Sunday, July 19, 2015

Skin Cancer: Not a Laughing Matter

My original plan was to share my basal cell carcinoma experience in September when I was six-months post-MOHS, but there have been circumstances in my life that pushed me into writing about it now. Recently a dear friend was diagnosed with, and is treating, a melanoma on her cheek...cause of said melanoma...the sun. Over the past few years, I have lost two friends both the result of sun-related skin cancers. Me? Yes, in the last year I have had three basal cell carcinomas removed — one from my calf, one above an eyebrow and the most recent from my nose. The pix here is me today...healing but still feeling a bit battered, bruised, swollen and scarred but happy to be on this side of the treatment process. All of the pix in the post are documents of my surgery that I had in March and my recovery over the last four months. Warning, the pix that follow in this post are pretty graphic so if you are the least bit squeamish you might want to skip this entry.

Before the procedure, I decided to keep a post surgery diary of sorts in which I photographed my nose to follow the progress of it's healing. Using my iPhone 4s, all pix were taken in natural light and most without makeup of any kind so the normal redness and ruddy nature of my skin is quite apparent as is the bruising around my eyes. This earlier-than-planned posting is the result of a loving nudge from my sister-in-law, who grew up with me on the beaches of SoCal and, as a result, has had way too many MOHS procedures for various sun-related skin cancers over the years. She encouraged me to post my progression pix daily on instagram. She feels as I do — people need to see the reality and the outcomes of sun exposure. But, plead as she might, at that point I decided to stick with my original September plan.

People, cancer is no laughing matter. I decided to share my story a bit earlier than planned after my nieces, who by the way are adults not small children, and my other sister-in-law made a big joke among themselves out of my "stay out of the sun" warnings. Yes...I know, as silly as it sounds, when I told them that their poking fun hurt my feelings they brushed it off by saying it was all in good fun. Sorry, but in my mind, taking bets on how long it would be before the "granny" issues the "stay out of the sun" warning, doesn't seem funny to me. For two reasons of which I won't bore you with since it goes much deeper than I care to talk about right now; and the second being that if I saw a child run into the street I would run after them in order to keep them from getting injured or worse; and I would do it more than once if need be. So, with that in mind, I feel the need to at least educate and remind anyone who still thinks they look healthier, prettier, thinner or younger with a tan about the dangers of sun exposure. God, my niece, who is an intelligent woman, still lays in the tanning beds aka beds of death year-round. Sorry to say kids...the sun is not your friend. (By the way, for future reference, if you want to make fun of me…laugh at my shoes or my clothes but not about my loving and caring for you.) Rant over...I think!

So — with all my bitchiness aside -- here are progressive pix of my post-MOHS healing. Luckily, during the actual cancer removal part of the surgery (MOHS) the surgeon, who did my previous two procedures, only had to take two slices before the specimen came back cancer-free. Minutes after that procedure, I hopped into the Jeep and drove myself to the Plastic Surgeon's office where he quickly evaluated my open incision, explained the procedure of choice for the closing (as he had the week prior during my consultation), injected me with more lidocaine and started and finished a skin flap closure. This technique involves making additional incisions to create skin flaps that can be pulled down to close the original opening. Bottom line is, I had a little ladder going down the bridge of my nose that fanned out into the bigger MOHS area. I left his office about an hour later looking a bit like a catfish with huge black sutures running up and down my nose. I just wanted to be in my jammies, in my own bed with my pups close by and just be grateful it wasn't as bad as it could have been.

From there it was a waiting game. Not going to lie — it was damn uncomfortable for several days, my eyes were bruised and my nose (inside and out) and upper face were swollen. I didn’t bandage my nose and kept applying Vaseline and antibiotic ointment to the incision as instructed to keep it moist and clean. Two weeks post-surgery I returned to the Plastic Surgeon (who I must say, is quite a cutie and oh so young) and had the sutures removed. He assured me everything was as expected, it was healing as it should and we scheduled a two-week follow up. (Secretly, I wanted to ask if his grandfather was single but chickened out!)

Fast forward — here we are in July four months post surgery — my visit to the doc last week was reassuring. There is and will always be a scar, (it's a known fact...if you cut there will be a scar), still some exterior and interior swelling and there is a good possibility that there is a bit of excess scar tissue on the right side. Six months is the timeframe used to see full healing results with this type of surgery, so we scheduled a follow up appointment for September and at that time we will decide if we do a “small procedure” to get rid of the scar tissue. At this point, I say no more cutting — but we’ll see how I feel in September. 

How do I feel about it all today? I do know that if I was still doing commercial acting and print work as I did in NYC — that career would have come to a halt with this surgery. So from merely a cosmetic point of view — basal cell carcinoma is the pits. And, yes, it is just my nose and it could be much worse; but in all honesty, shallow as it sounds, the scar and excess tissue bug me. I still only use Bare Escentuals (Bare Minerals) make-up, which does even out some of the discoloration as usual; but the texture of the scar is still quite obvious, at least to me.

I know it’s just my nose and in the grand scheme of things I am very grateful that it wasn’t my life, so a tiny scar, when put in perspective, is not that big of a deal. What is a big deal is that by sharing my story it's my hope that you are inspired to do a bit of research about SPF and ways to protect yourself from the sun. Most importantly, we need to understand that sun protection is a matter of health...not beauty! And, kids I’m going to say it “stay out of the sun!” Let’s see who wins the next granny comment bet!

P.S. — LaLa this one is for you! Thanks for the sisterly push! oxo

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