Hi. My name is Heather and I have been diagnosed with skin cancer. Basal Cell Carcinoma to be exact.
Earlier this year I made an appointment with a dermatologist to have a couple of benign cysts removed from my scalp and to have a total skin check. I had needed to make this appointment for several months but I’ve always been the type who imagines the worst case scenario….and I’m not a fan of the unknown.
My appointment was almost two months from the day I called to schedule.
I honestly thought I would go in to this appointment, the doctor would remove the cysts, check the rest of my skin and I’d be on my way. But….when the doctor came in, I told her why I was there and she took a quick look at the large cyst I wanted removed and said, “yeah, we can remove that but I want to biopsy this other one. I’m pretty sure it’s Basal Cell Carcinoma.” I give her a blank stare and manage to eventually say…..ok. This was before she even checked the rest of my skin. I walked out of that office with two biopsies, one a possible basal cell carcinoma, and a female pattern baldness diagnosis (a post for another day). I left that office a little freaked out. My worst case scenario practically came true.
A week later I got a call about my biopsies. The suspected basal cell was definitely basal cell carcinoma and the other biopsy came back abnormal but not cancer. We are keeping an eye on that spot….I go back for a re-check at the end of the year.
The treatment for basal cell carcinoma…especially on the head/face is a procedure called Mohs surgery. Basically, they numb you up, cut out the cancer, bandage you up and send you to the waiting room while you wait for them to run it to the lab to check and see if they have clear margins. If they get the all clear, they sew you up and send you on your way. If not, they cut some more out until they get clear margins. It’s pretty much an all day process. Thankfully, they got all of my cancer after the first try. I don’t know if I would have been ok had they not.
My “wound” was, according to my husband, about the size of a nickel. I thought it looked more like the size of a quarter and pretty much had a meltdown over it right there in the room. When the surgeon came in, he told me that it was on the border of being stitched up or leaving it open and just doing wound care. I informed him that wound care wasn’t an option because we were going to be on vacation….AT A BEACH. Just the thought of having an open wound to take care of was enough to send me off the deep end. So, he stitched it up….after they had to STRETCH MY SKIN TOGETHER to be able to stitch it up. They told me it was like a mini face lift (yeah, right). They gave me some pain medicine and sent me on my way. I am so thankful I was numb for the stretching process but little did I know how much that stretching was going to affect me once I got home.
The day of the surgery, I went home and rested as instructed. I was told I could lift nothing heavier than a gallon of milk for 2 weeks. The next day I felt ok so I worked on finishing up some stuff for a consignment sale and, with the help of hubby and my girls, we dropped it all off that evening. While we were dropping off the consignment stuff, the pain hit me like a mack truck. It started with a headache and by the time we got home it was full blown let’s just cut my head off kind of pain. The pain medicine they gave me wasn’t enough. It didn’t even touch it. I was finally able to get something a little stronger and it helped a little but it wasn’t until 4 days later that the pain had mostly subsided and I was able to get by on regular pain relief.
I got my stitches out a week later and boy was I glad! I’m not gonna lie, that week was horrible! The pain, the swelling (I looked like a Klingon….seriously), the wound care, changing bandages…just the whole diagnosis and subsequent treatment was too much for me. I was depressed all week and barely got out of bed. I’m now 2.5 months post surgery and the only thing I’m dealing with is a big ol’ bald spot right in front of my head. They had to shave it in order to cut out the cancer. The hair is growing back but not fast enough for me. I’ve pretty much mastered the comb-over….as best I can with my thinning hair.
What I want you to take away from my story is this…
Make sure you use sunscreen religiously. The higher the SPF, the better. ALWAYS wear a hat if you are outside a lot and reapply sunscreen every two hours. Also, because your chances of getting skin cancer increase dramatically if you’ve had just one sunburn in your lifetime, PLEASE SLATHER YOUR BABIES WITH SUNSCREEN! When my girls are outside, in the pool or if we are at a water park, I set a timer for 2 hours and reapply their sunscreen as well. Especially on their face and in the parts of their hair (if they’re not wearing a hat).