Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A textbook case for early screening for skin cancer

First: I'm fine.

Second: I have a three-inch scar running down my right cheek.

Third: sunscreen! Hats!

But back to the first point.

I'm fine. I guess that's the most important point to make. That, and I'm sure glad that I'm not a super vain person about my looks. And, I'm ready for Halloween?

Nah, it's really not that bad. But it could have been.

Michael and I make our yearly dermatology appointments each fall with Dr. Silva when we're back in Sacramento, back on the job. Obviously, we're good --- ok, great? -- candidates for skin cancer. We live the majority of the year in sunny climates. And --- oh yeah --- we went sailing for about 16 years, most of the time sin sunscreen. We didn't burn, we weren't sunbathing. But we were undoubtedly damaging our skin.

Michael headed in first and discovered he had a squamous cell carcinoma on his chest, which he had surgically removed last week.


I headed in for my check up and pointed to the tiniest little bump on my cheek. I thought it was something like a zit but it didn't heal, didn't get red, didn't change color, didn't itch. It was just a tiny bump.

Fortunately, Dr. Silva didn't agree. We didn't even get to screening the rest of my face before she was biopsying that little blemish, which came back as a very aggressive type of basal cell carcinoma. I was immediately referred to a surgeon for a procedure called Mohs Surgery, where the surgeon removes and biopsies the skin, layer by layer, all on the same day, until a completely clean biopsy is present. It can often take two or three surgeries before they are ready to stitch you up and send you home.

What's apparently so good about the Mohs Surgery is they get it all the first time.

I got lucky --- lucky that I got in so early, lucky that it only took one surgery. The type of cell I have is aggressive, ill-defined, often spreading rapidly below the radar so that by the time the bump shows up, it's off and running.

I would hate to think what my face would have looked like if I had waited.

I'm not sharing this because I need to whine or I need sympathy or I need flowers. Really, all I need is for all of my friends to take the time to get screened by a good dermatologist.

Because, as I said, my little innocuous bump was tiny.

Monday, October 5, 2009

(Almost) 40 days & 40 nights in Sacramento

I've noticed that this blog gets pretty quiet when I get back to Sac, back to work. One reason is the simplicity of posting quickie updates on Facebook, with a picture. Makes me lazy....

But here's the rest of the reason:

An unexpected marathon visit with ALL the kids.

One of the delights of having to return to Sacramento to work (besides the paycheck!) is getting to spend time with Daughter Anne and the grandkids, Sami and Kami.

But within two weeks of our arrival and barely back to work, sons Jason and Dustin (and family) showed up unexpectedly in Sacramento for an impromptu family reunion. Jason was heading back to Michigan for a two month stint as a volleyball coach. Then he'll be joining us in Mexico, in early January .

Dustin, Camelia and Sasha flew north to California to get out of the Puerto Vallarta heat for a few weeks. The airfares were astoundingly cheap and 1-year-old Sasha had just gotten her U.S. passport (and citizenship!) the day before the flight. Sasha was a blast -- a veteran traveler already. She was happy and flexible the entire trip.

At 13 years of age as of Saturday, Granddaughter Samantha (sorry, Sami) has reached my height and will soon be towering over me. She's tall, lovely, smiles a lot, is a great older sister, texts a lot of friends and plays a lot of softball.

Baby sister Kamryn, 2, is what we call "a pistol." Not sure exactly what that expression intends, but she's it. She is focused, smart, speaking in full sentences, has a spark in her eye. But boy oh boy, is she focused. It's like watching a computer processor at work.... processing, processing. Then ACTION!

We ended our 10-day family marathon with a barbecue at Dylan's place in Oakland Hills. Phenomenal view of San Francisco, the Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge and out of this world food. We're sooooooo glad he likes to cook.

All I can say is TOO MUCH FUN!

Back to work, back to teaching, back to a state in fiscal crisis.

Obviously, being back to work, back in the classroom is a shock to someone who has been able to do what she wants, when she wants for the past eight months. It's taken a few weeks to get to get my stride, especially with the kids visiting, to remember how to prep classes more efficiently, remember how to grade papers more efficiently.

But it's an odd time to be back in Sacramento. We have a 9.3 percent pay cut, which the state calls furlough days, because of the budget crisis. So in a 16-week semester, we must take two days off per month (9 days during each semester) to match the reduction in pay. And still teach our students. Unfortunately, I hear that the state/university system could be in much worse shape next year. Lovely.

Many downtown businesses near the Capitol have already shut down --- state workers don't buy lunch out (or anything else) if they don't have enough money to pay their mortgage --- or anything else. Especially if they're not even physically at the job for three days per month. Department stores have closed, electronic stores, jewelry stores, many of the major chains. The budget crisis was not as obvious in New York this summer.

Anne and Steve are finding many 'teachable moments' with Sami about the effects of the budget crisis, especially in Sacramento. State workers (including Anne) have a three-day reduction in pay per month. There have been some great lessons --- 'if you want label jeans, then you get one pair. If you don't care about label jeans, then you get three new pairs of jeans for school.'

And unexpected blessing for Anne to have three Fridays off per month to spend with the girls.

Pretty good life lessons, really, for all of us Americans.

Now for a couple of side rants:

First Rant: Medical care. Of course.

The quality of medical care is great in New York, good access too but it's sticker shock even with insurance. My co-pay is often higher than the cost of seeing a doctor in Mexico without insurance. But great quality and variety..

Mexico medical care is phenomenal, so far. Affordable. Great. Clean. Access to your doctor because you have his or her cell phone. No lie!

California. Stinks! At least in Sacramento. It's a huge system where the bureaucracy has become more important than the patient. I was thinking about changing doctors within the same system and the receptionist interviewed me quite extensively about my insurance before taking my personal information. And, no, I'm not in an HMO. I supposedly have 'great' insurance. So I told her 'no thanks.'

My doctor says it's going to take six weeks to get into a gastroenterologist --- amazing for a city this size, for a medical community this size. I'm thinking I'll just wait until I get back to Mexico, where I have better access, good medical care, timely ---- and I can afford it.

Second rant: What the heck happened to my skin here?

The humidity in Sacramento has often hovered under 20 percent (can we even breathe that?) and I'm guessing all the minerals have been stripped out of the water system so that skin is dry, hair is dry. So I can't believe it, but I'm back to buying products for hair and skin so I don't look like an aging witch.

Between upstate New York --- where we have humidity and a lovely beach well for our water --- and the sea air in Mexico, I've barely needed a moisturizer. Now I'm back in Sacramento to make some money and I'm having to pay serious dollars on moisturizers and conditioners. I need to get out of here before I've donated my paycheck to the beauty industry. Ack!

The temperature here has dropped like a stone, so this bird is feeling the urge to migrate south. See many of you back in Mexico at the end of the semester in mid-December!

Pictures below: 1. 13-year-old Sami. 2. Sasha and Kamryn. 3. Anne and Kami. 4. Jason, Dad, Dustin. 5. Dylan, Michael, Sylvia, Camelia, Dustin and Sasha.