I read a piece on Laura Linney in the New York Times a few weeks ago. I’ve always liked her as an actress and the article made her sound so appealing and normal that of course I wanted to watch her new series “The Big C”, a dark comedy. She plays a schoolteacher who is diagnosed with Stage IV melanoma and decides not to tell anyone. Not her husband, her son or even her brother.


The show happened to have its premiere the night before I was due to return to the dermatologist. I needed to have a complete excision of a mole that was biopsied the previous week. The diagnosis: a moderately dysplastic nevus located above my left nipple. These types of cells are considered to be pre-melanoma, meaning that if left alone they have a greater chance of developing in to melanoma cells. The doctor was going in deep and I was going to need stitches.

Skin cancer doesn’t run in my family. I come from almost 100 percent Eastern European stock. My family is predominantly dark hair, dark eyes and olive skin. My maternal grandmother was a sun goddess. She spent her youth, and beyond, swimming in the ocean off of the North Carolina coast and lounging in the sun with her sister and cousins.

The beach tradition continued when I was a kid. My brother and I would be outside all day, catching sand fiddlers and riding the waves. I remember lying on Myrtle Beach, in the early 1970’s before it was built up, and coating my body with Bain de Soleil (for the St. Tropez tan). SPF 2. I loved the smell of it, the gelee texture and the orange color.

Additionally, I grew up in Miami. Born and raised there. I spent most weekends during high school at the beach on Key Biscayne. Lot 2, Pit 2. Wearing nothing but a bikini and baby oil. Getting repeatedly sunburned because everybody knew that the sunburn would eventually turn in to a tan. Boy, those were the days.

And boy, how I’m paying for them now. Even though I’ve religiously worn sunscreen on my face and on my body for almost the past twenty years. The effects of the sunburns I got back then are just starting to show up on my body. Wrinkles, freckles and dysplastic nevi.

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, having multiple blistering sunburns as a child or teenager increases your risk of developing skin cancer as an adult. That’s me.

So, I had the excision done. I’m not usually squeamish but having the area around my nipple anesthetized and cut, plus feeling the blood run down my side during the procedure, kind of grossed me out. And now I have a line an inch and half long running across my breast. The dermatologist closed the hole with 6 internal stitches and a lopping subcutaneous suture on the top. And I should get a phone call in the next day or two telling me that the margins were all clear. I feel lucky.

I watched “The Big C” on my computer this morning. It made me uncomfortable. Laura Linney’s character, Cathy, made me uncomfortable. Maybe it was the skin cancer angle or the dying at a young age angle. Or just that she’s a woman who has unhappily lived life by stringent rules, acquiescing to her husband’s no onion dietary restriction and being accused by her brother of being boring. But after the melanoma diagnosis, being given one year to live and opting to not have any treatment, Cathy starts to live her life differently. Saying what she wants to a student, teaching her disrespectful son a lesson and, as her brother says, “You’re starting to get your weird back, sis.”

That last part I like. I’m happiest when I have my weird back. And I want to live my life to the fullest without fretting over the smaller things like whether the kitchen is clean and the laundry is all put away. We should all do that. Just do me a favor. Wear your sunscreen while you do it. And a hat wouldn’t hurt either.