The Size of a Tip of a Pencil

The Size of a Tip of a Pencil

By Kelly Schwantes

18 December 2014

"Did you put sunscreen on?"

"Yes, I did."
"Well, did you reapply? It doesn't look like you reapplied."
"Ugh. Yes, I reapplied once."
"But you were out in the sun for 8 hours - you only reapplied once? Honey, you know you need to put sunscreen on multiple times throughout the day. Especially if you're in the water all day."

~Eye roll~

This is a conversation between a mother and a daughter. A mother who's had years of sun damage and subsequent excisions, and a daughter who didn't want to believe her warnings. It won't happen to her - the moles, the scars, the aging skin. Hours upon hours outside in the reflecting water, swimming up and down, up and down. Beach days with friends roasting in the heat. No - sunscreen wasn't necessary. She was tanned, she was invincible, she was young... 

Young. Young enough to be affected. Young enough to know the uncertainty of the state of a freckle. Young enough to have a scar on her back for the rest of her life. At 17, she was young, but certainly not invincible. Not anymore. 

All it took was one freckle she happened to spot on her back - the size of a tip of a pencil. It doubled in size, then tripled. Yet, still unnoticeable to most around her. But the warnings of her mother's irreversible scars rang through her ears. Then were spoken aloud by her doctor. Then were coming true as the specialist took wide enough margins of her flesh to ensure the freckle - that pesky little freckle - would be completely excised. 

The size of a tip of a pencil turned into stitches on her scapula, where the skin is constantly moving, shifting, expanding, contracting. The stitches turned into a deep enough scar to fit a pinky finger. The size of a tip of a pencil. That's all it took. 

Then came the phone call. The phone call where the doctor speaks the words of relief. All she hears is "margins. wide enough. all clear. abnormal. benign." She feels lucky, but she still feels scarred. She feels paranoid, but she feels knowledgeable. 

Like most things in life, her mother was right. Her mother is always right. There wouldn't be another eye roll. There would be sun screen in every beach bag. There would be immense amount of gratefulness for her mother's every bit of hassling, nagging and loving. 

She wishes she could back. She would go back and tell her 17 year old self - 

Freckles, moles and spots change just as fast as you grow tall. Your skin is as young and impressionable as your still evolving brain. You want to be beautiful. You already are beautiful. Now, stay beautiful. Take care of your health now. It's preventable. That scar on your back was preventable. Sure, you inherited those genes - that didn't necessarily help. But the beautiful person you inherited those genes from - she told you, she warned you, she loved you enough to care. This is all preventable - Listen to her. Thank her. Love her.  

The size of a tip of a pencil. That's all it took. 

Read Kelly's patient story.