Tag Archive | skin cancer

Mistaken for the Bride of Frankenstein — Part II

[May 6, 2013]

breast cancer thirties 30's 30s skin cancer mohs surgery

So I had the Mohs Microsurgery / Chemosurgery last Tuesday morning.  I was grateful for all of the kind comments on Mistaken for the Bride of Frankenstein and Skin Cancer, Too?  Really?!  You really gave me the courage to face another surgery and another type of cancer.  Of course this surgery was nothing compared to the others and this cancer was just a bump in the road, but I think I would have continued to push this surgery out even further if it weren’t for all of you.

I have been meaning to post about what the experience was like, but it was such a difficult week that I just couldn’t manage it.  And then I thought the Frank and Nancy post was much more important. I will begin with what has happened to my face since the surgery.  Quite simply, my face has swollen beyond recognition.  I wish I were exaggerating.  On a positive note, they say it will get better — but that it will take a week or two to do so.  I’ll take it — I’m just glad this won’t be permanent!  And so are the kids, who looked horrified when they saw me this morning and told me that it was getting worse! Back to the procedure.

As you know, I was quite nervous about this one!  Fortunately, my lovely friend jme was here and she not only made me feel better about going, but she got the boys ready for school so we could leave at 7:40 a.m. for the hospital.

H (husband) dropped me off in the hospital loop and I made my way up to the Mohs Surgery Department.  I haven’t mentioned it before (this is another post I haven’t gotten to!), but we have had a photojournalism student (Jennifer) following us around for the past couple of months to document our lives as a family dealing with the effects of cancer.  Jennifer met me just outside the doors and began taking photos as I walked to the check-in desk and made my way to the waiting area. H met us in the waiting area about 10 minutes later.  He promptly found a magazine and took a seat.  When they came to collect me to prep me for the surgery and asked if I would like to bring someone back with me for this part since I had skipped out of the pre-op / question-answering appointment, H didn’t look up from his magazine.  Apparently, reading about the life and times of Billie Joe (Green Day’s frontman) was more riveting than what was about to happen to my face and asking questions about the cancer growing on my forehead.  Normally this wouldn’t bother me.  But this morning it did because I was so unenthusiastic about the surgery that I think I was visibly shaken.  So when Jennifer asked if she could follow me back, I did not object.

We were taken to a large, bright room with a special chair — it looked like one of the birthing chairs from Star Trek: The Next Generation — positioned in its center.  Jennifer asked the nurse if she would be allowed to take photographs, so the nurse left to see if the surgeon would allow this.  When she came back with an “okay” for photographing everything but the surgery, the prep began.

A second nurse arrived, and after asking me some questions and cleaning my forehead, they began injecting my forehead to anesthetize the area. After massaging the anesthetic in, waiting, and testing the area to see if it was truly numb, the nurses left to get the surgeon.

When Dr. B arrived, he discussed the procedure, used a black marker to outline the area he’d be cutting, and described what my scar would look like. Then he asked if I had any questions.  At jme’s urging, I asked if he could make my scar look like Harry Potter’s.  He smiled, said yes, and walked out, promising to return when my prep was finished. After he left, the nurses draped my head with sterile cloths, rechecked the numbness of the area, and asked Jennifer to leave.

When Dr. B returned, he looked at my online chart and said that he thought it was safe to say that I had been through a lot.  So he then assured me that he would do his best to get as much as he could in the first round so he wouldn’t have to put me through anything more than necessary.  I thanked him and then tried to go to my happy place as I felt the cold instruments touch my head. I’m not sure how much time passed before he said that he needed the cautery.  I asked if I had forgotten to mention that I was on blood thinners.  Yes, I had.  I could smell burning flesh.

Then he continued, and cauterized more because I continued to bleed. And eventually he was done.  He cauterized some more, and then they put a pressure bandage on my head, and escorted me to the waiting area so we could see if he had taken enough to get clean margins.

While I waited, my surgeon, who is uniquely qualified to double as a pathologist, looked at slides of the tissue he had taken to determine whether he was able to get clean margins. As I waited, before and after my surgery, I watched as a nurse came to the waiting area to tell several other patients their results.  My surgeon had managed to get clean margins for each of them.

As I read an issue of Coastal Living, I couldn’t help but notice that I was the youngest patient in the packed waiting room.  By far.  I think I could safely say that most of the people there were double my age.  This fact wasn’t lost on Dr. B, either.  He told me that it is not uncommon for people to develop skin cancer.  It’s just fairly unusual to develop it at my age.

Now it was my turn to get my results.  I was told that he had also gotten clean margins for me.

The nurses brought me back to the surgical room.  They asked Jennifer not to follow. They whipped out the needles to numb me again.  When this was done, Dr. B came back in, reiterated that he had managed to get clean margins around the cancer.  Then they draped me with blue sterile cloths again.  And Dr. B undid my pressure bandage and began cauterizing me again.  Then he started to stitch me up.

When he was through, he apologized for everything I was going through and wished me well.  He told me that I had a much higher risk of developing future skin cancers and asked me to schedule a full skin check in 6 months.  He said that I would always need to do this now and that I would need to be more vigilant about checking myself and being protected in the sun.  I neglected to tell him that being more vigilant would require staying indoors entirely, even in our grey city.

After he walked out, one of the nurses asked if I’d like to see it.  Of course I did!

She handed me the mirror and “That’s big!” was the first thing I said.  Dr. B could have made a nice Harry Potter scar and it would have been the same length!  The nurses reassured me that it wouldn’t be that noticeable one day and they wrapped me up with a pressure bandage and went over the care instructions.

It wasn’t long before I was finished and had an appointment scheduled to remove my stitches in a week (tomorrow).  I was there about 5 hours, but it didn’t feel like it.  It really wasn’t as bad as I had anticipated.  And I am glad that I did it.

Or at least I was until the swelling began.  It began to appear on Day 3.  By that evening I was so swollen that even H thought I should call the surgeon’s office after hours.  When I did, they gave me a few instructions and scheduled me to come back to the hospital in the morning.

At the hospital I was told that the swelling was a result of an excessive amount of bleeding.  My surgeon said this was pretty unusual.  He seemed to feel that my “young” age and skin were partially to blame.  He said that it would get worse before it would get better and that it would soon look bruised (and give me a set of black eyes).  Lovely!

Mistaken for the Bride of Frankenstein

***

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Photo Credit: frankensteinhalloweencostume.com

You may recall a post I wrote last month about skin cancer and learning that I have been growing said cancer on my forehead: Skin Cancer, Too?  Really?!

Well, despite my attempts to delay the surgery I need to (hopefully) eliminate this cancer, the day of this unpleasant event is now upon me.

In a few short hours I will be headed to the hospital for chemosurgery / Mohs micrographic surgery with our area’s only chemosurgeon.

And I am biting my nails.  They’ve told me that I should plan to be there for anywhere from half the day to the entire day.  They won’t know how long until the surgery is underway and they can see how extensive the cancer is — and what will be required to close the area up.

Apparently I am supposed to be comforted by the fact that my surgeon is excellent at doing reconstruction and skin grafts.  Let me assure you that I am not.  I would rather have not known that he may need to exercise these talents with me.

I don’t know why I am so concerned about this surgery.  I’ve had more than my fair share of surgeries and procedures.  And most of them were far more invasive than what I expect this one to be.  I’ve been cut into so many times that if I lifted my shirt, you might mistake me for the bride of Frankenstein.

So this shouldn’t be a big deal in comparison, right?  (Well, that’s what I’m telling myself at least.)

And it’s for a good cause.  I am actively growing cancer on my head — I can see it growing from week to week — so I should want to get rid of it.

But I am still scared.

Maybe it’s because I’m a bleeder?  And I’m on a blood-thinning regimen.  Just the biopsies required to get this diagnosis were a clear sign that bleeding will be an issue for me.

Maybe it’s because they’ll have a scalpel touching my head and I don’t yet know how deep they’ll have to cut?

Maybe it’s because I’ll be awake and I’d much rather be asleep?

Or maybe it’s just because I am so tired of cancer and side effects and surgeries and procedures and my body is weathered and worn out.  And I just want to feel like a regular thirty-something-year-old with regular thirty-something-year-old problems.

Or maybe it’s just because no one likes surgery — big or small — and I am only human.  (Of course if I lift my shirt, you may think otherwise!)

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Photo Credit: mubi.com

Skin Cancer Too? Really?!

Photo Credit: nation.com.pk

So the week before last I had some biopsies done.  I had postponed this followup visit to the dermatologist for, oh, about a year and a half.  Yep, I know.  But I’m sure you get it.

The previous two visits had ended with biopsies, some rather large and deep.  The results were mixed — some of my sacrificed moles were fine, others had pre-cancerous cells.

When my first 6-month followup came around, I canceled because, well, I was tired.  I had just finished radiation and was getting weekly infusions of Herceptin that my body wasn’t reacting well to.  And I was spending plenty of time at the hospital and Cancer Center. I just couldn’t deal with one more thing.  Then I just never bothered to reschedule.

So last month I finally picked up the phone and called.  Fast forward to my appointment.  They did a quick once-over, saw some areas of concern, and then scheduled me to come in for biopsies the following week.  I reluctantly but dutifully returned and got a bit nervous when there were two doctors, a nurse, and a tray of scalpels in the room.

It was less involved than it had been on previous occasions.  I was on my side when they took the mole that was on the fringe of my chest radiation field.  After cutting it out, the doctor stitched it up quickly, but I could feel the blood dripping down my back.  They scrambled to get it cleaned up as I mentioned that I was on aspirin therapy so I was a bleeder.

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Photo Credit: dermnetnz.org

They then moved to the lesion on my forehead.  This was the one that had concerned me for months.  It didn’t look like much, but every time I washed my face, even gently, it bled.  I thought this was odd and it was really what had inspired me to schedule the appointment.  The three doctors I saw the first week agreed and mumbled something to each other about act-something keratosis turning into cancer.  And then the two new doctors on biopsy day were mumbling the same thing to each other after looking at it with their special little scope-y things.  The the one turned to me and said it was likely actinic keratosis that became cancer, but I didn’t pay much attention.  I couldn’t have skin cancer, too.

When they got to my head, the numbing needles didn’t really do their job.  Thankfully it didn’t take too long.  But they couldn’t stop the bleeding.  Pressure wasn’t working, so the nurse passed aluminum nitrate (I thought they used to use silver nitrate?) to the doctors and they were finally able to stop it.  They taped me up and sent me home with an appointment card to have my stitches removed and receive my results in a week (last week).

I returned last week and was told that the area on my head is skin cancer.  They said that I would need to schedule my surgery with the Mohs or chemosurgeon at the hospital.  They asked me to head over there to schedule it in person.  Since I had the biopsies done at the hospital, this meant walking across the hall to the Mohs surgery department and the sole surgeon in our area who is trained to perform this type of surgery.

But that was still too long a walk for me at that moment, so I skipped out and went home.  I still haven’t scheduled the surgery.

I try to avoid feeling sorry for myself or dwelling on things that I can’t change.  But, really?  I mean it sounds like this one isn’t that big a deal, especially in comparison to the breast cancer, but I was a bit incredulous when they first told me.

I began wondering about statistics.  “What are the chances of having been diagnosed with two distinct types of cancer before the age of 37?”  I consulted the internet and still don’t know because I was sidetracked by the search results.  Turns out that it is not really understood why someone in this age bracket would develop one cancer, let alone two.

Well, I’ll just have to do my best to avoid a third.

P.S. Please do something for me.  Schedule a skin cancer screening — it’s quick and easy.  And you aren’t too young!

*** I am very sorry to say that a couple of months after I wrote this post, my little sister was diagnosed with MELANOMA, the deadliest form of skin cancer.  So I’d like to reiterate the “p.s.” above.  If you notice something that isn’t normal for you, be it a breast change, an odd-looking mole, or some other concerning symptom, please get it checked out.  It’s important, you are important, and you are not too young for cancer.