60: “N” Is for Nightmare

60: “N” Is for Nightmare

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Dreams and the Unexplainable

“N” Is for Nightmare

You have to ask a lot of questions and listen to people, but eventually, you have to go by your own instincts.

~Kirk Kerkorian

The nightmare came right after I’d noticed I had a new skin blemish. In the dream, a former college roommate and I were sitting on her front porch steps, enjoying a warm summer evening. We both had on shorts, and our legs were lazily stretched out in front of us. “I don’t mean to alarm you,” my friend said, “but you have something on your leg that you need to have a doctor look at.” When I looked down, there were two, four-inch-long mushrooms sprouting from my ankle.

I awoke with a gasp. Definitely one for the dream log! I’d started writing down dreams because I’d found that dreams would sometimes alert me to what was important. Besides, they can be weirdly entertaining.

That was in late March 2009. Two tiny dots that formed a crooked figure eight had recently appeared on that spot on my leg. The nightmare caused me to look more carefully at them. They didn’t protrude in any way, but they were darker than my ordinary freckles and they looked strange. I’d never been terribly concerned about any of my skin blemishes before, but when I learned that a local hospital was having a free skin check, I made an appointment. I have to admit, I felt a little nervous. I was convinced this nightmare was a warning.

Because the little dots were on my ankle, the young doctor looked at them right there at the check-in station. She pronounced them “nothing” in under a second.

This seemed so anticlimactic that I felt I couldn’t just leave. “Are you sure?” I asked. “Do you mind looking again?”

She refused to humor me. “Really,” she said. “It’s nothing.”

“Isn’t it weird that there are two of them together, though? And the color is funny. And they just appeared and are getting bigger.”

She carefully explained, in a tone meant specifically for people who overreact, that new skin discolorations such as mine can appear “even as we age” and they are nothing. “It’s okay. Really.”

I wanted to believe her, but I just didn’t. I was in my late forties and had already had enough age spots to know these didn’t look like any of them. It slipped out. “But . . . I had a nightmare.”

“Oh,” she said. “A nightmare — well!” The smirk on her face said it all. I shuffled away, feeling foolish but still worried.

From then on, whenever I saw a doctor, I proffered the leg and asked about the two little blotches that had slowly been spreading toward each other.

“That’s what we called in medical school a ‘nothing,’ ” one doctor said.

A year later, my new family practitioner pronounced the spot nothing to worry about. It was always a relief to keep hearing it wasn’t serious — until the little blob caught my eye and I felt the familiar uneasiness. Crazy or not, the mushroom-nightmare was always in the back of my mind, and I didn’t like the way this thing kept changing. The two little dots had by now grown into one crooked one, and it just looked wrong.

When I developed a mild allergic reaction, I was almost glad to have an excuse to see another dermatologist. By this time, the thing I’d dubbed “The Nightmare Spot” was about the size of a large grape seed. This doctor said The Nightmare Spot could be biopsied at a later date. He didn’t seem to be in a hurry because he said the border looked even as opposed to the blurry, irregular border characteristic of some types of skin cancer. It was a comment one of the other doctors had made.

Clear border or not, I suddenly realized how badly I wanted it gone, and I had begun feeling an inexplicable sense of urgency. Since this doctor was hard to schedule, I looked for another dermatologist who could get me in as quickly as possible. It had now been almost a full four years since I had the nightmare.

A short time later, in March 2013, I had an appointment with a new dermatologist. I extended my leg as usual and recited my speech.

“Yes,” she said. “I believe you have a Stage I melanoma.”

The word came out in a whoosh. “Melanoma?” I felt as if I’d been punched. I hadn’t realized until that moment that I’d assumed I had a basal cell carcinoma, which runs in my family. Though still a form of cancer, small basal cell carcinomas generally aren’t thought of as being an immediate threat because they don’t readily spread. But melanoma? The deadliest form of skin cancer there is?

“Stage I,” she repeated. She did the biopsy minutes later, and within days, the diagnosis was confirmed.

I’ll never know at what point The Nightmare Spot became cancerous or whether it was all along. I do know that, of the “ABCDE” warning signs of melanoma (which stand for asymmetry, border, color, diameter and evolving), the blotch on my leg had the uneven color characteristic of melanoma and was already evolving slightly by the time I saw that first doctor doing the skin checks.

The experience taught me that we understand our bodies better than our doctors do. I should have taken better charge of my own health by doing more research on my own. I should have told my doctor I needed a biopsy rather than continuing to ask. And I never should have allowed anyone to make me feel foolish for listening to what my intuition was telling me was important.

For me, melanoma has a sixth warning sign: “N” for nightmare. I feel so very lucky because the one thing I did do right was pay attention to my dream. Without it, I never would have been driven toward pursuing second, third, fourth and fifth opinions. Without that nightmare, I wouldn’t still be alive.

~T’Mara Goodsell

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