘a’ plastic, and lots of other ‘a’s but not melanoma. I can still remember that that was the scariest time in my life as a parent. I agree, check your skin! Regularly!

    • Pol says:

      Yeah, checking regularly is good. The first one they took off was actually melanoma, and the next two excisions “almost,” or “pre” melanoma. The other 9 freckles are just a-typical. Bleh. Good for your daughter.