Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Clyde-o, the red-nosed professor

Oh fun. For Halloween I get to go as a leper. Or a teenager.

I don’t like to make light of people whose lives are hell – and I also am not poking fun at lepers. But I’m certainly getting the look.

Like a lot of men my age, my skin is paying me back for the abuse I gave it as a boy. In northern California’s blast-furnace summers, we started the summer with intentionally acquiring a cherry-red sunburn. The theory espoused by our elders is that after you burned once, you healed with a tan that spared you of further sunburns.
It didn’t really work, but even in black-and-white family photos you can see I turned dark as well-worn pair of Oxfords. And in a few, you can see my nose threatening to peel away to a stub.

Lo these many decades later, the blisters of those sunburns are turning into the scaly patches of “sunspots.” Worse, I am indeed a cancer survivor, though in the most unheroic way. I had a couple of basal cell skin cancers removed a few years ago. They are the most common form of cancer (a million new cases a year) and seldom kill you unless they are ignored. Not ignoring them means carving them out with a scapel.

But they start with those sunspots. So every year I have the doc squirt the latest crop with liquid nitrogen. It doesn’t hurt at first, but in a few days it looks and feels like someone stabbed the spot with a hot poker. And like a burn, it heals and away.

This year my dermatologist asked if I would try a new treatment that lasts five years or more and doesn't burn. I just had to put up with a red and spotted face for about a month.

Ergo the leprous look. Each night I rub fluorouracil cream onto my face and ears, and each morning I awaken with spots that are a bit redder. After three weeks of this, the spots – and chance of cancer – are supposed to go away.

Fluorouracil is pretty neat stuff. It’s a chemotherapy chemical that attacks the DNA of screwed-up cell while leaving the good skin alone. Kind of a smart bomb for overly bronzed bodies. No pain but great gain.

By the end of the week, my face should be in full bloom. So now the big question: Do I dab on some of my wife’s makeup or celebrate the season with a ghoulish countenance?

I suppose I could also just put on a geeky plaid shirt and flip-flops. In some of my classes, no one would ever know . . .

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