I like to think that I am, on the whole, a reasonably sensible person. The things that really bother me – like the thought of my son or Mister Litlove in extremis – are the sorts of things that would bother anyone. But there are some places where I struggle to be rational. One is the fear that the house would either flood or burn down and I would lose my books; but that one is actually quite manageable. The other is about being ill, and not manageable at all. After all those years of chronic fatigue, I am kind of unwilling to be ill ever again. I sort of feel I’ve done my bit, if you see what I mean. And when I had a breast cancer scare back in 2008 it was one of the worst things I’ve ever been through and has undoubtedly left a mental scar.
So, this year I’ve had a couple of issues with my skin. Over Christmas I came out with a small lump on my back. Determined to try to be better about that I’m-going-to-die reaction, I decided to try to take an intelligent approach. I read up about skin cancers and thought that my symptoms really didn’t check out. In the end, many weeks later, I thought oh to hell with it and rang the local surgery. I just happened to be fortunate, for the doctor who specialises in skin complaints was in that day and I got to see her as an emergency patient. She cast a brief glance, said it was a small cyst and there was nothing to be done about it, and that was the end of the story. Then, earlier in April, I freaked myself a bit by noticing a mole that I thought had changed. Again, I checked it out, and kept an eye on it. I made an appointment to see the same doctor, but because she’s only in once a week, I had to wait a month to see her. So fine, by the time the appointment rolled round and my mole hadn’t changed at all, I was actually pretty sure it was nothing to worry about.
My appointment was on Wednesday. The doctor checked it out, and said it was fine. It was an irritated wart. This was interesting news as for the past five years or so, I’ve been growing new moles – as I thought – all the time, but she gave me a cursory inspection and said they were all warts, and quite harmless. Well, harmless except to my image as a foxy chick, but hey. I can let that go. She gave me a leaflet, I went home, told Mister Litlove I was turning into a little warthog and could he please ask the white witch in his employ to back off, and Mister Litlove thought this was all pretty hilarious. And I was in such a good mood. Things have been so fraught here lately, what with lots more students than I normally see in the run up to the exams, and my son sitting his exams and never being home and Mister Litlove not that happy in work. I’ve been feeling tired and drained. But I had this patch of a few days to just chill out and recover and I was really looking forward to it.
So of course, the next day, getting into the shower, I notice another mole, not so very far away from the one that I’d seen the doctor about the day before. This new mole, though, was a worry; it seemed to tick some of the boxes on the sheet the doctor had given me. And whilst I’d been okay with the other imperfections I’d found, for some reason this one completely freaked me out. I mean, I seriously freaked. I felt such an idiot, having seen the doctor only the day before – could she have noticed this one herself and dismissed it? It’s hard to know what people are looking at when they are behind you. Was it just another irritated wart? I felt terrified; I went hot and I went cold, I felt sick. I started looking dermatologists up in the phone book, wondering if I could wait the week to see the doctor yet again. Well, I was a mess.
That was yesterday and Mister Litlove has been doing a sterling job of trying to talk me down since then. He has looked at it and is not concerned at all. He thinks that this is a product of my being tired and having had far too much to do with skin doctors lately. To be completely reasonable, it is very small, and if you stand close to me and look at it, it doesn’t look like anything to be worried about – you have to really look up close (please don’t tell me about all the people you knew with minuscule blemishes that turned out to be fatal, now is not the moment). I always felt that skin cancer gave you a sporting chance by looking weird or disgusting, and almost 90% are benign. But don’t think for one moment that I will not get myself checked out by the doctor just as soon as I possibly can. I most certainly will.
No the issue here really is my huge and disproportionately fearful response to illness. I mean, someday, something is going to happen to me, one of my fears will come true and what will I do then? Will I just be a puddle on the floor until I finally die? Mister Litlove’s theory here is that I can’t do anything to control or manage illness, hence it gets to me, and there is undoubtedly truth in that. I also hate the state of not knowing (and believe me, you have to really hate the state of not knowing to become an academic). I am very bad at just withstanding and sitting things out; I like to help move them along, you know? I’m bad at distracting myself because once the distraction has finished I feel even worse, as if taking my eye off the monster makes it more likely to come for me. Well, what it boils down to is that I have triggered my fear, and I don’t deal with that very well. How do people manage to quell their fears? What do you do to get a grip again?