One issue I haven’t touched on yet that I probably should is tanning. People may wonder why someone like me, with my tanning OCD issues and history of basal cell carcinoma, would move to Florida. I did though, and I’m trying to be smart about it. This is one of the ways in which being unemployed for a year in the transition hurt me, as I didn’t have anything to do but lay in the sun every day. Since I’m able to be outside year-round here, no tanning bed usage is necessary to maintain my color.
The sun is so much stronger here than in the Midwest, I can lay out for less time and still get more color because the UV index is higher. This allows me to spend less time in the sun, which is nice, because in the summer it is horrible to be in the sun for very long unless I’m at the pool. The humidity and heat are unbearable most afternoons, with heat indices around one hundred degrees. Our initial summer here I just laid out on our patio, but last summer I started going to our community’s pool. I’m much cooler there, and I was able to meet quite a few people. They are all older than me, but not too old to still be fun to hang out with at the pool. I now use sun screen on my face to protect it from the intense sun.
Unfortunately, using sun screen hasn’t kept me from having ongoing skin cancer concerns. I recently had a spot on the side of my nose for about five months, and finally decided to go to a dermatologist. She’s a young doctor, but I liked her. She’s from northern Indiana where I’m from, her parents still live there, and she got her undergrad degree from the same university I did. This gave us something to chat about.
The doctor didn’t lecture me about my tan or about being in the sun, which was a relief. We discussed it, obviously, and she said to apply sun screen to my face more often, but she didn’t harp on it, thankfully. Anyway, she biopsied the spot on my nose. The biopsy showed that I had basal cell carcinoma, again. The following week I went in for a Mohs procedure, which is the surgical procedure often used to remove cancer from the face.
In this procedure, they cut out a small area and then biopsy it. If it shows cancer on the edges of the area they go back and cut out more. They continue this process until they are sure they have removed it all. It’s a rather time consuming process (I was there about five hours). First, I was given shots in the nose and cheek area to numb it. This is the worst part of the process, as the shots to the face are painful and I have a needle phobia. The doctor then removes a chunk of flesh to be biopsied, cauterizes the wound, and puts a temporary bandage on my nose while we await biopsy results.
I joined four other people in a small waiting room. This was a comical scene…four of us with bandages on our noses, and one with a bandage on his ear. It was awkward at first, as we were strangers. I read my e-mail and Facebook for awhile to kill time. It didn’t take long though for a chatty senior woman to start conversation with everyone. By the end of the day we were all chatting and laughing together. The same doctor was working on all of us, so we were called back in one at a time to find out whether the first part of the process got all the cancer. Unfortunately, they didn’t get all of it the first time, so I had to go through it a second time (more shots to the face and cauterization then more time in the waiting room). The third time the nurse called me back, I got the good news that they had removed all the cancer. I got more shots to the face to numb the area to receive stitches. I had to wear a large pressure bandage for 24 hours, then I covered it with a large Bandaid for a couple weeks to keep it clean at work. I couldn’t go into the pool for a couple of weeks, but I still went to the pool to lay in the sun (yes, I laid in the sun even after having skin cancer removed. The OCD urges are relentless).
My social life is different in Florida than it was in Indiana. In Indiana I socialized with my age peer group, while in Florida I mostly do things with my mom’s peer group. I’m just as socially active as I was before and have just as much fun. I go out to eat, go to movies, go see live bands, go to arts and crafts festivals, and of course we go to some of the Florida attractions (the beach, Disney, going to see the manatees, for example). I socialize with my mom, Betty, and newer friends Diane and Denny (who Betty has been friends with for many years). In January I went on a 6- day Caribbean cruise with my mom, Betty and Diane and had a great time. We stopped at two ports in the Bahamas, and in the Dominican Republic and Grand Turk. I have fun regularly with the many people at the pool, even though most of them are twenty years older than I am. I actually know more people who live in our community than my mom does, through the relationships I’ve made at the pool.
As I said in our book, prior to moving to Florida I was settled into a job that worked for me. I had friends, and was having fun socializing. I had doctors in place who I trusted and felt supported by. When I decided to move, I gave up all of this. In hindsight, I understand why Sharon was concerned about the possibility that I would be psychiatrically destabilized by the stress of the transition. It certainly was a big change! But two years later, I can confidently say I have managed to make this transition quite successfully. I have the right job, an active social life, and doctors who I trust. I have no regrets. I remain stable and content.