27 August 2011
Last year I found this tiny little white patch on my right hand and when I visited my doctor I got diagnosed with Vitiligo. I had never heard about it before but the doctor explained to me that Vitiligo is a pigmentation disorder in which melanocytes (the cells that make pigment) in the skin are destroyed. As a result, white patches appear on the skin in different parts of the body. The cause of vitiligo is not known, but the most widely accepted view is that the depigmentation occurs because vitiligo is an autoimmune disease -- a disease in which a person's immune system reacts against the body's own organs or tissues. He also said that unfortunately there was no cure against the disorder and you could never tell how fast it would spread.
He went on telling me that there is an association between vitiligo and the most aggressive form of skin cancer, melanoma. Individuals with vitiligo and with fair skin in general should therefore exercise extra precautions when it comes to sun protection. Daily application of a moisturizer with a broad spectrum sunscreen of SPF 30 or greater to sun exposed areas was recommended. Use of hats, sunscreen and covering up while outdoors, avoiding sun exposure between 10 AM-3 PM would be a good idea. Yeah! I got this picture in my head of me sitting in a sunchair with an ugly sunhat and all covered up in a blanket. I felt like weeping! I went out of the doctor’s office feeling sort of numb. I looked at the tiny little patch and could almost hear the pigment cells chewing off on each other.
For six month or so nothing much happened. The patch didn’t get any bigger and I kept a brave face telling myself that I most certainly didn’t have the aggressive version and as long as it didn’t spread to my face I was OK with it…. That was a big fat lie of course. I wasn’t OK with it, well the white patch didn’t bother me as much as the skin cancer thing. That had me trembling…
Four months ago or so it started spreading really fast. I went back to the doctor but he had no answer to why it was spreading so fast but there was absolutely nothing he could do about it. I still tried to keep the bravery up. It hadn’t spread to my face, I didn’t have skin cancer so it wasn’t lethal ( yet….) and although it was the same disease that Michael Jackson had I was almost certain that it wasn’t what caused his nose to fall of…. I worked really hard on convincing myself that this was no big deal. Hey, there is always make up….
Last week as I was in a shop buying a pair of jeans ( hate, hate, double hate) and was standing in this really, really tiny dressing room with it’s non flattering bright light trying to see whether my ass looked big in these ( which it always does) and that’s when I saw it – a pink patch on my chin. It had finally spread to my face.
I wept in the dressing room
I wept in the car back home
I wept for the rest of the evening.
Feeling sorry for myself and feeling that life was unfair. Why me I sobbed! The next morning I told myself to get a grip. So many people in the world were far worse off. So I might soon be looking like Yogi the Bear and so I would have to take extra precautions in the sun for the rest of my life but I still didn’t have skin cancer. I told myself that I had to focus on all the good things in life – my wonderful husband, lovely daughters and all my great friends. The country house, my creative work, my garden, my photography…. and it works. Most of the time.
But then there is the lonely hours at night when fear of cancer hits me big time but maybe there is a meaning to that too. Because otherwise I might get careless, not using sun protection, pretending that it will never happen to me...
…and come to think of it – Yogi the Bear is kind of cute!