Thursday, June 11, 2015

Shedding My Skin

It's been almost six weeks since I underwent photodynamic therapy (PT) on my face, and I'm peeling prodigiously for a fifth time. A visit several months ago to my dermatologist revealed a number of precancerous spots. "I'm not going to have you come in every six months so I can burn those off," he said. "That is old school."

Instead, he would apply a solution called Levulan to my face, let it incubate for two hours, then shine a blue light on me for sixteen (not fifteen, not twenty) minutes. It would hurt a little. I would turn extremely red for a few days, then all of the cells, in particular damaged ones, even the tiniest, would be sloughed off for a week or so.  I was told after that, my skin would look amazing. When a woman in her late forties, especially one prone to considering her every pore in a magnifying mirror each morning, hears those words, she'll sign up.

A major, unequivocal caveat: no sun exposure for at least two days. I wondered about walking the dog. "You can. In the dark, in a sombrero." People who've just gone out to run a couple of errands or pick the kids up from school, I was told, find themselves in a whole world of hurt, with the Levulan reactivating and making a very strong chemical peel even deeper.

After being horrified by discussion group accounts of the procedure ("It felt like an iron on my face." "Worst, most excruciating pain I've ever felt.") and a handholding session over the phone with the nurse, I went in. The first part was easy and painless, and I set up camp in the waiting room, downing a couple of Advil, as had been cleared. T had dropped me off and came back for the blue light part. More handholding.

In the event, it was maybe a 3 out of 10 on the pain scale, and even then only on my upper lip. The hardest part was staying in for 48 hours. That, of course, and vanity. In many ways, staying in was a blessing, as I looked like a beet and would have frightened small children. (I should have locked up the mirror, but couldn't help myself.) As a dutiful little rule follower, I didn't even go out to get the mail. I cooked, but T took care of picking up the Boy from school and maintaining grocery and wine supplies. By the end of my quarantine, I hadn't been so excited to go to the grocery store since I'd been housebound with fussy infants.

All of this was done quickly in an effort to capitalize on a generous health insurance plan I'd had through Big Law. I'd been transitioning into my own company for several months, and was getting every medical need I could think of met before I left. It was covered, saving me $475.

I was also letting go of an identity that had prevailed for a decade and a half. Having a title containing the word global was pretty heady, especially when it was new. But it meant taking calls and answering emails at all hours of the day and night. Whipping out the company laptop in the middle of a long weekend--which might not have been a bank holiday for the many professionals around the world for whom I worked--had become a habit. Although it wore me down and I carped frequently about it, being needed and ever, ever so busy made me feel needed and important.

Leaving for real was harder than I imagined. I'd had a long time to think about it, and most all of my friends and close colleagues were aware. My last day, as I sent my final email on a project I'd been involved with for almost four years, I had a moment. But I was sitting in my kitchen, which has been mission central for the past several years of my Big Law life, and realized my day wouldn't change but for nostalgia. It didn't take long for me to jump into new things and relish the process of reinvention.

Tomorrow I have a client meeting and I am red and lizard-like once again, this after wearing SPF 50 and a hat every time I go outside. It is getting frustrating, but between peels, my skin has indeed looked great, and I've gotten many compliments. My dermatologist's office assures me this is not unusual and will end eventually. And my skin is notoriously sensitive, so no surprise that I am at the top end of side effects. I'm trying to take heart in the AMA's dermatology section statement that patients who have the most "exuberant response" to PT frequently have "the best results."

The whole thing is quite likely a sign that I need to worry less about appearances. Working from home has gone from a stigma to being pretty cool. I've heard from a good many colleagues and friends that they are envious of my new gig. I've picked up clients via LinkedIn and other connections, and have held team meetings in my dining room. I still have a stable of black dresses to wear to lunches for more traditional pitches, but am finding after fifteen years in the corporate world a refreshing lack of interest in that sort of thing. A recent article in Fast Comapny noted that the new rules of work included a change from "Where do you work?" to "What are you working on?" I'm getting interesting new projects all the time.

In the meantime, I'll explain away my snake skin as a side effect of a procedure, which sounds kind of Real Housewife-y, and assure everyone that eventually my skin will look amazing. And I'll wear my hat.

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