Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Skin Cancer Diaries

A Different Day

A week ago on Wednesday, my hubby and I decided to have a skin check for our moles since we both have quite a few. I thought this would be like any other time in the past.

We used to go to the dermatologist annually when traveling to Mexico due to the sun exposure we would get on our trips and my prebaking my skin in tanning beds. But we haven't been on this type of trip for more than 5 years. Nonetheless, we both felt it was time after skipping it for a couple of years.

2 1/2 years ago I had a suspicious mole removed from my back which later turned out to be nothing and was clear. Back in my early 40's I had chemo treatment for the prevention of squamous cell carcinoma with the use of Efudex since I had so much sun damage on my face. This kills the cancer in its preliminary stage known as actinic keratoses, whereby using prevention to keep the cancer from becoming the malignant form at a later date. This treatment is painful, unsightly and lasts for several weeks. This time frame was also when I began developing my mineral makeup formulas to help soothe and hide the damaged skin. Oh and how it worked so well!

But last Wednesday proved to be a very different day than in the past. Everything looked normal to me for the most part. I hadn't noticed anything really changing except for a funny spot on my left temple. A year ago it began as a small colorless nodule, smaller than a pea, so I just thought I was getting yet another colorless mole. But in recent months, it began to grow and become oblong with some scabbing.

My doctor examined me and took the nodule off my face, and then another teenie tiny spot on my abdomen right below my left boob, that he also noticed. It was black as black! I couldn't see it myself all this time since, well to be delicate...the old boobs don't quite sit where they used to when I was younger, so they....ahem....were kinda in the way.

For the most part he poo pooed it and wasn't too concerned. My hubby received a spritz of frozen nitrogen for some precancerous stuff going on on his left temple and he was given a clean slate otherwise, this trip.

The Phone Call

Two days later on Friday, having a seemingly uneventful day, and had all but forgotten about the dermatologist visit, my phone rang in the late afternoon.

It was my Doctors office with the news on the pathology report. My heart sank, I cringed and my mind clicked off when the word "Cancer" was uttered from his nurses mouth. My moles were no longer clear! The tiny spot my doctor removed from my abdomen was the early stage of melanoma, but on this one we caught it very early, so all tissue was clear in the surrounding area. But this was not the one it turned out as what I knew as the destroyer of lives.

In the same breath from the nurse, I was told I also had Basal Cell Carcinoma in the tissue removed from my face, and I required immediate surgery as the surrounding cells were not clear. Since it is an extremely invasive malignant cancer which destroys tissue at a very slow rate, they did not wish to wait any longer than they had to since I had had this thing on my face for more than a year. This in their opinion was catching it early. My mind remained "off" I heard nothing else after that.

I went, the word we all dread to hear in any context. It is cancer as is MELANOMA....these words hung on my brain like a dread of the unknown. I could no longer speak and handed the phone to my hubby to get the details. I was losing body was changing and betraying me. My face was going to be cut on and disfigured....were these signs of things to come? I was not going to grow old gracefully....doom, doom, doom. My mind reeled, and it was all I could do to keep from passing out.

The Calm In My Storm

My hubby spent about 10 minutes on the phone with the nurse while I sat wringing my hands and weeping. She explained everything to him and how the procedure will be done. I had to go and have my surgery on Monday, so now I had the weekend to adjust and that was helpful....waiting kills me, I would rather get it over with than deal with the anxious anticipation of what is to come.

My hubby consoled me and became my rock as he has always done in times past. He explained what the nurse said and how the procedure would be done. He told me that once the cancer was removed, plastic surgery would be performed right then and there to minimize damage to my face. He also told me he would be with me throughout the whole see I am a weenie baby when it comes to needles, scalpels and surgery....I'm only stoic when it is happening to someone else.

But it all seemed okay after a bit and my husband assured me of the upside, according to the nurse, since she said, "for all the cancers to get, this is the best one to have and it is a good thing." Hmm...I'm thinking....okay....I guess....if having cancer is ever a good thing...but I'll go with that for now.

My Minds Eye

Of course this colorless mole he removed for biopsy was about the size of a large pea, but in my minds eye this thing was getting larger and became this gaping wound. I envisioned Frankensteins monster happening with my face. I had to keep looking in the mirror during the weekend to remind me of its' actual size....then I'd swish my hand at my reflection, thinking, "this is cake."

Sunday afternoon I became full of anxiety, not really knowing what to expect. Everything in the past was clear, I had no reason to think the worst. My Efudex treatments kept my face healthy, but alas, I was told it was not nearly as effective on Basal Cells, which is why I now was dealing with this. Head to the google button!

The Big Day

Once I was sitting in the room where surgery would be performed, the nurse and the doctor entered to explain the process, I was actually remarkably calm as they told me he would be performing the Moh's procedure. I had already discovered this over the weekend during my google search about treatments for basal cell carcinoma.

This is where they remove the actual tumor, then take some of the surrounding tissue of about 2mm to 4mm and send it to pathology while we wait for the results before closing me up. If the pathology shows more cancer, then they cut away some more until we receive the "all clear." This procedure prevents mistakes, reduces removal of healthy tissue unnecessarily, and recurrence, giving better results for the patient since they won't need to go back in and cut on me some more. The cure rate is excellent....98-99.5% whereas other methods have cure rates of only 50-80%. That works for me, let's get it right the first time.

So, they numbed me up and began removal of the growth, while I asked the doc "if he could give me an eye lift while he was in there?" just a bit of levity to ease the tension, but.....not today I guess....

I had to only wait about an hour for the results and the news was good, we had truly caught it early and there were no extending fingers into the surrounding tissue. So they closed me up using plastic surgery techniques. A sigh of relief flooded my system as I lay cool and collected for the first time in four days. The suture job took longer than the actual surgery. They applied a pressure bandage to wear for 2 days and then the stitches will come out in 8 days.

I asked the doctor how big was the incision when all was said and done, and it literally turned a pea size growth into a scar over 1 1/2 inches long. Imagine if the growth had been ignored and allowed to get larger, the damage I would have had to the area would have been quite measurable since this tiny pea size growth left this size of damage.

This is why it is so important to get checked out regularly, especially if you sun worshiped when you were younger like I did. Disfigurement doesn't have to happen if we get things taken care of while they are very small as in the case of the discovery of my small melanoma....the good Lord was watching out for me on that one.....perhaps it was the reason for the growth on my face that the other was found, since without it, I probably would not have gone into see my doctor that year either.

Remarkably, my incision is healing quite well and now the pressure bandage is removed and believe it or not, there is absolutely no did I swing that?...and the scar is long, yet miniscule....the outcome of the final affect is going to be almost perfect....and what isn't, mineral makeup will take care of the rest.

I controlled the pain for the first two days with Tylenol, and Vicodin at bedtime only, so I was kept pretty happy. Now all I need is a bit of Tylenol and I am good.

Oh The Irony

It's ironic when you think about it...some of us would say, "ah it's just another common skin cancer" and others take the information and grow it in their mind as "things coming to an end as they know it." I tend to lean toward the latter, especially when I don't know the facts or the outcome of something that is foreign to me. I am no different in this regard to many others out there who worry about similar issues.

Doctors see this thing all the time, but I personally don't know a soul who has had skin cancer that I could talk to about their experience. Plus it really seems to become worse case scenario in the elderly for lack of understanding what is occurring to their skin, and men, who take most things related to medicine, "as not me", but they are strong and healthy, which this mindset is their undoing....thankfully my husband gets it and sees his doctor annually, now.

I know others who have had other forms of cancer, including melanoma, and they have either survived or died. Plus, I used to see all the disfiguring pictures of those afflicted with skin cancers..... so needless to say this exacerbated the stereotype I had pictured in my mind as a destroyer of our looks. This no longer needs to be the case with the new methods for getting it right the first time. With such a high curative rate, freezing, excision and chemo creams don't even compare to the Moh's.

But once I educated myself through searching the internet and researching the Moh's procedure and its' excellent outcome, I found it all to be anti-climatic. I had worried for nothing!

It All Makes Sense Now

Through my ordeal, it is clear to see how this is so similar to those that spread the disinformation about cosmetic and skincare ingredients causing cancer. The "C" word emotes fear and it is an excellent method when used in marketing campaigns of many personal care products or of the watchdog groups which are purveyors of fear mongering, though I find it shameful to scare people all for a dollar, donations or otherwise.

Nothing gets ones' attention more than cancer. As in my case, it suddenly became so apparent, since I had no idea of the outcome, so fear plagued my emotions, growing illogical scenarios in my head. However, once I educated myself from a sound source, not just someone writing about worse case scenarios, but the whole dynamic of the procedure to the actual outcome, I was much more relaxed on the day of the surgery.

Take this story for keeping yourself safe from skin cancer by visiting your health professional and catching that innocent looking colorless mole early, yet also realize that certain words when used in a marketing campaign will get the reaction they are looking for in order to convince you this product will prevent all the bad things that can happen....or take your money for a less than reputable cause based on a phony premise.

I say fight the urge to believe those that spread this rhetoric, since fear should never be a motivator for making a personal decision in our lives. the end, facts are all we have at the end of the day.

Cheers! Now off to wash my hair since I had to keep the area dry for the first couple of days....nothing better than fresh, clean hair.

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