I’ve always had a great sports bra tan. A great one. In a world where the contrast between the area within and outside of your shoulder blades is directly proportional to perceived fitness level, I looked real fit. And I prided myself on it, because I got a lot of positive reinforcement. “Nice tan,” people would say, anytime I didn’t wear a razorback. “Work out much?” And my favorite: “That don’t even need a filter!”
Recently, though, the comments changed a bit. “I’m concerned about your tan line,” a dermatologist approached me on the beach. “You should get that checked out,” another physician. “ANNIE, HAVE YOU MADE YOUR DERMATOLOGIST APPOINTMENT YET?!” Mom.
See, I had this really misshapen, mis-colored, terrifying mole on the back of my arm. Its position on the lower slope of my tricep kept it out of sight, but I actively chose to keep it out of mind. I did so for a lot of reasons. I’m 22. I eat well. I’m a student. I’m also a cross-country skier, which comes with an incredibly active lifestyle and the six pack to match. I’m healthy, and young, and am not prepared to deal with weird moles and their respective implications.
As you probably have guessed, the mole was more than misshapen, it was on its way to malignant. After trading a chunk of my arm for thirty stitches, I’ve hopefully gotten rid of whatever evil lurked back there. We caught it early, whatever it was, and, in the words of more than one doctor, I “dodged a bullet.”
While the last few weeks have been stressful, what I’m sharing is less a survival story, more a “holy shit that was close” story. Close calls differ from survival stories in one aspect: the latter has to do with stoicism and luck, the former, usually, ignorance.
[It’s also a listening-to-your-mom story (hi, Mom). A not-sure-the-tan-was-worth-it story.]
Ignorance is a funny word to use here. Socrates (slash Plato) made the distinction between acting in ignorance and acting because of it. When you act because of ignorance, you do something bad without knowing it’s bad (i.e. mistakes) while when you act in ignorance, you recognize that what you’re doing is wrong, then go ahead and do it anyway (i.e. rule breaking).
Basically, adolescence=acting in ignorance.
Even the best rule followers know the bitter spin young adults place on the words of authority figures. We know that wearing sunscreen and flossing our teeth will keep us alive longer, yet gain some sick sense of autonomy by choosing not to do them. In particular, I had a talent for skipping the little pieces of advice (flossing and sunscreen included) in favor of focusing on bigger things I wanted to be doing. Then, in the best possible way, life grabbed the back of my arm and pulled me aside from the constant, forward flow of assignments, events and training sessions to chat.
It was gentle, but left a mark, one that serves as a reminder: “Hey, you’re mortal.”
I’ve since had the week off of training in order to heal up well (advice from my physician I otherwise would have ignored) and have taken that time to process this little experience. First, I am incredibly lucky to have had someone point out the issue and push me to address it (nailed it, MOM). These people aren’t trying to control us, they’re trying to help us.
Additionally, though, it’s been a good reminder to me (which will not hopefully become an “us”) from our hyper-active ski community that, although we consider ourselves experts in all things health/exercise/life, we’re not exempt from disease. Or accidents. Or life (read:death).
We’re awesome, and capable and strong, but we’re human. Going into this summer of training, I’ll remember that and pay attention to the little things that will keep me on this planet longer. In our skiing microcosm, that means wearing helmets, bright colors and sunscreen. It’s stretching and resting and hydrating and listening to your coaches, parents and health care professionals. It’s remembering that health is more important. More important than looking good, than impressing anyone, and more important than training hours.
So. That’s what I got.