Or: Everything Escalates
Or: Why I cut my hair super short one chilly January
*Note: graphic pics of surgery at the end.
Such a variety of titles available for this blog—heads love hats, keep it (healthy skin) under your hat—I could go on, but I’ll spare you. This story has its roots in multiple sunburns as a red-headed, freckle-faced, fair-skinned kid. In those days, SPF stood for sunshine-playing-fun. Sunscreens and blocks were unheard of and crazy friends used to spread vegetable shortening on their bodies to get a deep July tan. I skipped that recipe, but still didn’t get off easy.
My siblings and I spent our summers alternating between playing and fighting with various cousins and the same-as-family neighborhood kids. Our mothers would say: “Go outside play,” and they meant it. They’d pack us brown bag lunches and off we’d traipse into the woods and be gone all day. Mothers didn’t worry about where we were or that someone could make off with us. We were safe playing in our Pennsylvania woods on a dead-end black top where Griffiths have lived almost since they landed in America from Wales in the 1700s.
We kids filled those hot days frolicking and playing games in the glaring sun. Most of my life we had a pool of some size, my first bubbling burn was in a two foot tall pool in the front yard. Eventually, we spent outdoors time in the four-foot deep pool, which does not explain why I can’t do much beyond doggy paddling and the breast stroke.
Time and again my skin turned as red as my hair. I recall many vinegar baths—a sure fire way to take the sting out of a nasty sunburn. These severe childhood scorchings can be directly linked to the incidence of basal cancer in adults. Oh joy. It explains my dad’s multiple surgeries to remove the nasty stuff, including the one that left him with a bi-plane-smashed-into-the-side-of-a-barn (think Secondhand Lions) stitches smack-dab in the middle of his forehead. He threatened to draw a propeller on it.
My first Mohs (named in 1930 for founding surgeon Frederic Mohs) surgery was in 2005. It left a nickel sized, shallow hole at the hairline above my left eyebrow. The doctor (named because she also did the second surgery in 2014 and if there is a more pleasant place to get your skin cut open, I wouldn’t know where) Sharon Hrabrovsky, did a great job and now I have a thin, barely there scar. She was able to pull the skin together so that big hole ended up being nothing much. The second surgery was a different story—she had to cut deeper and wider and the spot is an inch in from my forehead in my scalp. Ouch.
Mohs surgery is not fun. It’s helpful that the doc and her team are nice because the actual snip snip process and waiting is not so pleasant. In Mohs surgery, the doctor takes as small a piece of skin as possible. It goes straight to biopsy. If the cancer has been contained, you’re done. If not, she goes back and cuts more—that could be deeper, it could be wider, or in my case, it was both.
There wasn’t as much skin available to draw together, so this hole—graphic pictures at the very end—wound up a tad bigger than a dime, as deep as that darned nickel. To me, it looked about the size of the Grand Canyon! Three plus years in, it’s barely noticeable.
Post-surgery treatment is slathering on Vaseline, covering it with a non-stick bandage and eventually pressing down as hard as you can tolerate to help even out the edges of the wound. Have you tried getting Vaseline out of your hair? After using dish detergent, liquid hand soap, baby shampoo and the great soap Seester makes, I turned to Google. Olive oil was the first thing that popped up. Turns out it is also okay for wounds, so olive oil it was and it worked well.
You know those estimates of hair growing half an inch a month? I think redheads have some acceleration gene when it comes to hair growth. I used to touch up roots every three weeks.
That white-roots experience led me to reconsider hair dying that I never intended doing in the first place. My siblings—dark brown and coal black hair—grayed long before I started to see the errant strand. The sisters succumbed to coloring, the brother did not—how many men bother? I gloated. Yes, I am a brat. After hating being a redhead as a child, I embraced it in my twenties. By my thirties I was madly in love with the color. Now, one and a half years into going natural, I’m still sad to not be red. My fun stylist cut, snipped, buzzed and cut some more until the style was short and easy to care for, easy to make crazy or to keep calm. It was a kick to see it grow in and become red, strawberry blond, brunette, silver, gray and white.
That was a wee bit of a tangent—we ginger-haired folks frequently take you on a little trip before we get you where we’re going, which is here:
Parents, when I see you out and about with your little kid’s heads exposed to the sun’s rays, I’ll beg you to get a hat on that child! Don’t be surprised if I brush back my hair and show you what can happen if you don’t.
Gotta go—yard work is calling, but no great outdoors for me until I slap on that wide-brimmed, purple OR sombrero I nabbed at REI (with SPF built in) after my pink one went flying off into the Portofino woods on a hike last spring…
Graphic pics of Mohs below: