Last summer I dragged my charming companion to a specialist to have his suspicious moles examined. The doctor was dismissive until I asserted my highly specialised personal knowledge of skin cancer. Several hundred cancerous lesions does tend to lend a certain credibility to the proceedings.
He asked me "I presume you have regular check-ups?"
I shrugged and replied "Conceptually."
"What does that mean?"
"It means I don't like to be cut."
The doctor did not approve of this wayward answer.
Unfortunately, I was telling the truth. The last time I braved the clinics I walked out with a disfiguring scar in the middle of my face. I'm not especially vain, and I have legions of other scars, so you might think the newest addition would not matter. But it did. It does.
I can't see my back, my belly is covered by clothing, the spectacles conceal the fact my eyelid has been slashed, and the scars on the front of my neck have faded. Over the course of an average day it was true that I did not see the evidence of disease, decay, disaster. Out of sight, out of mind, as the saying goes.
But a few weeks after I moved to the UK a skilled and diligent British physician slashed my face open to remove a tumour, leaving me with a scar an inch long - a scar I see every time I look in the mirror, a scar I feel every time I smile.
Other people claim they notice nothing, but that is a courtesy, a kindness. Or even if true, really, does it matter? The wound is distressing to me. It is my face.
I have cancer, present tense, and I always will. If I go to the doctor, I have biopsies, and the samples are invariably positive. That is how it goes. The cancer will not kill me - the real risk is that the longer I wait to have the tumours removed, the worse the damage to surrounding tissue. I don't want to lose my nose or ears, but I am so profoundly done that I indulge in magical thinking: if I don't go to the doctor, the doctor won't cut me, and therefore, I don't need to go to the doctor.
My "feelings" are so extreme you may as well call them pathological, but why bother? That would imply the need for therapy, and therapy is just another set of appointments. I do not wish to go to the doctor. Not now, not ever.
But even my oppositional stalwart self eventually gives way to practical concerns. The nature of the NHS in general and Cambridge in particular meant that it took awhile to get a referral, longer to secure an appointment, by which time I had moved to London. But today I took the train back to that despised town, disrobed, and submitted my skin to loathed scrutiny.
The verdict: I need eight biopsies. Four of the lesions are definitely cancerous. Two of the spots are highly suspicious. The rest are just a better safe than sorry treat selection.
This was all entirely, for me, normal. Expected. Average. In fact, rather good news - at the height of treatment I had a couple dozen tumours sliced off every single month.
The only shocking part of the appointment was the fact that I have been referred to a plastic surgeon.
I can't decide: does this mean my recent ascension to the middle class is obvious? That I somehow look more ladylike, and therefore vain? That this particular doctor is more concerned about aesthetics than anyone else who has examined me? Or that these biopsies will be more invasive and destructive than all the hundreds of others I have endured?
Impossible to guess. The only thing I know for sure is that I should not ask my friends "Will you still love me if they amputate my lips?"