A Rich Life Reflected in Her Features

She’d never really liked her face. But then she’d never really looked at it, either

By Marion Bond West, Watkinsville, Georgia

As appeared in

I’d never really liked my face. My mouth was way too small, my nose not dainty enough. In my teens I complained to my mother about every facial flaw I thought I had, especially not having a cute little turned-up nose. She’d say, “Your face is lovely the way God made it.”

I’d even asked God to forgive me for being so vain. Yet now, in my seventies, I liked my face even less. Every time I looked in the mirror, I found something else I wanted to cover up. Another age spot. Another line. Another unwanted souvenir of the passage of time.

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If I could have erased every sign of aging with makeup, I would have.

My dressing area was littered with all manner of lotions and potions promising to deliver something marvelous for my skin. The clutter drove my husband, Gene, crazy (he’s so neat and tidy our friends call him Mr. Clean), but he knew better than to ask me to get rid of my cosmetic arsenal.

I couldn’t imagine living without makeup. Lately I’d been toying with taking more drastic measures, having some surgical “refreshing” done like some of my friends. Sometimes I leaned close to the bathroom mirror and pulled my face back with my hands so everything looked firm and taut.

I had to admit, I liked it. Just for fun, I imagined waking up and a beaming plastic surgeon telling me, “You’re going to be very pleased, Marion.”

One day I was applying a new spray foundation, checking the mirror to make sure the color blended perfectly into my neck, when I noticed a tiny red bump near my chin. Now what? Yet another indignity of aging–senior pimples?

When it didn’t go away after two weeks, I went to my dermatologist, Dr. Maffei.

She kept a close watch on me anyway because my reddish hair, fair skin and freckles–like pale polka dots–put me at higher risk for skin cancer. I wore a good sunscreen and tried to avoid direct sunlight. Still, she’d had to remove a squamous cell carcinoma from my leg a few years back.

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Dr. Maffei examined my skin carefully. First my face, then my body. She scrutinized the red bump on my chin. She also found something close to my nose, which somehow I’d missed. And there was a freckle on my upper left arm that didn’t look like the other freckles.

“I’ll biopsy these places on your face–probably basal cell carcinomas–and the one on your arm,” she said. “We’ll give you a call.” I knew basal cell carcinomas are the most common form of skin cancer and rarely spread, so I wasn’t concerned.

A few days later, Dr. Maffei’s assistant called. “We have your results back, Marion. The first one, on your arm, is a superficial melanoma.”

Regardless of the adjective before it, the word melanoma scared me so much I had to force myself to concentrate on what she said next.

“The ones on your face are basal cell cancers, as Dr. Maffei suspected. Let’s make an appointment for the superficial melanoma first.”

The next week Dr. Maffei removed the melanoma. She went to the lab to look at it under a microscope and came back to the exam room. “All margins are clear,” she said.

Whew. The worst was over.

I went back the following week to have the first of the skin cancers on my face taken care of, the red bump on my chin. Dr. Maffei explained that she would do Mohs surgery–remove one layer of skin at a time and examine the margins under a microscope for cancer cells.