Published on

There’s a scar on my neck now

8th of August 2022, 8:45 AM

Somewhere off the shore of Alcatraz Island, San Francisco Bay

A sea of yellow caps bob up and down in the swell. 1200 swimmers are taking on the challenge. Alcatraz island looms above us on the right. Somewhere in the distance, barely visible through my cloudy goggles, the buildings of the San Francisco shoreline glimmer hopefully.

“Everything ok?”

My girlfriend Crystal smiles at me. Her face is almost hidden behind her own pair of dark goggles. She’s wearing an old surf wetsuit and a yellow swim cap with “shark fest” written on the side.

I’m nervous. It’s the longest swim I’ve ever attempted; 2.5 kM through currents and swells, across a stretch of water inhabited by a multitude of jellyfish and sea lions. And sharks. I don’t know if I’ll be able to finish it.

I grin back at her. Before I can reply, a horn rings out, and in an instant, the water comes alive with a thousand arms and legs frothing through the surface.

The race begins

43 days until Alcatraz

I’m waiting in a quiet room outside the doctor's office. There are 3 others here too, and they are quite a bit older than me. One woman is typing a message on her phone using only her index finger. She moves so slowly that it’s almost hypnotic, and I try not to stare. After some time, she gives up and records a voice note.

“Heya love, I’m just here now in waitin’ to be seen for the yoke on my shoulder…you know the one yer uncle pointed out at the beach over the bank holiday…anyway chat to ya soon love…”

I stare at my phone to give the impression that I’m somehow not able to hear what she is saying. Her name is called, and now there are just 2 others left in here with me. My leg bounces up and down as I fidget anxiously. I scroll through an app, wishing the minutes away. I don’t love hospitals.

“Patrick Finlay…?”

The doctor is leaning out of her office. She pulls her mask a few inches from her face and flashes me a smile.

“Whenever you’re ready…”

In a rush, I stuff my book and water bottle into my bag and scuttle toward her. Before I walk more than three steps through the doorway, I hear her exhale sharply.

“Yes, ok…I can see it straight away”

My breath catches in my throat. The doctor is staring at my neck. A flash of concern hits her face before she forces a smile.

“Usually, I’d take a look at the rest of your skin to get a sense of what your normal mole pattern is before taking a look at the area of concern…I’ll still do that…but we need to take that off your neck.”

I can feel my face go a little red as I process her words. This was supposed to be routine - I thought I was being a little over-cautious coming here to show off a very normal-looking freckle. Ok, maybe not normal exactly, but not that different from all the rest that cover every inch of my arms, legs, face, and neck. A little darker, sure, and maybe a funny shape. But that could just be three different freckles on top of each other.

My default skin tone is a pearly shade of white, and I’ve always had to take care in the sun. I spent all summer outdoors as a kid; much of that was on the beaches of northwest Mayo on the west coast of Ireland. I can remember a constant stream of parents and aunts and cousins slathering sun cream on me, or asking if I was wearing suncream, or reminding me to put my t-shirt back on after going for a swim. I hated it - I hated the feeling of sand stuck to my face with the stodgy creams. I hated having to wear an itchy t-shirt after the water. Most of all, I hated that my tanned cousins could avoid all of this hassle, while I was doomed to endure the constant pestering.

And sometimes, despite everyone’s best efforts, I still got burnt. I remember the feeling of heat emanating from beneath my skin. The pink colour that would appear in the afternoon, before it developed into a crimson red by evening. The smell of the soothing aloe vera cream that took the edge off it all.

As I got older, I understood why I had to be careful. When I was 19, a close family member had a very-nearly-very-bad melanoma removed just in time. Cancer is not something I ever want to experience; I have a visceral understanding of how awful it can be. I started to take even more care after that. My friends found it a little irritating when we’d go for lunch during the summer because I’d always ask to get a table indoors or in the shade.

I thought maybe I’d be unlucky when I was older, and that I would probably need to get a few moles removed in my 40s and 50s, just to be safe. I did not expect to be here, a couple of weeks after my 27th birthday, planning a surgery to remove a concerning area from my neck.

She wraps up the examination without any more concerning areas. We agree on a day the following week for the surgery, and I make my way home with a stone in my throat.

Race day, 9:03 AM

Somewhere in San Francisco bay

The sea surges around me. My goggles are filling up with water and I’m already out of breath. The frantic rush of the first few minutes is over and the crowd has spread out a little. There are still swimmers all around me, and every so often, I have to swerve to avoid a kick in the face. Somewhere in the distance, the real athletes are probably halfway back to the beach.

I take a second to glance back at the island. My stomach drops. It hasn’t moved. It feels just as close as it did when the race began. I turn my head towards the shore, and the Giradelli’s chocolates sign seems smaller than ever. This is going to be rough.

35 days until Alcatraz

It’s a cold morning in Dublin. The weather did not live up to the hopeful forecast. A very hazy sunrise is visible on the horizon instead of the clear skies that were promised. I dip my toes into the water and then march into the murky gloom for my last swim before my surgery that afternoon. I need to make this one count; it’s now going to be my last training swim before Alcatraz. I’m nowhere near ready. My July swim BootCamp has been cut short by Mr. Mole.

Swimming is one of many aspects of my life now that would be unrecognizable to my pre-covid self. Pre-Covid Patrick played rugby, like he had for nearly 20 years. He trained 3 times a week and went to the gym in the off-season. He did love the water; he loved to surf, to sail, to jump off high things and then land a few seconds later in a spray of foam.

But he did not swim.

At least not since he was a 12-year-old taking swimming lessons in the local pool. But then a lot of things about pre-Pandemic me changed with (you guessed it) the pandemic.

When Covid hit, and social distancing began, I found myself locked out of a habit that I held onto like a religion for as long as I could remember - exercising at the gym. I didn’t notice for a few weeks (there was a lot going on), but I soon felt an itch for exercise start to build. I tried to take up jogging but I found it frustrating (I’m not particularly light on my feet).

So for a little while, I was at a loss, until I realised that the sea was within my 2kM travel limit (very surreal thinking back to the 2kM limits now). On a bit of a whim, I bought a hat and goggles from Amazon. The little beige box arrived a few days later.

On a sunny day in early May, I first made use of my new kit. The water was fresh and stung my hands. I could swim just 10 strokes in a row before I needed to take a break. And I was hooked. I spent that summer in the water; there was nothing else to do really - bars opened for about a month before closing again. My short, stubby, swim stroke got a bit longer as the water warmed and the restrictions eased. Soon I was swimming out to the buoys that float off the shore of Seapoint beach in Dublin, or swimming along the coastline of northwest Mayo.

Then the evenings got shorter, and the 2kM limit came back, and the water started to sting again. And I just kept getting into the sea. It was my escape from everything that was going on around me. I loved the feeling of boundlessness when I swam out from shore. The prison of covid restrictions disappeared and I didn’t need to think about any of it. No distancing. No catching myself before hugging someone. No worrying about when it might end. Just me and the sea.

I couldn’t get my hands on a wetsuit, so I kept swimming in my togs. There were days when I’d stumble out of the sea barely lucid, red as a lobster, high on endorphins. I would pour myself a steamy cup of tea from a flask, fumble with my bike lock, and cycle home for a piping hot shower. And the world would feel alright for a little while.

It’s probably no secret to anyone reading this who knows me, but for the rest of you: I’m a goals kinda guy. The bigger, the more epic, the more adventurous, the better. That winter, just after the new year, I signed up for the Escape from Alcatraz swim. I started posting videos about the training online. It gave me something to do, something to work for, something to push towards that I felt like I could control.

I was naively optimistic. Surely by that summer, the covid restrictions would be well and truly gone? Sadly not. The US travel ban was firmly in place when summer arrived and I missed the swim. I let it go and found a new goal. I started learning Spanish. I swam in every county in Ireland. I took a career break and inter-railed around Europe.

On that trip, I met my now girlfriend on a pub crawl in Budapest. She just so happened to be a much better swimmer than me (she swam for her high school swim team). A few months later, when I told her about the Alcatraz swim and that I was considering signing up for it again, her reaction was instant.

“Let’s do it together!”

26 days until Alcatraz

The doctor keeps talking but none of it is going in. It’s sort of like when you read half a page of a book and then forget what you just read. My ears ring, and my hands shake a little as I peek at the heading on the booklet she handed me a few moments ago.

Living with Cancer…grade 1A melanoma….aggressive form of skin cancer….how to process your cancer diagnosis. My eyes trace the outline of the word that screams out to me from every paragraph. It’s a cruel-looking word. It sounds harsh. Like an accusation. Your body is trying to kill you.

“Do you have any questions for me?”

I look up to see the doctor and the nurse waiting for me to respond. I can tell that they’re trying to assess how I’ve processed the news. The answer is: I have not done that yet.

“Wow…Ehm….I….what sun…what suncream should I use?”

I just blurt it out. It feels like some part of my logical brain has kicked in and is trying to be practical about this. I will need suncream now. Lots of it.

“Ok well, the nursing team can help you with that…”

The doctor leaves in a rush (she’s obviously late for another appointment) but the nurse lingers. She starts to talk through the different sun creams in a warm but matter-of-fact sort of way. Apparently, the most important thing is that I pick a suncream that I like so that I wear it every day. Or something. I zone out, and she can see that I’m clearly struggling with all of this. She looks at me with a piercing gaze full of empathy.

“Are you a bit nervous to tell your mum?”

This is her first guess, and it’s pretty close to the mark. I am nervous to tell my mum. And my dad. They’ve been here before. I was 6 years old when my brother Mark was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma (a rare childhood cancer) at the age of 16. I was far too young to understand it. All I knew was that Marky was sick, and had to go to the hospital a lot - which meant that I spent a lot of time hanging around hospitals. Running through the corridors. Chatting with nurses. Getting sweets from the vending machines. Good fun, really.

2 years later, when the cancer killed him, I was still young enough that it came as a complete shock. As an adult, I’ve tried to understand it and piece together what that experience was like for my parents, for his friends, and for 8-year-old me.

In this moment, I realise that there was one thing I’d never really considered. What was it like for him - as a 16-year-old - to get news like this? He was in a room like this. His world changed in a moment just like this. I’m 27 and I can hardly process this. He was just 16.

My heart breaks for him all over again.

And I feel so guilty. So incredibly guilty. I made a promise to myself that I would never touch cigarettes, never put myself at risk of something that could lead to the C word. And despite all that, here I am holding a booklet covered in Daffodils, with a diagnosis for something that I could have done a better job protecting myself against. Fuck.

“that’s so tough…I’m really sorry Patrick”

I’m on the phone with my cousin who just heard the news. He’s speaking with the slow, calm tones of someone trying to offer a bit of comfort and support. And it’s working.

“And what side is it on again?”

“On the right side…”

“Is that the side you breathe on?”

I pause for a second and picture my freestyle stroke. My left arm tracks through the water…and then as my right arm follows, I turn my head and fill my lungs…and expose my neck.

“…eh, yeah it is…”

“Ah…god, yeah, probably got a lot of sun there over the last while I guess…”

I’ve just confirmed his theory. The fucking swimming.

I spent the next few weeks in my parents’ holiday home in West Mayo, living like a hermit. I hung out with my family. I face-timed my girlfriend. I stared into space and contemplated my own mortality.

I found it hard to read any books. I didn't really exercise much. I cancelled my online Spanish lessons. What was the fucking point of any of this really? Why bother?

So many things that gave me meaning before felt empty. So many of the dreams I had for myself and my own life felt impossible. There was a rolling doom on the horizon.

And I could barely look at my own skin. The freckles that I hardly noticed before suddenly looked sinister, like small assassins waiting to strike. Each morning, I would find a new freckle that was darker than its peers. Slightly bigger. A little bit asymmetrical. And I would panic for a few minutes until I was able to talk myself down.

And then there was the sun. My new mortal enemy. I hid away indoors until just before sunset, when I would dart out for a quick walk in the growing dim. When the rays of sunlight lacked any warmth. When I knew they were defanged.

One afternoon, a few days after the diagnosis, my mum made a careful attempt to bring me out of my slump. She entered the room where I was working with a quiet knock.

“Patrick, we’re going for a walk now if you’d like to join…”

She offered it tentatively. I looked out the window to see the hazy sunshine filter through the clouds. My throat started to close over, and my face felt hot.

“Sure, I just need to…I’m just…I don’t have any suncream on and I’ll need to…”

I felt the tears on my cheeks before I realised I was crying. Within seconds, my mum held me as I wept in her arms. I wept because I was overwhelmed by the new pressure I was under. I wept because I was worried about what was going to happen next. Most of all, I wept for the lost joy that a simple walk on the beach used to bring. It didn’t feel like I would ever have that back.

Each sunset was a relief.

Race day, 9:24 AM

Somewhere in San Francisco bay

The crowd has started thinning out, and a flash of fear crosses my stomach. What if I’m at the back? What if I’m one of the unlucky ones who doesn’t get to finish? Before we boarded the boats that carried us out to the island, one of the race organisers gave a very blunt speech:

“Some of you won’t finish. Every year, we pull people out of the water. This swim is not for beginners. You have 1 hour and 15 minutes to complete this race. That’s how long the harbour master has given us to close the lane to traffic. If you look like you’re struggling - we will pull you out of the water. If you misjudge your line and end up in the current, we will pull you out of the water. Most of all, if we don’t think that you’re going to make the cut-off time, we will pull you out of the water.”

“If any one of the race organisers points at you and tells you to get into their boat or Kayak, you must comply. That is the final decision. There is no discussion or negotiation. You will get into their craft and then they will drop you inside the harbour. You can try again another day….”

I take a half second to look around and get my bearings. I’m definitely in the final third of the competitors. Am I halfway to shore? I can’t be sure. It’s so hard to get any sense of distance or direction when your vantage point is barely 2 inches above the frothing surface of the sea. My arms feel slow and heavy.

And then I see my fears realised. I watch in horror as a swimmer is blocked by a jet ski only 50 yards behind me. His race is finished. He reluctantly grabs onto the floating deck at the back and he is pulled away.

I spin around and direct my body towards the shore. I grip the water with renewed energy. I can sense a red kayak to my right, and every few breaths, I catch a glimpse of the black oars cutting through the swell. Slowly getting closer.

This no longer feels like a race.

It’s now a hunt.

12 days until Alcatraz

I’m sitting in a different waiting room. This one is crowded and noisy. It’s in the plastics department of a large public hospital in Dublin. There’s a man on the hard chair next to me with a bandage that covers half his arm. He is staring at the television above us. A daytime TV show is on, and the hosts are discussing the cost of living crisis.

“That is so tough, thank you to Sinead for sharing her story with us. Up next, we will be speaking with Fionnuala, who will be telling us all about the different ways you can save on your shopping bills…but first, Eddie with the weather…”

My phone is running low on battery, and I try to ration my scrolling. I have no idea how long I’ll be here for. My appointment time was about 40 minutes ago. The last appointment was a shock, and I feel like my body is expecting some new setback. I’m more nervous than ever.

“Patrick Finlay…?”

A man in hospital scrubs calls out my name while holding a plastic clipboard. He’s only about 2 or 3 years older than me. My blood feels icy as I stand and follow him into a side room. He offers me a seat next to a computer screen and then pulls a curtain around our section. It provides a small bit of privacy.

“Sorry about the delay there Patrick, Dr. Martinez is running a little behind. She’ll be with us in a minute…”

He takes off his Mask and smiles at me before typing furiously on the keyboard behind him. I can see the faint outline of the WindowsXP interface over his shoulder.

“Right, so…Patrick…your Melanoma was removed about 2 weeks ago, yeah?”

I do some quick mental maths. “16 days”

“Ah grand, yeah. So…yeah it was a melanoma….they can be kinda nasty but yours was still pretty early…”

He scans the rest of the report on the screen in front of him. He hums a little to himself before swivelling the chair around to face me directly.

“So, I’m sure the doctor probably told you this, but Melanoma is a form of skin cancer…it’s one of the more aggressive types but yours was still pretty early when we got it, which is positive. We’ll need to take an area around the site to make sure we’ve removed all of the nasty stuff, we call that the margin…”

He continues to walk through the next steps with me. He’s very matter-of-fact about it - no sugarcoating, very practical. It has a calming effect - it’s like he’s talking about repairing a broken axle on a car.

“Then we’ll test the tissue we remove to see if we need to take any further action. That could be a range of things depending on what we find…so we’ll probably try to get you in for the second surgery next week…”

He looks back to the screen and starts clicking and scrolling with the mouse. Now is the time for me to make the ask. Now or never. I’ve been debating with myself whether or not it’s worth it, if it’s something I should even consider saying to them. If I even want to go now, with the likelihood that I’ll fail to complete it anyway.

“Actually, I was wondering if there was any chance…I have this…this race that I signed up for….”

I explain it all to him. How I picked up the new hobby during covid. That I signed up for the swim. Missing it last year because of Covid. Meeting Crystal, and deciding to sign up again to do it with her this summer. He nods along.

“So obviously, this is way more important..”

I point at my neck.

“…so if it’s an issue at all then…”

“When are you back from that trip?”

“The 23rd…”

“Grand, we’ll put you in for the 25th so. Can’t have you missing that. That’ll be some craic. Fairplay to you”

Race day, 9:34 AM

Somewhere in San Francisco bay

I’m getting closer. The harbour walls now fill most of the view in front of me. I catch glimpses of the gap between the two piers when I swivel my head to spot my line every 5 or 6 strokes. The water is even choppier here, and the current is starting to pull to the right. I’m aiming about 200 meters to the left of the gap, with the hope that the current will tug me just enough to thread the needle and avoid getting dragged out towards the Golden Gate bridge.

I don’t dare to look behind me. I’m not sure if seeing another swimmer pulled out of the water will energise me now, or if my limbs will submit defeat and slow until I’m the next victim. I can sense that I’m close to the edge. In the rush of the starting horn, I forgot to start my swim watch, and I have no idea how far exactly I’ve gone. Or exactly how much I have left. So I just keep swimming.

I see a shape zooming across the water in my peripheral view. Oh great. GI JOE is back. A particularly angry-looking policeman is patrolling the water. He is sitting on a sleek, black jet-ski. I noticed him when we were getting in off the boat. He’s wearing a sort of futuristic-looking uniform, and he has a mean-looking handgun holstered on his right hip (presumable to protect us from sharks?).

Each time he zips through the line of swimmers, the wake of the jetski creates a rolling wave. The effect of this is like someone picking up the fishbowl I’m swimming in and shaking it violently. It’s disorientating, and I seethe every time he passes by.

This time, I misjudge when the wave will hit, and I swallow a mouthful of water. I cough violently and lose my rhythm. Any momentum I had slips away, and I can feel the energy drain out of my hands and feet.

Maybe it’s time to throw in the towel.

2 days until Alcatraz

The train rumbles as it snakes along the coast. The rolling fog hides what I imagine is a beautiful vista. Through the haze, I can almost make out the seashore that lies beyond the sand dunes to the left.

We rolled out of Union Station in Los Angeles about 4 hours ago. The massive, gleaming locomotive pulled us through endless suburbs until we reached the California coastline just north of Ventura. It’s a 12-hour train ride to the Amtrak station in Oakland. And then a short BART ride to my hotel. And then a day of sightseeing with my parents. And then the race.

They booked their flights at the last minute; mainly as a show of support. It is their first trip to the West Coast, to California, to San Francisco. They have already seen the place through my eyes. They’ve heard my breathless excitement at the foggy beaches, the steep hills, and the countless startup offices. They also listened to my warnings about the city's failings; the rampant drug use and the homelessness problem that blights what would otherwise be an undisputed gem.

I think I’ve always liked train journeys, but in the last few years, that affinity has turned into a slightly unusual passion. I love trains. I love the simple boarding experience (no messing with security or luggage). I love the spacious carriage (no getting wedged between two other slightly larger passengers). Most of all, I love the feeling of time just stopping. The train becomes a pocket of time separate from the rest of the world. You really see a place when you travel through it by train. And you can actually bear witness to it and give the scenery your undivided attention. You appreciate the vastness of the distance you’ve travelled.

I sit by the window in the dining car and read over what I’ve written here so far. Some of the words feel gloomy. I leave them in place, but I notice that the edges of the experience have started to soften, and the jaggedness I felt in Mayo only a few weeks ago has receded. While I’m still anxious about the sun, I’ve started to adapt to my new reality. It reminds me of when you drop your phone and crack your screen. At first, there’s that sickening feeling of things being worse than before. Every time you look at it, it’s impossible not to notice the imperfection.

But after a while, you start to appreciate what still works. And you adjust to the new normal. Pretty soon, you don’t even notice the crack is there at all.

I’m still here, I’m still alive, I got it early. I don’t know what the results of the next surgery will be, but I’m starting to feel optimistic. Maybe things will start to get better. And maybe I can manage this; some extra care here, some heavy-duty sun cream there, and I’ll be ok.

The train rumbles forward, and suddenly we break through the low fog and a magnificent vista appears. The azure ocean laps a rocky shore. A rolling wave extends into the distance. A surfer cuts across the face of it and leaps into a spray of foam. And a dazzling sun warms my face through the window. I panic for a moment before remembering; I have my sun cream on. I’m wearing a hat. I’m behind a pane of glass. I can move into the shade at any moment. It’s ok. I’ll be ok. I can enjoy it for a moment.

I smile…I’m thankful to be alive.

The end of my race, 9:46 AM

Somewhere in San Francisco bay

I’m in a trance. The worries of finishing or not, of being fast enough or far enough, have dissolved. Now all that matters is putting my arm in front of my body and pulling backwards. And then repeating it on the other side. And then breathing. And then again.

Arm. Next arm. Breath. Again.

Arm. Next arm. Breath. Again.

I’m reached a calm. Nothing but the rhythm and the water exist in my universe. Nothing else matters. I continue like this for quite a while, until a black streak cuts in front of my face. Everything snaps into focus. I shove my hands out to my sides and sink my feet to stop my movement. A man in a Kayak looms above me.

My heart sinks. This is the end. He drops one of his hands from his oar and points vigorously towards…the finish line. It’s on the other side of the harbour. I’m inside the walls. I’m safe. I’ve made it. I’m going to finish the race.

I smile, give him a thumbs up, and change course. I point towards the archway on the sand; it’s less than a hundred meters away. I rip through the water with renewed energy, and my eyes water with the weight of the emotion surging through me. I’m going to finish. After all of this, I’m actually going to finish.

It’s only now that I realise…I really didn’t think I would.

There’s a greek proverb that says that A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they shall never sit. What I’ve learnt from this experience is that no matter how quickly you expect a tree to grow, no matter how impatiently you water and prune your saplings, your time in the forest may end before you sit in any shade at all.

The meaning is in the doing, not the achieving. Finishing this swim meant everything and nothing. What really mattered was that the idea of crossing the finish line dragged me out of my warm apartment during the depths of covid and forced me to keep doing what I loved; getting into the murky water of the sea.

The idea of crossing the line brought me there. The idea of the forest pushed me to plant the seeds, but what gave meaning was pruning the saplings. Toiling the soil. Watering the parched earth.

10 days after Alcatraz

I’m sitting on the chair next to my hospital bed. I’m in one of the 6 cubicles in the room; separated from the rest by a thin curtain. I’m waiting for the doctor to see me before the surgery later this afternoon.

I’m wearing my I escaped from Alcatraz t-shirt. It is white with black lettering and it’s adorned with an angry-looking shark attempting to eat the letters. I’m wearing it proudly - I want to show the doctor that his kindness was worth it.

After about an hour of sitting nervously, a nurse walks in and hands me a hospital gown and some strange fishnet underwear. She instructs me to get changed. I try to hide my disappointment. I get changed and immediately feel very exposed. It all feels a little unnecessary. I sit in the gown and shiver slightly - the room suddenly feels cool. By the time the doctor arrives, my skin has turned a pale purple and I’m contemplating getting into the bed to get warm. He greets me with a quick hello, and then it’s straight to business.

“So…ok, I’m hoping we can make a straight incision and avoid the flap. I’ll wait for Dr. Martinez but I’d say we’ll be ok with that. Otherwise, it’ll be a bigger sort of zed-shaped scar. Yeah…I think we have enough give here…”

He pulls the skin of my neck around the existing scar from my first surgery. Right now it’s just a small line about an inch long.

“That’s great, otherwise the scar would be pretty big. We’d have to cut a flap from below the area and fold it over. Makes a bit of a mess…”

Another nurse enters the room to check my blood pressure and heartbeat. She wraps a device around my arm that inflates and squeezes my bicep.

“Are you the fella who was doing the swim in Alcatraz?”, she asks as she pulls the velcro off my arm.

“Yep, I was over there for it last week…”

“Patrick, I forgot to say…how did you get on?”

The junior doctor asks from across the room.

“It was great - I finished it in an hour and 5 minutes. My girlfriend finished in 43 minutes though…”

“She’ll be giving you tips I guess…”

We all laugh at that.

A door swings open and Dr. Martinez arrives. She has brown hair, tanned skin, and exudes competence. She greets me with a hello in her slight Spanish accent and then starts to prod around the scar on my neck.

“So Dr. Martinez, I was thinking we could do a straight incision here…” the junior doctor says this a little nervously over her shoulder. She pauses for a second and frowns.

“No, there is too much tension. We will need to make the flap below and fold it over”

The junior doctor grimaces a little and gives me a “what can you do” kind of face. My fate is sealed. I start to cycle through what kind of made-up causes I’ll use on nights out.

Bar fight?

Mauled by a dog?

Maybe a shark bite?

That, my friends, is why there’s a scar on my neck now.


I’m sharing this post about a week after my 3-month checkup with my Dermatologist who says everything looks good, there are no other areas of concern, and my prognosis moving forward is really positive - no further treatment is needed other than some close monitoring of that area (and the rest of my skin).

Apparently, many of her patients who get melanoma in their 20s look much younger than their peers later in life. If you’re ever wondering what my secret is down the line: it's a healthy daily dose of SPF 50.

I got lucky - I caught his early and got sorted early. A massive thank you to everyone at St. James’ who looked after me. Apart from the initial consultation, all of my treatment was through the Irish public health system. I received fantastic care and it cost me about €200 in outpatient charges.