The scourge of skin cancer in Australia
Skin cancer is a devastating reality of life in Australia. We have one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world. According to Sun Smart Victoria, 2 in 3 of us will be diagnosed with a form of skin cancer by the age of 70, and skin cancers account for more than 80% of all new cancers diagnosed each year.
These statistics are huge, and I believe most Australians are vaguely aware of them. We have now had several decades of sun-smart programs, ad campaigns, lessons in schools and highly visible posters in doctor’s surgeries, warning us of the dangers and compelling us to Slip Slop Slap (and in more recent years Seek Slide).
Because of the significant possibility of developing skin cancer, I visit my local skin doctor on an annual basis. Last week my phone beeped with an alert. It informed me that it was once again time for my check-up.
Ten minutes of discomfort
Going to the skin doctor is a strange experience – it is mildly uncomfortable for several reasons. At the forefront of my mind is that I may go home with slightly less of me than I had when I entered. This is because on several occasions my doctor has removed suspicious-looking growths for further analysis. The removal of such growths isn’t overly painful, just a quick local anaesthetic, a bit of scalpel work then a couple of stiches to hold you back together again. The whole thing takes about ten minutes.
But there are other aspects of visiting the skin doctor that make it uncomfortable too. On my last visit the doctor ushered me into a room, where he asked me to strip down to my underwear. He then left the room. I assume he does this to provide a sense of privacy while undressing, but I don’t quite get it. I know that in the end he’s just going to see me in my jocks anyway. If anything, it just adds to the sense of discomfort, because inevitably I end up standing around in nothing but my y-fronts, waiting for his return.
I’m also never quite sure whether I’m supposed to be sitting down, standing, or lying on the surgical bed ready for my examination. I was mid-way through pondering this question when the doctor returned. As a result, he caught me in a semi-squatting position – mid sit.
As he lifted each side of my underwear to check for signs of arse-skin cancer, he lamented the political career of poor ol’ Gough.
He entered the room, quickly glanced at my file, then launched into a monologue about dead Australian Prime Ministers. This threw me a bit, as I was expecting the usual ‘How’s your family?’ small talk that health professionals usually seem to stick with. At the same time, his eyes started darting across my body. For the briefest of moments he would hold his magnifying glass up to a curiosity, assess it, then move on to the next. All the while he continued with his speech about politicians of the past.
Every now and then he threw in an instruction – lift your arm, turn around, lie on the bed. But the main focus of thought appeared to be his chosen topic. As I lay face down on the bed, the doctor waxed lyrical about Gough Whitlam and his It’s Time election slogan. As he lifted each side of my underwear to check for signs of arse-skin cancer, he lamented the political career of poor ol’ Gough.
By this point in the examination I had become quite engrossed in the doctor’s monologue. He had taken me on a journey through some fascinating and some poignant moments of Australian history. I waited eagerly for the moral, the purpose of the good doctor’s story, but instead his voice just trailed off…
“The good news is that I won’t have to chop you today,” the doc declared. “Put your clothes back on, see you next year.”
I sat up, hoping that the doctor would provide some closure to his story. But as I turned around, all that I was left with was the ‘click’ of the door through which he had made a quick escape. By the time I was buckling my belt, I could hear the doctor’s voice in the next room. He was already talking to his next patient. I can only imagine what interesting, yet ultimately pointless story he had begun. It dawned on me that his story had been nothing but a distraction. It was merely something to take my mind off the awkwardness of the situation, to reduce my nerves about what may be found.
The moral of the story…
I put on the rest of my clothes and headed to the counter. I looked at the ubiquitous bowl of boiled lollies on the counter, which I normally ignore. But this time I gave a wry smile and picked one up. Suddenly, the lolly had assumed great significance. It’s message to me was simple – The discomfort is minor, the consequences are real, so suck it up.
I looked at the receptionist and asked her to book me an appointment for the same time next year.