Saturday, 10 September 2011

C.Y.M.: Check Your Moles

All photos in this post are unedited.

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I never mentioned this at all, but in July I had a really scary moment. On holiday, I was getting ready to go to bed when I glanced at my left leg, as you do, and noticed the rounded mole on my leg had changed colour. It was dark brown with a black dot in the middle. It looked more raised than normal, and it was so different in appearance I asked my family to come and have a look. We agreed it didn't look right. The next morning I went into the shower and upon coming out to dry my mole exploded (yes, exploded) and bled everywhere. After applying a bit of pressure with a tissue, the mole didn't stop bleeding. And bleed, it did. For nearly thirty minutes.

I felt just a tiny bit confused as I applied pressure to the mole with a tissue, hoping the blood would stop soon. Why had my mole started behaving weirdly all of a sudden? It hadn't done this in the past. In fact, given my circumstances, this mole has only been around, from memory, for less than a year and a half, and my leg hasn't even seen sun in that time, or even beforehand! We carried on as normal, and I relaxed and enjoyed the holiday, but made a mental note to book in for an appointment at my local doctor's surgery.

When we were home I arranged the appointment, and it was for the very next day which meant less time worrying about it. Although, later in the afternoon I started to feel daft. Was I wasting their time by going to be checked out? I reassured myself that attending the appointment would be for the best, given the circumstances, despite all the evidence on NHS Direct pointing to the "You're perfectly fine, stop panicking," category. (Yes, yes, I'm a fan of NHS Direct for reading up on illnesses etc - but only NHS Direct)

The next day I had the appointment, and within a short examination was referred to a hospital for a further examination and possible removal for testing. I was half surprised, and half not surprised. But I did come home and flap a bit - not 100% knowing what was going on with my mole, the idea of having needles and a minor procedure and, of course, when it was going to happen. After pacing up and down and almost running around the house for ten minutes in a bid to calm down, I peeled myself back off the ceiling, but spent the next week or so feeling concerned about my mole. And looking at it every five minutes.

Then came the wait. After getting the appointment through I went through about three cancellations and rescheduled appointments until the final and definite date came through, which was over a month away. I could wait, I thought to myself, checking the mole for the fifth time that morning. It hadn't changed, by the way. It just looked a bit flatter and a bit browner.

D Day arrived a month later. The nerves didn't really kick in until we walked into the waiting room. It was half empty. Dermatology on the left, Phototherapy on the right. A few magazines to read until my name was called. Facebook on my phone to read through. Butterflies dancing in my stomach. Within ten minutes of being in the waiting room, I was having my initial consultation. After chatting through the history of my mole I was asked if I would be okay with having the mole removed for testing, and whether I minded having a scar on my leg. When it comes down to it, I'd rather have a scar than leaving my mole there, taunting me every morning. I wanted that bad boy GONE.

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I also got marked up as well, with a blue biro. That diamond you see there is the entire lump of skin/mole I had taken away. They took away the skin as a precaution and to make a neater looking scar, I reckon. Before the actual procedure we grabbed a drink and a Kit Kat and sat and ate it while waiting to be called. I totally forgot my migraine-inducing intolerance to cow's milk and drank a pint of the white stuff. I had a migraine at 4am in the morning two days later. Nice.

About an hour later I heard a nurse calling to the other, "Can you help me prepare the biopsy trolley, please?" and I realised that this possibly could be me up next. Eep. My tummy got all fluttery again. Ten minutes later it was my turn, and as I walked into the minor procedure theatre (which was actually a tiny room with a bed, several cupboards and a massive lamp hanging from the ceiling) I signed the consent form and got on the bed.

If you don't like descriptions of surgery (although really it's not too graphic) turn away now, hence the jump break. See you on the other side!




The staff were brilliant, the nurse was very calm and reassuring and answered all of my questions ("How deep will the incision be?", "How many jabs will I have?", and "Will it be painful?") and helped raise the bed so that instead of lying down, on my request, I could watch the entire thing. It's funny really, considering that I absolutely cannot watch anyone having injections/operations on TV, I'm more than happy to watch myself have blood tests, and in this case, a full blown minor procedure. I think it's because I want to check they're not secretly using a chainsaw...

I started off with five injections of local anesthetic, which was hugely painful at first. Then the numbness kicked in and it was very nice in a weird way. The procedure began in earnest until I began to feel what was going on and had to go for another round of anesthetic. Then I decided that instead of watching the removal it would be better to lie back, look at the ceiling and talk about anything, anything at all. I can't remember what I talked about, just saying how surreal the entire thing was, and how I really fancied a pair of shoes I'd seen on the Debenhams TV advert...

Roughly half an hour later I looked down and saw a huge 50p sized expanse of bare, red flesh on my leg. The doctor asked me if I wanted to see the mole before it went in the sample jar, and I saw a tiny diamond of skin. "Bye mole!" I joked as they tweezered it into the pot. It reminded me of a tiny cut out remnant of carpet - detailed on the top, plain and normal on the bottom. Next up was the sewing, and it was fairly boring if you ask me. It really is the same as sewing up a hem on your trousers or something, except it's actual live skin and you can feel them pulling away at it.

Another forty five minutes passed and it was nearly done. I looked down and realised it looked just like a coin slot in a charity tin. I think this was me slightly delirious from the bright lights... We went through the aftercare as the sewing was almost done - plenty of plasters for two days, Vaseline to moisturise the scar for two to three weeks, and stitches to be removed in ten days time. My bottom was now as numb as my leg...

I am glad that I discovered the mole when I did, and acted upon getting it examined as soon as possible. I'm now waiting for the results, which could take about a month. Either way, I'm ready for whatever comes, and I know now stitches are excruciatingly painful and I seriously can't wait for them to be removed!

Most importantly though - my only advice to you is to check your moles. If they change in any way, you must have them looked at. Don't feel daft or like you're wasting someone's time. It takes five minutes and could possibly change the course of your future. Check Your Moles, people!

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