In 2000, my primary care physician did a punch biopsy on a mole on my back. It came back as “dysplastic.” I didn’t know what “dysplastic” meant — I thought it was like paper or dysplastic. But it caused me some angst so a couple months later, my wife suggested strongly that I go see a dermatologist. He didn’t see anything that bugged him but gave me the card of a plastic surgeon. I went to him, and he looked at the previously biopsied mole and said immediately, “That needs to come off.” He cut it out and the biopsy came back as a “melanoma in-situ.” I knew what melanoma meant but didn’t know what in-situ meant. It meant that the melanoma was “in place” — as in it had not punched the dermis and started the vertical phase (growing a tap root that causes a melanoma to become malignant). But I didn’t know that. I, not knowing much about melanoma in-situs, freaked out. I thought “in-situ” was Latin for “buy coffin.”

It was 100% curable. I was scared for no good reason. What I didn’t know was causing me to lose my mind.

What ended up reducing my anxiety was that my plastic surgeon didn’t sugar coat the situation. He also didn’t panic. He looked me in the eye and gave me the information I needed. That kept my imagination from running out of control — a terribly human thing to have happen. I came to respect my doctor and a

year later, when he told me I had a malignant melanoma, I suffered far less anxiety. Yes, it was much more serious — it was not 100% curable. But because I knew about melanoma and because my doctor was a straight shooter, I knew I had a very reasonable chance of longterm survival. He was right. I’ve gotten 19 years. And, because my plastic surgeon had the courtesy to look me in the eye, be transparent and honest with me, I suffered far less anxiety (although it’s hard not to have some when your skin tries to kill you).

A coronavirus is very small, unseen and when it causes COVID-19, it can scare the bejeezus out of us. But it is also a very real threat. It is highly contagious and is spreading around the world. And while 80% of people will only have mild disease, the other 20% threatens to overwhelm our hospitals.

We don’t want that.

While the disease is scary, almost equally as scary is the unknown. Will it kill a large number of people? Will it spread throughout the world unchecked? What is the actually percentage of deaths? What do I need to do to protect my family?

Like my melanoma, what we don’t know can cause anxiety. And the unknown is breeding ground for conspiracy theories.

It’s not a hoax nor is it the end of the world. What it is a novel virus that can make some of us very, very sick. It will disrupt our economy and lives — if it spreads like it is predicted to spread. We need to do our part to prevent that from happening. Acting on good information makes that possible.

As I’ve been looking around for that “good information,” I can’t help but think about my plastic surgeon. As I feel anxious, all I want is someone who knows what they are talking about to look me in the eye and shoot straight with me. I don’t need to be told how good they are doing or how everything is going to be OK. I’m a big boy. I can chandle the person just telling me what the facts are at that moment. Like before my cancer surgery, I want to be able to process what is going on and how it is going to affect my family. Then I’ll make my decisions.

I’ll wash my hands and try like Hell not to touch my face. I’ll also try to keep my anxiety down and do my best to share good information I find. Then I’ll execute my plan.

Transparent information reduces anxiety.

Join Marshall Thursday, March 12 in Meridian for an event at The MAX! Learn more here.

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Marshall Ramsey, a nationally recognized editorial cartoonist, shares his cartoons and travels the state as Mississippi Today’s Editor-At-Large. He’s also host of a weekly statewide radio program and a television program on Mississippi Public Broadcasting and is the author of several books. Marshall is a graduate of the University of Tennessee and a 2019 recipient of the University of Tennessee Alumni Professional Achievement Award.