On trusting your gut
Caveat - this article is purely from my experience; I'm not an expert so please always refer to your doctor or physician
I'm absolutely covered in moles so, especially now I live in Dubai, I make a conscious effort to protect my skin. SPF is an integral part of my skincare routine - SPF 30 if I'm just heading to the office, factor 50 if I'm going to be walking about - I've embraced baseball caps and I never sit out in the sun between 12-3pm.
About a month ago I made an appointment for a mole check up. A mole check up is a quick, painless, appointment: using a magnifying glass the dermatologist will look at your moles and determine if any need a closer inspection. This is something I had got into the habit of doing when I went to my grandparents' in the summer but hadn't done in about two years.
This time around, it's turned out a bit more complicated than I thought it would do, so I'm sharing my experiences.
Visit 1 - 28th April
The doctor asks me if there are any moles I want to have specifically checked so I mention the usual suspects (my face, my chest, under my bra strap) but also a mole on the back of my knee that I'd noticed last year but hadn't paid much attention to before.
The first couple of minutes went by with no issues, my "usual suspect" moles passing the inspection with flying colours. My elation that everything would be fine slowly fades though when I'm asked to roll over and the dermatologist inspects the mole behind my knee. "Hmm", she says, "we need to take a better look at this one".
After hastily getting dressed, I follow the dermatologist and her lovely nurse into another exam room, this time with a computer and camera set up in the centre. Using a hi-res magnifying lens, the dermatologist takes a few close-ups of the mole to be able to look at it more closely. After a few moments she informs me that the mole has to be removed as soon a possible. "Why?", I ask, "a few different reasons", she replies, before listing colour (it is significantly darker than my other roles), rough edges, and the fact that I couldn't remember how long it had been there. "Could it be cancer?" "Maybe, we'll need to biopsy to rule it out."
Leaving the clinic, I'm in a complete daze, a combination of shock and fear. Strangely though, I don't feel the jolt of surprise as I think, deep down, I knew there was something iffy about that mole.
Visit 2 - 4th May
This time accompanied by my friend, I head back to the clinic a few days later for a meeting with my surgeon. Very matter-of-factly she goes through what I can expect from the procedure (local anaesthetic, 15 minutes, a few stitches) and explains what will happen next -
- the initial procedure to remove the mole
- biopsy and mole mapping to create a picture-book of all my moles
- potential second procedure if the mole turned out to be anything but benign
She also takes me through the pre-op procedure, gives me a numbing cream so that I wouldn't feel the anaesthetic being administered, and assures me that the procedure would be over before I knew it.
The procedure is set for 8am on Sunday morning so Saturday evening I find myself showering with a special sponge before climbing into fresh bed sheets. The antiseptic sponge is bright pink and smells of TCP, though that quickly passes (thankfully!) I freaked out earlier thinking about what was going to happen - not the best thing to happen at the beginning of a vinyasa class - but that feeling soon faded away.
Visit 3 - 16th May
Looking at my sleep tracker I realise I barely slept last night; even though I'm awake at 6 most mornings, I was convinced I'd miss my appointment. Time for pre-op shower 2; I'm expecting the pink foam this time so I focus my attention on dropping my heart rate.
A short taxi ride and I arrive at the clinic, where I'm meeting my friend. After that, it all goes quite quickly. I do a quick pre-op blood pressure and oxygen level test, as well as a weigh-in, and am handed some very flattering kimono, hair net and feet covers to don.
The procedure itself doesn't take all that long but the only word I can use to adequately describe it is "weird". The surgeon begins by looking at my skin and working out where the incision should go. Ideally, she would cut parallel to my leg but, because of my skin and the shape of my mole, she instead has to go perpendicular. This means that the incision will be a bit bigger but the scar itself will heal much better. Once that is decided, she takes a Sharpie (or what I imagine to be a Sharpie) and marks where the cut will be. She needs to ensure good margins; hopefully this means if the biopsy does find something I won't need a second procedure.
Once all that is completed, the mole removal starts. Surprisingly, it isn't the anaesthesia injection that hurts - that was literally a little prick - but the chemical itself: it almost feels like a burning sensation before I realise I can't feel my leg anymore. A few minutes later I hear "and that's it, do you want to see the mole?". Trust me, there is nothing weirder than seeing a small part of your leg on a petri dish beside you.
I'm told I'll need a few more stitches than expected because of the location of the incision and, as she starts closing the wound, I feel tension behind my knee. An anchor stitch, that seems to act like a corset over the incision, steristrips, two plasters and a bandage later, and I'm good to go.
My post-op instructions are easy to follow -
- don't get the bandage wet
- take antibiotics once a day for two days as a precaution
- take painkillers up to four times a day if needed
- take it very easy - no yoga, no exercise (including lots of walking) - and keep the leg up
- come back to the clinic in 2 days for a stitches check
My friend and I head to Paul for some breakfast and coffee before she accompanies me home. I set myself up on the sofa - water bottle nearby, snacks, pillow to prop up my leg - and settle in for a Netflix day.
Later that evening I realise I must have been really out of it: I have no recollection of calling my boyfriend when I got home until he reminds me on Meet and I struggle doing anything more productive than vaguely focusing Grey's Anatomy and scrolling through Namshi and Shein.
Come 9:30, I'm exhausted so head to bed.
Post-Visit 3 - morning after
I wake up feeling relatively normal and pain-free until I start to move around. The stitches feel a bit tight and whilst I'm not in a lot of pain, I'm aware of where the incision happened.
Luckily today is business review day - I'm note-taking so will do so from either my bed or my sofa.
Post-Visit 3 - afternoon after
It's 12pm, I'm exhausted and have brain fog. I'm signing off for the day, heading back to bed and trying to get some sleep.
I feel almost pathetic - it was a small excision that took all of 30mins - but I'm trying to be kind to myself and remember that my body is both trying to heal physically and process what is happening.
At around 6:30 I head out for a bit of fresh air. Walking is surprisingly difficult and the stitches are a bit sore; 20mins later I'm back on my sofa contemplating what I want to eat.
Visit 4 - 18th May
48 hours after the procedure I'm back with the surgeon for a check up. She takes a look, declares the stitches are holding and the skin looks happy enough, and her nurse shows me how to clean with betadine change my dressing. I learn I'll need to do this every two days until my next visit
2 days later - 20th May
First dressing change. I'd like to think my many years of watching Grey's Anatomy would make me less squeamish, but that isn't the case. I message my friend to tell her how grateful I am that she's coming to my next appointment.
I've got much better with dressing changes, now I'm just missing long, scalding showers and yoga classes. I can feel the stitches starting to pull a lot more, and I can feel them when I kneel down,
Visit 5 - 29th May
Walking into the surgeon's office I'm really apprehensive - today I get my results and hopefully my stitches out. Of the 9 stitches, 7 come out - I'm grateful my friend was there as a almost passed out. More importantly, whilst the mole was more abnormal than the surgeon would have liked, we caught it in time so I don't need another surgery. As we're leaving the clinic I start to sob uncontrollably.
Visit 6 - 2nd June
The last of my stitches are removed replaced by steristrips and a plaster. I'm told I can take these off in two days time and go back to yoga.
Taking the steristrips and plaster off, I realise that the back of my leg doesn't look how I remember it looking: where there was once a mole is new, pinkish skin. The scar is a little bit bigger than I thought it would but, to be honest, I really don't care. Over the next few days I slowly get used to the scar but notice it hurts bit if I sit funny. Touching it when I put moisturiser on also makes me a bit squeamish but I know that I need to get used to it.
Visit 7 - 8th June
Mole mapping day. The nurse and I share a laugh as we try to tie my hair - and fringe! - back with hairnets. Using a high resolution lens and a strange pulley contraception, she then takes photos of my entire body. 15mins later, I'm called back in for close ups on some moles. My heart sinks as the dermatologist methodically photographs around 25 moles. But then, the words I've been waiting for: "see you next year, there's no more cause for concern."