The Skin I'm In

6 minutes

“The sun is your enemy.”

These are the words of my dermatologist, Dr. Otobia Dimson in Oklahoma City. I visit Dr. Dimson once every three months. In her office, I strip down, and she examines literally every square inch of my body—I’m married to someone who’s seen less of me than she has. And every three months, she selects a couple of what I playfully call my “spots” to biopsy.

See, I’m what scientists call a “super ridiculously high risk for skin cancer zOMG person.” I’m covered head-to-toe in freckles, and since I was a child, I’ve been having funky moles removed. As an adult, I’ve always had my general practitioner give me a quick eyeball examination during my yearly physical. But when I got into my forties, he said, “Let’s just set you up with a regular dermatologist.”

That’s how I met Dr. Dimson. I made an appointment, went to her office, got undressed, did the exam, had a couple of biopsies.

Two days later, I was at home when she called: “It’s melanoma.”

Nathan in the elevator of his doctor's office.

Nathan in the elevator of his doctor's office.

A loud buzzing filled my ears; I don’t really remember the rest of the call, but I know I agreed to a surgery referral. After we hung up, I went into the bathroom and hovered over the toilet, my sudden terror making my stomach feel like it was turning inside out.

I booked the surgery, had the operation, and was relieved to find out the melanoma was benign. Three months later, rinse and repeat the same process: Another biopsy, another melanoma, another surgery, another tidal wave of relief at the word benign. I’m awaiting my third surgery now for a spot on my chest. And in a few weeks, I’ll go back to Dr. Dimson’s office for my second-quarter appointment, after which time, more surgeries will almost certainly follow. My skin can’t be trusted; it needs to be watched like a teenager in a convenience store.

After enough of these surgeries, I’ll be covered in scars, each a few inches long, all over my body. At some point, while talking to me about this, one of the medical professionals made an offhand comment that still echoes through my brain almost every day: “This will likely all be pretty disfiguring before it’s over.”

I tell you this story not for shock or sympathy but as a public-service announcement: Please, for the love of God, take care of your skin. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has an extremely handy guide to sun safety, and it’s all very easy stuff: Stick to the shade. Cover up with clothing as much as possible. Wear wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses. Sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher and not older than three years. And obviously, no tanning beds.

It’s so easy to ignore these things. I’m in this predicament partially because of my extremely lackadaisical attitude about skincare through my childhood and into my thirties. No summer in my life has passed without at least a little sunburn. I spent most of my childhood outside under the Oklahoma sun. But one of the main things I’ve learned in my forty-three-and-a-half years on Earth is that maintenance is the secret to a good life. Just a little care here and there, and a lot of big problems can be headed off.

So I hope as you prepare to get out and explore the state in the warmer weather, you’ll take a few moments to apply fresh sunscreen and cover up as much as possible. There are people in your life who need you to take care of yourself, and I can promise you that, as nice as Dr. Dimson is, this process is no picnic. It’s painful, it’s stressful, and it’s scary.

As I journey through this weird world of surgeries and biopsies, I’m trying to be grateful for the scars that are piling up on me. Like my tattoos, they’re signs of where I’ve been, what I’ve survived, what I’ve chosen. In this case, I’ve chosen to fight for my health, to fight to stay here in this world I love with these people I love as long as I can. Luckily for you, if you follow the guidelines, you won’t have to get in this kind of a fight, and you can enjoy all the fun-in-the-sun our fantastic state has to offer this summer.

Take care of yourselves, and take care of each other. We’ll see you down the road.

Written By
Nathan Gunter

A sixth-generation Oklahoman, Weatherford native, and Westmoore High School graduate, Nathan Gunter is the magazine's editor-in-chief. When he's not editor-in-chiefing, Nate enjoys live music, running, working out, gaming, cooking, and random road trips with no particular destination in mind. He holds degrees from Wake Forest University and the University of Oklahoma. He learned how to perform poetry from Maya Angelou; how to appreciate Italian art from Terisio Pignatti; comedy writing from Doug Marlette; how to make coconut cream pie from his great-grandma; and how not to approach farm dogs from trial and error. A seminary dropout, he lives just off Route 66 in Oklahoma City.

Nathan Gunter
Previous Blog

"Oklahoma Today Podcast: March 25"

Next Blog

"Weekly Events Calendar: April 1-7"

You May Like

Oklahoma Today Podcast: April 15

Friends of the Wichitas president Howard Styron joins the podcast as this week's guest, talking about all the ways his organization suppo...

Friends of the Wichitas president Howard Styron joins the podcast as this week's guest, talking about all the ways his organization supports the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge.

By Ben Luschen | 1 min read Read BLOG

Weekly Events Calendar: April 15-21

This week in Oklahoma: an archery exhibition in Broken Bow, party like it's 1889 in Guthrie, and Earth Day celebrations across the State ...

This week in Oklahoma: an archery exhibition in Broken Bow, party like it's 1889 in Guthrie, and Earth Day celebrations across the State Parks system.

By Ben Luschen | 9 min read Read BLOG

Raisin’ the Bar

She might not have opposable thumbs, but the Oklahoma City VA Medical Center’s most experienced canine therapist helps to heal hearts eve...

She might not have opposable thumbs, but the Oklahoma City VA Medical Center’s most experienced canine therapist helps to heal hearts every day.

By Karlie Ybarra | 8 min read Read BLOG