It was just a little blemish

By Nathan Allen Booko

Pittsboro, NC – When I was a teen, a suntan in the summer was a must. It supposedly gave you a healthy look. A look that was outdoorsie and carefree. In my youth I spent days and  hours trying to get that healthy look.

After leaving home in late teens, I landed in New York City. Tanned city folks were beautiful. A new product around 1958 was called “ManTan”. It was a liquid product in a bottle similar to after shave. The idea was to pour a little in the palm of your hand and apply it in an even coating to your face. In my bathroom mirror, before leaving for work, it looked great. But on the subway, there were snickers and laughs. Under different lighting, it was smeared, uneven and totally missing in some spots. It was supposed to look like a suntan, not some dreaded disease. And, it did a strange number on your hands too. They looked infected, streaked and blotchy. It didn’t wash off, it had to fade away on its own.

Miss ManTan advertisement from the 1960s

One spring day in the New York office, we decided to see which one could get the best tan the fastest. I went right out and bought a lamp that tans. First time at home under it fifteen minutes, next time twenty mins, so forth and so on, to get your skin acclimated to the tanning rays. One time, I fell asleep for maybe an hour under that lamp. My face blistered. My eyes nearly swollen shut. Burned terribly. But It resulted in a great tan. When it started to peel, it was awful! Seemingly many layers had been burned. Baby pink skin against ragged mystical islands bronze leather.

Fast forward to thirty years ago. I stayed out of direct hot sun and really didn’t like being in the sun. For more than thirty years, I haven’t had a pimple, a blemish or sore on my face.  Maybe three months ago, like overnight, a pimple type thing appeared on my left temple, between hairline and eyebrow. I really do mean it appeared overnight.  It was the size of a Cheerio; tan with a depressed dry center. Had no feeling! Nor did it hurt. Didn’t look infected. Didn’t change in any way for weeks. Then it got sore and slightly bigger. I stared home remedies. Salves, creams, etc. It got bigger and definitely dangerous looking. On January 19 I got a biopsy at Pittsboro’s Central Dermatology. On January 22 I received a call from them saying the spot was cancerous and needed immediate attention. As immediate as all concerned could arrange, I underwent surgery on my face on February 6.

I write here about it in hopes that somehow it will help and benefit someone else that has a sore that doesn’t heal, a strange small/large brown spot or anything out of the norm. Moles that the shape suddenly starts to change or get sore.  Go to a dermatologist and get checked out.

I had a nine o’clock appointment in Sanford on February 6 for surgery. I was told to bring a blanket and be prepared to spend the day. They keep room frigid to minimize germs i believe. After a quick appraisal I was told they weren’t sure of the extent of cancer, would need tests after each portion of skin removal. Needle after needle, to deaden skin, I was told if the cutaway gets too large might need a skin graft from my buttocks. That brings forth all sorts of terrible fears. Three different biopsies that day after multiple cuttings of skin finally showed all cancerous skin was cut away and area was clear. That skin graft wasn’t needed. I did not ask to see work in progress nor the wound and they didn’t suggest it. I have yet to see the final stitched incision. They were able to pull the opening closed with stitches. Still heavily bandaged the stitches, as far as I can determine are all the way down into my eyebrow. Possibly a two inch opening. I was warned in advance that my eye would be swollen and bloodshot. Half covered in bandages,  Indeed it was. Less so right now, and less  bloodshot, but still almost puffed closed.

Heather Johnson and Nabooko at his birthday celebration in January 2024

The bandage was and still is complicated and cumbersome. My left eye. And that is the side I sleep on. No sleeping on that side since operation. A bandage change last Friday. Next appointment is Tuesday.  Hopefully it will be more healed and much smaller bandage.

The doctors seem to know what they are doing. I can only put my trust in that.