Every morning I do these four actions on my phone: check for any missed messages and calls, play today’s Wordle, look at my calendar to see my schedule for the day, and check my email.
That random Tuesday morning in January was no exception.
I woke up just before the alarm went off, as I usually do. My boyfriend was sleeping next to me, so I grabbed my phone and started on my usual routine. There were no missed calls or messages. I figured out the answer to that day’s Wordle puzzle pretty quickly — it was “sugar.”
The calendar was busy, like always, with no surprises.
I opened the Gmail app.
I started scrolling through the emails and archiving the useless ones. Somewhere between the “there is still time to redeem your offer” email from Uniqlo and the “newsletter of the week” email from my son’s teacher, I saw an email from the medical app my doctor used. The subject said, “New test result is available.”
I remembered the biopsies I had done a few days prior. It was to check the weird birthmark I noticed on my shoulder and another one on my neck. I have a ton of random-shaped birthmarks and nevi, so it wasn’t the first time I had them checked. I didn’t worry too much about it because all the ones I had done before came back benign.
I opened the message, logged in to the health app, and started scanning the test results.
Suddenly I saw it. “BASAL CELL CARCINOMA” in huge letters.
I sat up in my bed.
Isn’t it cancer???
My thoughts were racing; my heart was pounding.
I googled “basal cell carcinoma.” Surely enough, the first result was an article from the Mayo clinic that confirmed that basal cell carcinoma was indeed a type of skin cancer. I had cancer.
I didn’t know it yet, but my doctor would say later that basal cell carcinoma (BCC for short) is the best cancer to have if you could choose which one to get.
But I didn’t know that yet when I Googled it that morning in January. I only knew that it was a type of skin cancer.
I sat in my bed in silence for a few moments, digesting what I’d just learned.
I had skin cancer.
Was I going to die?
Would I miss my kids’ weddings?
I looked at my sleeping boyfriend. I imagined looking at him next to my death bed in the hospital, holding my fragile skinny hand, looking at me with his beautiful green eyes full of sadness, a lone tear rolling down his cheek.
I laid back down and hugged my boyfriend really tight. He stirred and opened his eyes. He looked at me and smiled.
“I’m so happy to see you! I love you,” he said.
Suddenly I started crying.
“What’s wrong?” he asked, the smile disappearing from his lips.
“I have skin cancer,” I managed to say through the tears quietly.
He got very serious.
“What kind?” he asked.
“Basal something carcinoma,” I said.
“Yes, that’s the one.”
“Oh, whew!” he said.
Why was he relieved, I wondered? I just told him I had skin cancer!!!
“It’s the easiest one to treat,” he explained, seeing my surprise, “You will be okay. Everything will be okay.”
He was so calm and sure of it that I stopped crying.
“How do you know?” I asked.
“Oh, I know many people who had it. They are all still alive,” he said.
“That’s a good sign,” I responded, “but I’m still scared. It’s cancer.”
“I know,” he said, “but it’s treatable. You will be okay. I’m here. I’m with you. I love you.”
“Even if I have cancer?”
“Even if you have cancer.”
We lay there next to each other for a while. I felt safe in his arms. His calmness and reassurance spread to me. I felt a bit more at ease.
Then I told him about the image of him next to my deathbed a few moments earlier.
“I don’t think that’s even possible,” he said.
“Why?” I asked.
“Because I am not your spouse or next of kin. So if you were in an ICU in a hospital, chances are I wouldn’t be able to visit you.”
How do other people in a poly relationship deal with this? My husband would be allowed to see me in an ICU, but my boyfriend would not. That just didn’t seem fair.
“That’s not right,” I said.
“I agree,” he responded, “but those are the rules.”
“And if you were in an ICU, I wouldn’t be able to visit you either? And your estranged wife would?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said, looking sad.
“This is not right either!” I said.
“It’s not,” he agreed.
Both of us separated from our spouses a few months later, but we were still technically married. Not to each other. We wanted to be together. And we still considered ourselves poly. That was quite a predicament.
“What are we going to do about it?” I asked.
“First,” he said, “let’s deal with your cancer.”
“Okay,” I said and dialed my dermatologist’s number.
A few weeks later, I had surgery to remove the basal cell carcinoma from my shoulder. My boyfriend was there with me, holding my hand while the surgeon was cutting cancer out of my skin. I was worried they wouldn’t let him into the operating room with me, but they did because it was “a simple procedure under local anesthesia,” they explained. It didn’t seem that simple to me, and it did leave me with a two-inch scar on my shoulder, but I was happy he could be there to support me. If I knew in advance I would be in this situation, I probably would have researched the rules that the local hospitals have about visitation by non-relatives.
During the few weeks between learning, I had cancer and removing it, my priorities had shifted.
Work problems didn’t bother me as much.
I started enjoying the time with my kids a lot more.
I understood the importance of my relationship with my boyfriend and how much he meant to me.
I knew I needed to make some lifestyle changes to be able to make it to my kids’ weddings. For instance, to become more disciplined about applying sunscreen.
I understood that I was not immune to cancer. And that even if that one wouldn’t kill me, I could get another one that could. And that I wanted my boyfriend to be able to visit me in the hospital.
I learned that basal cell carcinoma was indeed the best kind of cancer to develop if given a choice because it spread very slowly and had a very high treatment success rate.
And I understood very well how grateful I was to be alive and mostly healthy.
A couple of months after the surgery, both of us filed for divorce.
Check out my author page on Amazon and read my book — “My Journey To Polyamory And Back: How I Fell In Love With Myself By Experimenting With Non-monogamy, Healing Ceremonies, and Psychedelics” to learn more about my growth path.