If you reach a certain age and have the pasty skin of the Irish and have spent much time in the sun, you may one day find yourself in a dermatologist's office with the dermatologist peering at two small blotches on your face and furrowing her brow and murmuring: "Hmm."
This, you discover, is generally not a good thing.
And when the next words out of the dermatologist's mouth are, "We should do a biopsy," that pretty much removes all doubt as to whether you're about to get some terrific news about your complexion.
So you have the biopsy done and a few days later the phone rings. It's the dermatologist, Dr. Liza Chang, calling from her Towson office.
The two little blotches are skin cancer, she says. But it's basal cell cancer, the least serious - and most treatable - form of skin cancer.
Still, you hear the word "cancer," and you're not about to clink a glass of champagne with your wife and say, "All right, only basal cell!"
(Doing research later, you find out more than a million people in this country are diagnosed with skin cancer every year. But it's generally not life-threatening and the cure rate is extremely high.)
Anyway, Chang gives you the name of another dermatologist who specializes in something called Mohs surgery, an advanced technique that removes the cancer down to its roots, has a high cure rate and is said to minimize the potential for scarring.
That last part you find oddly reassuring.
Look, you're no Robert Redford. But you don't want to look like the Elephant Man when this is all over, either. You don't want to spend the rest of your life scaring dogs and small children.
So, on an overcast weekday morning, you report to the Towson office of Dr. Saif U. Syed and the fun begins.
Syed traces around the two blotches to be removed. Debbie, his medical assistant, numbs your face with a local anesthetic, an injection of lidocaine and epinephrine.
Then it's show time.
"Do you want to hear music?" Syed asks.
What, are we having a party here, Doc? OK, sure.
Suddenly, in the background, you hear the first strains of "Brown Eyed Girl" by Van Morrison, who is Irish and fair-skinned and even older than you are, which means he probably has Mohs surgery five times a week.
With that, Syed picks up his scalpel and goes to work.
Unfortunately, you're not new to the concept of surgery, having been opened up a few times in the past by various orthopedists.
But this is a completely different surgical experience. Not only are you awake, but Syed, a genuinely nice man, chats pleasantly while he cuts.
"I think it makes people feel more calm," he says later.
But then the two of you get into a discussion about the state of the newspaper industry and the reading habits of the American public, and that just makes you depressed.
You wonder if a soft weeping jag right now would upset Debbie and the good doctor.
Each malignancy takes about 10 minutes to remove. Then the wounds are cauterized and the removed tissue is whisked to an in-office lab to be examined microscopically for evidence of any remaining cancer.
Twenty-five minutes later, Debbie comes back into the examining room and announces, "Looks like he got it all on the first slice. We're going to sew you up and get you out of here."
Each wound is sutured with both internal and external stitches to hold the skin together tightly and minimize scarring.
As he works, Syed warns you to expect "puckering" around each incision, which makes you wonder if you're going to come out of this looking like Jack Palance in the movie City Slickers, with a face like a half-acre of sagebrush.
But Syed assures you the puckering will eventually disappear and tells you to come back in a week to have the stitches removed.
Then Debbie covers the wounds with pressure bandages and tells you to leave them on for 24 hours and to swallow a couple tablets of Extra Strength Tylenol if your face starts to hurt when the lidocaine wears off.
When the bandages come off the next day, you look like someone who's recently been in a knife fight - and lost badly.
But you have to trust the doctor. And if he says you'll be back to being your usual drop-dead handsome self in a couple weeks, then you have to go with that.
In the meantime, you have a new mantra to lay on people: If you go out in the sun, use sunscreen.
Morrison, you assume, already knows this.
To listen to podcasts featuring Kevin Cowherd, go to baltimoresun.com/cowherd.