Skin Cancer Queen


I didn’t elect myself to be the poster person for skin cancer but that is who I am.  It’s not a title I’m proud of, though I do share that challenged DNA with my brother.  It’s our fate.   Let me warn you ahead of time that I might get way too graphic here, so stop reading if you can’t stomach it.

At just 29 years old, living in New York, I felt a zit on the back of my neck.  When it didn’t seem to go away for months and months, I went to a family friend and doctor in Beverly Hills, a plastic surgeon I had once worked for and asked him to shoot it up with whatever it is that makes pimples disappear.  He took one look at the back of my neck and said skin cancer.  I emphatically told him it couldn’t be, that it definitely wasn’t and that he should get that needle out and just make it go away.  Reluctantly, he did but not without a lecture on my family history.  Being a family friend for years, he had removed many skin cancers from both of my afflicted, white, sensitive-skinned parents.  And now, my brother was starting to deal with basal cell skin cancer.  “Not me!!!  Just shoot that mother-fucker of a zit up and I’ll be fine.”  And yes, those were my exact words.

Some months passed and now it looked really freaky, though I couldn’t see the back of my neck, I could tell by feeling that it wasn’t right.  My fault for not listening.  I went back to the doctor, Kurt Wagner, and he did a biopsy.  After he called me with the report, I went in for my first of many years of surgeries to remove a lifetime of sun damage.

No, I do not document every little thing in my life....this pic was taken because I liked my haircut

No, I do not document every little thing in my life….this pic was taken because I liked my haircut

I can blame this on genetics, sure.  And I can blame myself for being boy crazy.  That’s right.  Boy crazy is one of the reasons I was sun-worshipping more than a person should.  I liked those surfer-boys with their perfect big-shouldered bodies, so I would tag along for days, doing nothing but sitting in the sand and watching.  Where and when, doctors often ask, did I get my most serious burn?  Easter vacation in Palm Springs, age 16.  Why?  Because some hot older guy sporting a mustache parked himself and his greasy, blackened-to-leather skin on a chaise lounge by the pool.  I parked next to him, flirting, squinting and burning to a near third degree for six straight days.

All my early skin cancers were on the left side of my body.  It’s where the one on the neck was as well.  Soon, I was sporting some major scars all up and down my left arm and neck.  Why?  Because that’s the side where the sun shines on you for years through your rolled-down car window.  I am the perfect candidate for tinted windows and yet I don’t go to the trouble of getting them.  I also bought a convertible that I should never use.

When I would get one in a tricky spot, let’s say, my scalp, I would be told I needed to get Mohs.  For those of you happily unfamiliar with the term, in Mohs surgery, developed by Dr. Frederic E. Mohs, affected tissue is removed incrementally until all the margins are clear.  I am a little too familiar with Mohs.  I go to a guy, I think of him as THE guy, in Santa Monica named Dr. Richard Bennett.   Unfortunately, removing the one on my scalp left me with a bald spot right in the front, top part of my head, the crown — so I have to now part my hair on the side to cover it.  One time, at a party celebrating my dad’s birthday at Matteo’s restaurant in Westwood, I sat across from his friend Tony Curtis.  Before I left my house, I put my hair up in some new trendy style, never looking in the mirror first.  Then for a full hour I was in full-animated-flirty-mode keeping Tony up on all things I thought fascinating.  Then I had to use the bathroom and looked at my reflection in the mirror.  I had parted my hair in such a way that the ONLY thing a person talking to me could focus on was the big-ass bald spot.  And like a bad high-budget dream — and I actually have those — the person I was talking to was a movie star.

One day, when I needed another Mohs surgery, this time on the tip of my nose, I first called my old friend Leslie Stevens, a plastic surgeon.  “Should you do this surgery because it’s on my nose, Les?”  I really called him because I needed reassuring since I assumed I would be quite mutilated like my really good friend’s mother growing up, Ruth Feder.  We were teenagers and her whole nose was gone from skin cancer before someone finally reconstructed it.  Les told me to go to this guy because of his expertise and then if I needed him to look at it after a year or so, he would.  He told me noses have a way of healing well.  God!!!

The day of my surgery, my friend Monsita offered to drive me and stay with me all day.  I accepted.  The day got very long and by nightfall I told Mon to go home.  I was waiting in between surgeries because with Mohs they take a layer at a time, checking under microscopes and often repeating until they clear you.  This can sometimes take from early morning until late at night.  It was late, the doctor’s office called to clear me,  so I ordered a meal from a great restaurant right near the doctor’s office.   I showed up to presumably get bandages, pick that dinner up, and head home when suddenly I was being given all these options.  Like, should they do a graft of skin from behind my ears?  I was getting dizzy and nauseous, not to mention hungry and I blew off all ideas based on that good hot, gourmet meal waiting for me to collect it.   And, I think I did the right thing, all for soft shell crab!!!  Delicious food trumps health and beauty.  I picked up my wonderful meal, ate it quickly and then looked in the mirror, in that order.  When I saw my reflection I screamed out loud to no one, “Oh my God, I’m Cyrano De Bergerac!”  Jose Ferrer as Cyrano, to be exact.  So, I sent the pics off to Monsita, who had been with me all day and is, coincidentally, Joe Ferrer’s daughter.


Then I began the work I would need to disguise myself for the next few months and I bought a Groucho Marx nose-moustache-and-glasses and sported it to run my errands, to cover that hideous Cyrano bandage.  When my son Oliver caught me walking around town like that, he took a video of me explaining why the Groucho mask was better to wear out than the bandage.  That video was sent around to make my friends laugh but seems to have gone missing, so I can’t share it here.    My husband was out of town for this surgery — lucky for him — and he had no idea I had taken to wearing Groucho faces.  He soon came home from New York with a bag of goodies for me – a variety of rubber noses – a clown’s, a pig’s, an elephant’s — from a costume store, as well as a similar Groucho one, never realizing I would be wearing one already when he arrived.  See?  There’s someone for everyone.

My husband is always after me for not staying up on the body checks and getting my surgeries or biopsies fast enough.  My thinking is if I did that, I would just have to park myself in the doctor’s office permanently because that’s how fast these skin cancers crop up in my life.  So, no thanks.  Some I will just have to postpone.  This week, however, when I did go in for the body check, the suspicious-looking mark on my face was diagnosed (by Judy, one of my team — that’s right, I’ve got a team) as skin cancer.  You know what?  It’s just annoying, not deadly — but I could live a little happier without the constant threat of disfigurement.

On that note, the restaurant I picked up my post-during-surgery meal from is called Rustic Canyon.  They have wonderful fresh farm-to-table small plates.    I’ll meet you there with my Groucho mask on.

Me at the Emmy's sporting my Groucho face and of course Mickey ears go well with that!!!!

Me at the Emmy’s sporting my Groucho face and of course Mickey ears go well with that!!!!


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8 Responses to “Skin Cancer Queen”

  1. Karen says:

    Not boring at all! Love Rustic Canyon…never had the soft shell crab there.

  2. Fredde,
    Thanks again for brightening my day with a fun story. I especially appreciate how you always have photos and video to make your stories even more fun. Well played. Well documented!

  3. Barb Young Miller says:

    Hi Freddie,
    Loved reading about your journey. I’m Janet Grahams friend from grade school in Flint. I adore her! My youngest daughter Emily was diagnosed with Stage 3 Melanoma with metastisis when she was 23. Given a one in 10 chance of not surviving 5 years, miraculously she is still here and getting married in June! That diagnosis came just three months after her older sister was declared in remission from brain cancer… My question is, have any of your cancers been melanoma? I love your spirit and love of all things life giving. Barb

  4. libbie aroff-lane says:

    You are hysterical girl!!!!! Cancer and Crab xx Whats next?

  5. dawn says:

    So sisters. I had a growth on the inner canula of my right eye. My GP said it was a ‘horny keratosis.’ As much as I liked the name, the cancer center gave it different diagnosis. A good surgeon removed it, Mohs style, and I have been clear ever since.
    I wish you good health and happiness. Groucho Style.

  6. rex says:


    Awesome, another awesome blog by you. Details of your fascinating life and daze in BH, Hollywod and beyond. Always, a fun, meaningful read, filled with friends. Thanks and all the best wishes in all things. BUT to wear the nose and mustache of Groucho means you must cultivate the walk as well. Cheers – best wishes in all things! lov ya! rex

  7. Laura Plotkin says:

    Good luck with this, Fredde–I have had several basil cell skin cancers removed–not fun for us ex-sun worshipper teenagers! I get two body exams a year for it. love your humor, as always! XOX

  8. Pauli says:

    Beautifully, artfully, painfully expressed. I admire your straightforward approach to dealing with an insidious disease. Courageous and beautiful you are. xoxo

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