The Funky Mole Panic Dance
March 5, 2014 8:06 AM   Subscribe

Browsing MetaFilter the other day, like normal, when I come across a link to this. Interesting, informative read -- also: terrifying. I've got tons of funky moles, and reading this jolted me into action. Long story short: I've booked an appointment with a Dermatologist, and now I can't get out my head. Please help me get out of my head.

So I've always been "moley." With my pale skin and Irish heritage, carrying around a constellation of moles has always been seen as the default in my family. As a teen, I even had a couple worrisome spots removed -- all coming back from the lab as benign, thankfully. After my teenage years, I kind of forgot about my skin entirely. The moles on my skin were just a genetic quirk, as far as I was concerned. Like the color of my hair or my height. I'm 31 now, and nothing's really changed. Same unsightly moles. Some are slightly irregular, but they've always been that way.

For whatever reason, though, reading the story linked to above paralyzed me with fear. What was a shrug on Monday has now become an obsessive fixation. I almost wish that I never clicked on the link, to be honest. Suffice it to say, I called up a local dermatologist and booked an appointment for this coming Monday. Now I'm just waiting. Studying my moles in the mirror and waiting. Pacing the floors and gnashing my teeth and ... waiting. "Is this melanoma?" I ask myself. "It looks like the pictures I've seen online."

Here's my question:

Do you have any strategies for dealing with crippling, soul-sucking Hypochondria? Everything else in my life has been "put on hold," so to speak, until I can get to the Doctor.

I know that I've done all that I can do at this point. I also understand that -- let's face it -- we're all terminal in the grand scheme of things. I get that. I've just never felt this kind of proximity to my own mortality. It's tough to process. Any thoughts/philosophies/stories from people who have been in a similar situation would be a balm to my soul right now. Thanks, everyone.
posted by shiggins to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I'd say therapy, but this has only been going on for, what, a week? And you've got an appointment with a dermatologist who will be able to give you some idea whether you really have anything to worry about in just a few days.

You need something to distract yourself until that appointment. Have you ever played Civilization?

More philosophically speaking, pretty much everything we do is a distraction from our impending mortality and the general futility of life and all that. So why not play Civ until it's all over?
posted by asperity at 8:18 AM on March 5, 2014 [4 favorites]

Skin cancer run in your family? If not, don't worry about it. If it does, well, that's why you're going to the derm.

Worrying won't make Monday come any faster.
posted by kindall at 8:25 AM on March 5, 2014

Best answer: I'm a moley person and a hypochondriac too, so I do understand the fear.

Are you a statistics person? The likelihood of you having melanoma is extremely low, even if you do have some sort of skin cancer. If you have no history of melanoma in your family, that's even better news. And if none of your moles have changed appearance or texture lately, that's better still.

Could you reframe this in your mind as an educational visit? You have some of the risk factors for skin cancer, and in order to protect your health you are going to talk to this dermatologist about how to spot the warning signs in the future.
posted by oinopaponton at 8:25 AM on March 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

I had a pre-cancerous lesion removed last summer. I don't really like what it says about the maintenance that will be required with getting this stuff checked out for the rest of my life, but, getting rid of the suspect spot was extremely simple. I don't even have a cool scar; it's just: gone. I am not dead.
posted by kmennie at 8:28 AM on March 5, 2014

I'm a pale redhead of Irish ancestry and my dad died of melanoma. I know this panic.

I had my first suspicious mole removed last fall and the period of time between the doctor telling me I needed to have it removed and the date of the surgery was insanely stressful. I had a lot of friends around me reminding me of the following things: melanoma is very rare. It has an extremely good prognosis if you catch it early. You are doing the right thing by seeing a dermatologist regularly. Cancer treatment isn't immediate anyway; people get diagnosed and then sometimes have to wait a couple of weeks before beginning treatment. This means that nothing catastrophic is going to happen in the space of a few days. You're doing all the right things here, and Monday is very, very soon.

I think, though, that what helped me the most with this is time: allowing myself to feel the panic and then slowly get past it. Your worldview has shifted due to exposure to someone else's tragedy, and you can't make those feelings of anxiety and grief (for him and for your own mortality) disappear. It's okay to feel nervous and scared, and you aren't going to feel this way forever. You'll get through it.
posted by something something at 8:43 AM on March 5, 2014

Best answer: I come from a moley family. My moley little brother went to the dermatologist in November and they found a "moderate dysplastic nevus" on his back. A biopsy showed it was precancerous and needed to be removed. (He's 24.) They told him it tended to be genetic, so he sent an email to the family being all "hey guys, go to the dermatologist."

I made an appointment that day, but had to wait until the end of January to get in and see the doctor. I wasn't as panicked about it as you clearly are, but I did spend a lot of time squinting at my various freckly bits over the next couple months. I had mentally prepared myself for a "this one is weird, let's take a closer look at it" conversation.

When I finally got in to see the doctor he did a thorough check, looked at me with some kind of special little light thingy, and said I was completely fine. I was all "are you sure? my brother is precancerous," and he kind of chuckled and was like, "no really, you're completely fine. Come back in two years for another checkup if you really want to be proactive," and handed me a little brochure on the ABCDs of melanoma.

Anyway, you're already good because you're going to the doctor on Monday. You're making good decisions! Being proactive! Yes! And now all you can do is make the decision to treat this like anything else in life and take it one step at a time. First step is going to the dermatologist. If it's an all clear, then that's great. If something needs to be biopsied, then the next step is that you do that. If it's an all clear, then that's great. If it's not, then you get the mole removed. One step at a time. It'll be ok.
posted by phunniemee at 8:43 AM on March 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I can speak to this on TWO levels. First, I've had a few extreme bouts of health anxiety in my life. One lasted about five months wherein I convinced myself I had MS. I don't know what the general view on this is, but my sense is that health anxiety is a stand-in for other anxieties. As I've become a more grounded, less anxious person in general (thanks, mostly, to meditation), I've been much, much less beset with health anxiety. But I know it sucks and can be terrifying and crippling. When I was in the grip of it, I would compulsively go to websites to try to confirm that my symptoms really weren't like MS, but then, I wouldn't let well enough alone, and I'd end up on a website that would undo everything and scare me all over again. Ugh. Those were terrible days. So, it's great that you're going to see a doc, who will move you out of the speculative head-tripping space and get you back to reality. You probably don't have melanoma, but I actually think this terrified place where you're freaking yourself out is even worse.

Second, I've had some abnormal moles, and one was removed by a doctor who told me, before cutting it out, "I think this is a melanoma." It turned out not to be. So lots of moles can look weird, and then be fine. Also, the fact that these strange looking moles have been there a long time suggests that they're just your moles. If they were melanomas, I think you would have found out by now. But again, it's great you're getting this checked out quickly. I think the sooner you can move out of your head and into reality, the better you'll be. Avoid googling this if you can. And if there's any way you can see a doc sooner, to put yourself at ease, do it!
posted by swheatie at 9:16 AM on March 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for the responses, folks. They are helping.

I don't have any family with melanoma, but my vigilant Googling has assured me that that doesn't matter. Just goes to show me that I should probably quit Googling this stuff.

swheatie, you're definitely onto something with the fact that the speculation is probably worse than the actual reality, whatever it turns out to be.
posted by shiggins at 9:37 AM on March 5, 2014

Best answer: I am pale, covered with funny moles and 3 of my family members have had skin cancers removed. Including melanoma. My sister and I see dermatologists every 4 months and anything suspicious comes off. I have a bunch of scars, but I am alive and healthy. I recommend booking regular checkups with the best melanoma specialist you can find.

Also, because my dermatologist deemed me high risk, my insurance pays for a service to photograph my entire body to make a reference book to make sure none of the moles are changing. It's a bit humiliating but more than worth it for the peace of mind.

Still, after all this precaution, and tons of legitimately unusual moles, all of mine have been benign. Melanoma isn't actually all that common.
posted by Cygnet at 9:41 AM on March 5, 2014

By the way, I have talked my sister off of panic attacks EXACTLY like you describe at least 4 times. You aren't the only one and you will feel better after your visit to the doctor.
posted by Cygnet at 9:42 AM on March 5, 2014

Best answer: I'm another moley pale (part-)Irish person with a family history of melanoma. As an added bonus, I have OCD which tends to show up as an all-consuming fear of death at any moment. It's good times. You've already got a lot of good answers about why melanoma in particular is nothing to fear; my answer's more about the fear itself.

One of the things that de-escalates my fear is to visualize the outcome that's most likely to happen, i.e. everything turns out fine. In your case, it would be the dermatologist telling you that your moles are all benign. Or getting a couple moles biopsied or removed and, hey, no cancer. This is a pretty easy thought exercise because you've already lived through hundreds of scary things that turned out fine.

It also helps me to do the exact opposite: visualize the worst-case scenario. Like: okay, suppose I have stage IV melanoma and the doctors don't think I'll see my next birthday. It doesn't get much worse than that, but it's also out of my hands now, and worrying is useless; all I can do is adjust to my new reality. And what's more, I no longer have to fear getting the news. Imagining a disastrous outcome might end up freaking you out more, in which case I don't recommend it, but I've been surprised at how well it's calmed me down.

A third thing you can do is search for any faulty logic or magical thinking in your fears. You may not have any, but it's not uncommon. Anything like "I know I'll get melanoma eventually because I didn't wear sunscreen" - nope, it's not punishment; many people neglect their skin with no consequences. Or less rational stuff like "Well, I'm so afraid of cancer, it's probably inevitable that I'll get it one day." It helps me a ton to think "well, that pale person on the street there, do I think she's going to get melanoma?" For me, the answer is always no. With anxiety, it's easy to unconsciously single yourself out as especially vulnerable to - or even deserving of - the thing you fear. Reminding yourself that you're one of many people, most of whom are just fine, can defuse that feeling.

Finally, I agree with distraction. For me, anxiety sometimes feels like my brain's casting around for something to do. If I can get into something engrossing and forget about my anxiety, it feels a lot less pressing when I finally do remember it again.

The fear is almost always worse than the thing itself, but that doesn't always make the fear any easier to deal with. Monday will come and go before you know it; good luck in the meantime!
posted by Metroid Baby at 11:06 AM on March 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I've got moles, I'm a good chunk Irish, I grew up at high altitude and spent my summers swimming in the sun; both my mom and sister have had multiple moles removed. In my yearly dermatologist checkups, they always tell me "yup, you've got a lot of atypical moles, but they're fine. Come back in a year." So, I do.

I tend to get anxious before I go in anyhow, and what actually helped me the most was (a) knowing I'm being proactive by going in yearly and (b) tracking the moles myself. Many years ago a dermatologist showed me an easy way: put scotch tape over a mole you're worried about, trace it, and then stick the tape on an index card. Whenever you think it might have changed, do this again; then you can see if it's different.

But there's also a more high-technology way; take a photo. There's an app called UMSkinCheck that will help with this, but just snapping a photo as long as you take it the same way each time will also work.

I've got a few especially creepy looking ones (multicolored, asymmetrical, etc), and it's a comfort to me to be able to look at an actual picture from a few months ago and say "oh it is exactly the same, and the derm said it was fine then." Helps me keep straight what's in my head and what's real.
posted by nat at 11:47 AM on March 5, 2014

Haha, this is clearly the thread of "people like me"...part Irish, covered in moles, totally paranoid. I had a mole change in the fall and kind of lost my shit. I noticed it had changed while I was on's on my lower back and my immediate thought was along the lines of "Who KNOW how long it's been since it changed?! I could be DEAD by now!!"

It took me a long time to get in to the dermatologist I wanted to see, but she was super nice about my paranoia and took the mole off for me. You will feel so so so much better once you've been seen and had everything checked over.

And contrary to your research, there is a huge genetic component to melanoma. Sure, you aren't *immune* from it if nobody in your family's had it, but it is a whole lot less likely.
posted by town of cats at 1:18 PM on March 5, 2014

You need to put the naughty part of your mind on a time out, distract it, and ignore it until Monday. Alternate strategies.

And do not examine or heaven forfend pick at things.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 1:57 PM on March 5, 2014

Response by poster: Update for any future readers struggling with mole panic that come across this post: I went in to the dermatologist as scheduled. Most moles looked fine with the exception of one on my upper-left shoulder. The nasty mole in question (the derm called it a severely atypical nevus) had all of the earmarks of melanoma: Asymmetrical, with fuzzy borders, multiple (dark) colors, large diameter, inflamed, chaotic, etc. The derm took one look at it and said: "this needs to come off NOW. I'm afraid this may be advanced." Wow. Okay. My stomach dropped and I kind of lost my breath. So this was it. They excised the mole, sent me on my way and said that I'd know the results within a couple of days.

Try and imagine what those days were like for me and my family: The mad whirl through Melanoma horror stories online. The gut-punch fear and numbness. I did everything but pick out the wood grain for my casket.

It had been a couple days, so this morning I popped a klonopin, said a prayer, and called the clinic.

"Well, it looks like your results are still at the pathology lab. We should know by Monday," the chipper nurse told me. "Feel free to call back then."

No way. I'm not living with this anymore. I need to know now.

"What's the name of the pathology lab?" I asked. She told me and I called the pathology lab. A young lab tech picked up the phone. "Alright, Mr. Shiggins, we do have your results here," he said. "Looks like you just had an ugly mole. It's benign, just ugly."

So that was that. No melanoma. Just an ugly mole. I think that I am going to have an amazing weekend now. Thanks for everyone's answers.

To any future readers struggling with hypochondria or mole panic, take heart in the fact that, even with super ugly, melanoma-like moles that cause even your professional dermatologist to freak out, melanoma is SUPER rare. Keep an eye on your moles -- maybe once every three months take some pictures -- but don't let this fear consume your life.
posted by shiggins at 3:10 PM on March 14, 2014 [7 favorites]

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