I’m avoiding going to Walmart because I’m embarrassed about the way I look. Now this is a new experience.
Walmart has always been the safe haven for no-makeup, dirty hair, sloppy sweats grocery shopping. No matter how bad I looked, I could always find comfort (twisted soul that I am) in the fact that I’d see someone at Walmart who looked worse.
Enter AK’s (and although I am writing this from rural southern Virginia, where everybody’s grandmother is armed, I’m not referring to AK47’s). AK’s are actinic keratosis, a pre-cancerous skin growth. Like me, most of the people they affect are fair skinned and have had a fair amount of sun exposure. (My sun exposure didn’t come from lying on the beach or in a tanning bed, but from teaching riding lessons, competing in horse shows, running, gardening, and just being an all around outdoors-type of person).
On a recent visit to my dermatologist, she froze half a dozen or so of these little nasties off my face, and suggested I use a topically applied treatment for the rest of my face. What the treatment does is stimulates the body’s immune system and the AK’s are fought from the inside out. The result, lessened chance of developing squamous cell carcinoma.
So, now I am on week two of the four week treatment. Think of the AK’s and the cream as battling armies, think of my face as the battleground. It ain’t pretty. Remember the TV ad “This is your brain… this is your brain on drugs”? Yeah, that’s kind of how I feel about my current game face – this is your face on drugs….. as I said, it ain’t pretty.
Which brings me to an interesting twist on a theme I’ve already visited in these blogs, gratitude. I have never thought of myself as pretty (no big surprise to anyone who knows me or who may have read previous self deprecating entries in this body of work). I’ve always considered myself to be OK looking. Not someone who has ever gotten a wolf whistle (and someone who has long since decided I never will!), but not necessarily someone to be an object of pity by the more aesthetically endowed. That has changed.
I am painfully aware (in both the literal and metaphorical senses) of the red, swollen, scabby areas on my face. I apply makeup every day before going to work, but unless I enroll in the Tammy Faye Bakker school of cosmetology, I’m not going to cover up what’s going on from my chin to my hairline. Improve the appearance? Definitely. Make myself look “normal”? You know what they say about snowballs in hell? Yeah, this is my face on drugs.
Which brings me to my point (“thank God”, you are cheering, “she has a point!”). For someone who has always seen myself as a person normally filled with gratitude, I’ve been taking a whole lot for granted. “Little” things, like a “normal” face. Oh, I’m sure I’ll never be on the cover of People (yet another thing for which to be grateful), but I’m not in the case files of a reconstructive surgeon, either. I guess it’s like breaking your wrist (something I can relate to). You don’t realize how much you do with that set of bones, that mechanically wondrous structure, until it’s in a cast. Suddenly opening doors, opening a jar of pickles and closing your zipper are not automatic activities. You stop taking your wrist for granted – at least until the cast comes off…
So, for the next two weeks (and as long beyond treatment as it takes for my face to return to “normal”), I will be grateful for the fact that all of these red, burning areas on my face are being treated early, before they became cancerous. I will be grateful for my “normal” face when it returns. I will continue to wear SPF 50 on a daily basis. But for right now, I need some groceries, so I’m going to go shovel on some makeup, and me and my sloppy sweats are heading to Walmart.