We'll go ahead and use this photo (for its calligraphie) to illustrate today's story, which might as well be titled "Les Bêtises de La Peau" or "Skin Stupidity". Read on... and cover up with sun screen!
la peau (poh)
Protégez votre peau du soleil. Mettez un écran solaire.
Protect your skin. Apply sun screen.
A Day in a French Life... by Kristin Espinasse
It looked like a blemish... only it didn't go away. On studying the spot on my forehead, I wondered whether it was a scar--one I had somehow overlooked? Only, I couldn't remember running head first into anything recently.... Besides, I would have remembered the bleeding, the bandaging, and the scabbing (not to mention the embarrassment).
After prodding and poking at the bump, to no avail (I guessed it wasn't acne...), I decided it must be an age spot--a pearly one at that. At the age of 43, I seem to be manufacturing them! There is one above my right eyebrow... and another is coming into view over my left sourcil. Only those spots are the color of age-spots: brown. Did age spots come in other colors and thicknesses?
When the flesh-tone spot in the center of my forehead began to grow (it was growing, wasn't it?) I began to have doubts and, one weekend last month, I threw all of my worry energies together in time to make an appointment chez le dermatologue.
Only problem was: in August, in the South of France, all dermatologists are on the sunny beaches of Costa Brava (just kidding--in truth, I do not know where skin doctors vacation in summertime, but they do vacation, and, therefore, it was difficult finding someone to diagnose the worrisome growth).
I would have to wait three weeks to see a skin specialist in Orange. On my way to his office, I kept forgetting things: where I put my wallet, especially. I managed to misplace it three times that week, whereas I'd never before lost my porte-monnaie. If I am absent-minded by nature, this head-in-the-clouds tendance became epidemic the week of my appointment.
The dermatologist's office is located in an historical hôtel particulier. Stepping past the sky-high iron gate, I peered around the cobbled courtyard. It looked bleak (no swayback benches, no giant pots with trailing flowers), but then it occurred to me: what busy dermatologue had time to sit or to water plants? I decided this was a good sign and stepped over the threshold.
Inside, the only other patient in the sterile waiting room sat reading Voici (France's version of People Magazine). The woman had a big bandage on her ankle. I wondered what skin-related malady had befallen her?
After checking in, I waited beside the woman with the ankle bandage, and as I read the cover of her magazine, I overheard voices in the next room:
"Je vous ai fait un rendez-vous chez le chirurgien plasticien. I've made an appointment for you at the plastic surgeon's..." the secretary was saying to the young woman who had just seen the doctor.
When it was my turn to be examined, the diagnoses came almost as soon as I arrived at the examination table. No magnifying glass was needed, no special flashlight. The only instrument the doctor used was a great blue magic marker.
Doc used the thick blueberry-colored marker to draw a circle around the mysterious growth, highlighting the area that would need to be excised. Next, he handed me a mirror.
I stared at the spot on my forehead, which appeared even bigger than before. "C'est un carcinome baso-cellulaire." "It's basal cell carcinoma," the doctor explained.
Still starring into the hand mirror, I saw my glassy eyes flanked by mascarad wings, which blinked.
The doctor assured me: "It is the most common type of skin cancer: nonmelanoma. I diagnose at least one case per week. A lot of farmers around here get it. (I thought of my husband, Chief Grape, who had already had an 8-inch chunk of flesh taken out of his back, some 15-years-ago. He would need to be reexamined!)
If left untreated, the doctor explained, the cells would keep on growing. But I would probably die of old age, he assured me, before I would die of this type of skin cancer. "That said, basal cell carcinoma is malignant and can spread to the bone, in which case it is best to remove the growth."
The doctor washed off the blue mark from my forehead and scribbled a note to a colleague, a visceral and digestive surgeon, just up the street at the Clinique de Provence.
I wondered whether I shouldn't travel farther, to have some sort of specialist remove the facial growth?But when I voiced my concern, the doctor chuckled: "No need to send you to China to have some cells removed!"
I laughed, too. True, it was no use complicating the matter. First things first, get the growth removed! And no time to dally, for a second growth appeared last month, piggy-backing the first.
Post note: I was uneasy about the idea of a visceral-digestive surgeon cutting and sewing my forehead! Wouldn't a plastic surgeon be a better choice? For days I debated the doctor's recommendation. And then I said a prayer and asked for peace of mind about my decision... and that is when the answer came to me, clear as day: "visceral" means "organ" -- and isn't skin the biggest organ we have? Therefore an organ and digestive doctor would seem to be the right match! I'll see the doctor this Tuesday, which is also la rentrée, or back-to-school for our kids.
Le Coin Commentaires
Statistics show that 3 out of 10 light-skinned persons may develop basal cell carcinoma in their lifetime. It is the most common form of skin cancer. Share your "sun sins"--experiences, stories, and knowledge-- here, in the comments box--and help spread awareness of this preventable disease.
Update: Read about my visit to the surgeon's... where I learn that a gut doctor has been recommended to remove the facial growths... Click here.
A picture of the spot:
You can see the spot on my forehead in a picture I posted last month. Click on the following link and look for the first picture (with the pink scarf) in this story column (then click on the picture to enlarge it). The pea-size, flesh-tone spot is in the center of my forehead, one or so inches below my hairline: http://french-word-a-day.typepad.com/motdujour/2011/08/collier.html
le sourcil = eyebrow
la tendance = tendency
le porte-monnaie = wallet
un hôtel particulier = private mansion
The classic Bescherelle, the complete guide to French verb conjugation. Read the five-star reviews, and order, here.
This Frenchman has the right idea: wear a hat! Photo of the trompe-l'oeil taken in 2009, in Pourrières.
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For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety