i paint i write

Live boldly, laugh and make art

Skin cancer changed my life

The scar has healed.

On the back of my left leg is a three-inch scar. I can’t see where each of the seven stitches are that pulled my skin back together after the surgeon removed  a piece of my leg a year ago.

My skin has been knit together again.

A year ago the phone rang and the nurse from the dermatologist’s office called to tell me the result of the skin biopsy of my mole.

She said, “The mole on the back of your left leg was melanoma in situ.”


She didn’t say the “c” word.


The visit to the skin doctor came in the middle of a personal blackness. I was deep in the dark of depression. My paintings in the basement were black. I had tried to paint in color. I covered over the red and blue and yellow in the canvases with black paint and stabbed the canvases with a steak knife.

I was angry. I hated that we had moved to Pennsylvania. I missed the house we rented on a creek in California. I missed my friends.

My life is divided into two parts, before cancer and after cancer.

Before I found out I had skin cancer, I was depressed. I would stare at the telephone poles at the side of the road when I was driving.

After I found out I had skin cancer, I wanted to live. I stopped staring at the side of the road. I stared at the blue sky, and thanked God for each day.

Life was a gift. I wanted to keep it.

The  skin cancer was contained in the outer surface of the skin. It didn’t have a chance to send out cells and establish colonies in other parts of my body.

Skin cancer is deadly. It doesn’t just stay on the surface. If left untreated, skin cancer will spread into the lower layers of the skin and then it will travel to other parts of your body.

Today at 10:00 a.m. I have an appointment with the skin doctor who sliced off the cancerous mole from the back of my leg.

I will stand naked before her as she looks at the moles on my body. The mole she cut off I had found myself. I could see it clearly on the back of my leg.

I remember thinking, “Where did you come from?”

My doctor will be looking at my back.  I can’t see my back, she can. I am literally trusted her with my life. I trust her to cut off any moles that are suspicious.

She will be looking for the ABC’s of Naughty Moles.

The American Skin Cancer Foundation recommends you look at your skin once a month for the ABCDE’s of Melanoma. When you look at your skin, look for any new growth, or any changes to existing moles.

Look for the Ugly Duckling.  A mole that is not like the rest.

If Glenda the Good Witch from the Wizard of Oz walked in my front door today and said, “You can move back to California into the house you rented before.  You never had skin cancer. BUT. I will take away all of your friends and memories from Pennsylvania. You will be depressed again and you will have to erase all the words and stories you have written since last year.”

I would say, “No thank you Glenda. I have new friends in Pennsylvania, I don’t want to leave them.  I won’t erase my memories or my stories. If my stories have helped one person. I wouldn’t erase them.”

I don’t take the day I am given for granted. It took cancer for me to realize life is fragile, and precious.  I want to make the most of each day and the life I am given.

Cancer made me realize I only have today.  I am writing every day, living boldly and buying blue toilet seats. 

Today is always the best day to start. Yesterday is gone, and tomorrow hasn’t happened yet. ( You can tweet that here.)

Is there something you really want to do?   Is there a project you want to start, but you keep waiting for the perfect time?

What do you want to do? Will you start today?

Please let me know in the comments. I would love to chat.

Slice of Life Writing Challenge

I am participating in the Slice of Life Writing Challenge at Two Writing Teachers. You can read other stories here, if you would like to.



About Pamela Hodges

My name is Pamela Hodges. I am a writer and an artist. I write to encourage and to bring laughter. I paint cats, draw cartoons and write books for children and grown ups.

You are an artist. Yes, you are. Really.

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Get the FREE illustrated, sort of a comic book, “You Are An Artist.” Believe in yourself and your ability to draw. xo Pamela

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  • Hannah Wrigley

    You inspired me to write this to myself as something to keep in mind the rest of the year, kind of a resolution to myself: (I think I got the quote about living imperfectly from one of your blog posts but I couldn’t find it again):

    I will live
    imperfectly, and I will have fun! I will
    screw something up; I may screw up many things.
    I will speak Spanish with horrible grammar; I will forget ordinary
    words. (I am a Spanish major in
    college). I will get bad grades
    sometimes; it will not be the end of the world.
    I will take some pressure off of myself.
    I will write; and it will be awful sometimes. (Since I was 10 I have wanted to be a writer,
    but I think I am not good enough at writing).
    I will not care about perfection,
    but I will do what I do with passion and effort.

  • Isn’t it crazy that something so scary could have brought so much good? It even brought good things to me: If you hadn’t started writing, I would never have met you, and that would be awful! I wouldn’t be a budding cartoonist. I wouldn’t get warm, encouraging emails from you. I wouldn’t have had the chance to make you a sketchbook … so many things I’d have missed out on.

    • pamelahodges

      Oh, my dear Griot friend. I can not imagine not meeting you as well. You have encouraged me and helped me be bold. And I wouldn’t have a beautiful hand made sketch book, or have a couch to sleep on when I read my Memoir Book I haven’t written yet at the Brooklyn Art Library this summer.

  • A dear friend of mine, 31 years old, was diagnosed last year with Stage III stomach cancer just months after having her third child. I know she would agree completely with what you’re saying here. It put all our lives in focus.

    I get so much simple joy out of every day through music, words, breathing in the outside air and taking an endless number of memory pictures and movies. I live a good life, and I cherish it every day — even more so after seeing her go through this last year. She’s out of the woods now, for good we hope.

    Peace and prayers for your continued joy and wellness, friend.

    • pamelahodges

      Paul, that is so sad. I am delighted your friend is out of the woods. Cancer is a life changer.
      Thank you for your prayers and well wishes.

  • Pam, I have been reading your blog for about a year now and never knew. How amazing that you have taken something so scary and turned to good, realizing the importance of each day, each blue toilet seat and green fingernail. So many of us have been faced with the big C. Thanks for writing about it so honestly and in such a positive way.

    • pamelahodges

      Thank you for you encouragement Margaret. And thank you for reading my stories.

  • I’m glad it was caught and treated. I’m sorry that you have to live with the scar. After awhile, we tend not to notice these things even though they carry big stories (and strong emotions).

    Thanks for writing about this today.

    • pamelahodges

      Thank you Stacey.

  • Nanc

    Pam..thank God…strange how God brings us out of the darkness. I have to use this March time to work on writing my heart attack story also. How did it feel, after you wrote it. Thank you for sharing, because if you help just one other person face what is hard, it will be worth it. xo

    • pamelahodges

      Hello Nancy, I felt relieved to write the story about being depressed. Sharing brings the terror into the light, and it is not as scary. I would like to read your heart attack story. Some times the stories that are the hardest to write are the ones that mean the most. Real feelings, real pain.

  • elsie

    I am glad you no longer stare at telephone poles, but now gaze to the blue sky. You got a wake up call and you woke up. The world is a better place because you are still here.

    • pamelahodges

      Elsie, thank you for your encouragement. Yes, I did get a wake up call. I spent the day building a fort with my youngest instead of washing dishes. Embrace the day.

  • Your post is a wonderful motivation for me to do what I’ve been putting off…make the doctor’s appointments. Glad things worked out so well for you Pamela…physically and spiritually.

    • pamelahodges

      Tara, I am so happy my article prompted you to call the doctor. Please let me know how you are doing. I woke up today. All is well.

  • Pamela, I am so glad you shared this! I had the same kind of skin cancer last year, right between my eyes. The spot had been growing for years and even strangers stopped me with concern. No kidding. Can you say awkward to have people you don’t know try and wipe a smudge off your face? “Uh, no. That’s just my face.” Finally I peristed and found a doctor who immediately said, “That needs to come off”. They wound up having to go in twice. A good dermatologist is so important

    • pamelahodges

      Christa, I am so thankful you finally went to the doctor. Skin cancer is really deadly. It sends out roots and invades.

  • Isn’t it remarkable that something that could have been devastating actually evolved into something positive? God worked it for good.

    Thank you for the information on the ABCD’s of Melanoma. It’s a good reminder to keep a close watch on my husband’s moles.

    I’m thankful to know someone who is not afraid to live boldly and who shares her courage with others.

    • pamelahodges

      I am delighted to know you Shelley. I pray your husband’s moles always stay healthy. Always a good idea to keep an eye on them.

  • I will keep you in my thoughts and prayers. Ironically, I am starting Deepak Chopra’s “21 Day Meditations” today, and Day 1 is about working toward perfect health. It sounds like you are healing your body in the best way you can–seeking medical assistance for keeping you healthy. Keep doing it!!! Be brave.

    • pamelahodges

      Thank you Chris. I had three moles removed today. Now to wait.

  • And one more thing, if you hadn’t moved to Pennsylvania, you wouldn’t have met me!

    • pamelahodges

      And that would be a tragedy, my friend.

  • Dang, that’s good.