WARNING!!! GRAPHIC PHOTOS
IF YOU HAVE A WEAK STOMACH THEN YOU MIGHT BE OFFENDED AT THESE PHOTOS OF MY EXPERIENCE WITH SKIN CANCER
THESE PICTURES WILL BE AT THE BOTTOM OF THIS POST
What do the letters BCC mean you might ask? Well, they stand for basal cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer. This type is rather harmless compared to melanoma, which can metastasize or spread to the organs. I am sharing my story in hopes that it keeps you out of tanning beds and direct sunlight for extended periods of time if not fully protected.
It all started 20 years ago when I worked part time at the dermatologist’s office. Right away, the doctors saw things on me that needed to be removed and biopsied so every year since then, I have been having full skin exams and for about 15 of those years, I’ve either had something removed to be biopsied or frozen on the spot. I was told I was very young to be having these problems. So by now, I’m a pro at this right? Let me set the stage:
When I was in my teen years, I worshipped the sun and thought that being bronzed and suntanned was the ultimate in beauty. I suffered scores of sunburns too numerous to count as I was in the marching band and practicing outside in the summer was de rigueur. After high school for the next 4 years I marched in drum and bugle corps, again, out every weekend being exposed to the sunlight. And of course, at the beach and the yard every summer thereafter. I did use sunscreen, it was Bain de Soleil # 2 or baby oil! For that deep and accelerated tan, you know. I remember being told that I would look like an old lady before my time….yeah…yeah….yeah.
You know, when you’re young, you don’t think it will happen to you. I dug through some old pictures and found these as proof of my naïveté and I have to admit, I do have an awesome tan! But, in these photos, you can see that my nose and chin are sunburned because that weekend, I was in the sun. I am very fair skinned and usually felt that I had to get a good burn to set the stage for tanning the rest of the summer. Problem was, I always got that burn and remember peeling and crusted skin on my nose, shoulders, back, legs and arms. Even my fingers peeled!
I have had experience with basal cell carcinoma before, on my nose at two different places and they were easily treatable, as well as too many pre cancers. Just recently one being a pre squamous cell and 2 pre melanomas. So when this new spot showed up about 11 months ago, I watched it to see how it would progress and to see if I needed to sound the alarm or if it was just a sore that would heal up and go away. As a disclaimer: I had severe cystic acne when I was younger and it seems some things are never outgrown so I knew the difference between a regular zit or this shiny pink pearlescent papule which indeed did not heal up. My test is that if it comes back again the second time with the same markers as the first, then I got a real one on the other end of the fishing line and not something to be messed with.
So at the end of this past July, I called to be worked into my doctor’s schedule as he is THE dermatologist to go to and voted number one in the area. That’s a good thing and a bad thing, bad because he is booked many months in advance. But because of my history, I am worked in. Having called the end of July, my appt was for Sept 6. All went as usual and a biopsy was taken although he reassured me this was probably nothing, but come back in a week for the results and suture removal. No problem, I’ve done this before and know what the protocol is. I didn’t need to bother calling in for the results because he was going to put a rush on them and I would be in next week. So the next day, I headed to Louisville KY for the first WCAA Inspire and wore my bandaid to hide the sutures and mild bruising that occured.
I went back a week later and the tone was much different than the prior two cancers. It turns out this was indeed a superficial basal cell carcinoma, however because of the proximity to the eye, this changed the treatment methods drastically. There is a cream that can be applied, but it was too close to the eye and he didn’t want my vision to be affected, i.e. seriously reduced vision or blindness! Wait, blindness? Yes, blindness. As you know, what I do is all about the VISUAL so this wasn’t even a remote possibility for treatment. He did not want to take care of this in the usual manner of cutting it out and said because of my age, being young, it was felt that I should have MOHS microsurgery in which they take a layer at a time and put it under the microscope to make sure the cancer is not in the margins. They keep on cutting until the margins are clear and the skin is good. Uh oh, this is serious!
So my surgery was set up for Dec 7 because I am a busy girl and needed to get all my customer’s jobs out the door before needing downtime and not knowing how much would be needed. I had out of state installations in October as well as a WCAA show in Chicago I was presenting at as a vendor, in addition to speaking at my own WCAA chapter in Nov. In the meantime, I had to meet with an ocular plastic surgeon because he specializes in this type of plastic surgery due to the proximity of the cancer to my eye. This happened Oct 12 and he felt certain that this would not be a big deal and maybe a couple sutures is all. BUT…he did forewarn me that he can’t know what’s on the inside until the MOHS surgeon does her part so there could be a possibility of needing skin grafting. I placed my hopes on a couple sutures and lost. He also told me I was young to be having this done and that usually people in their 70’s and 80’s are dealing with this. Hmmm….I’m beginning to get a sense of how much damage I have done. 3 doctors have now told me the exact same thing. Does this emphasize the amount of sun exposure I really had? Wow! If I were in my 70’s, there would be no need for a graft because my skin would be so loose we could stretch it. As it is, too young, skin too taut, too bad honey. It is what it is.
NOW WE GET GRAPHIC WITH 2 PICTURES
This is what your face looks like after the first cutting. Not pretty at all. First off, all this is done with local anesthetic, and I HATE needles so I had to do a lot of talking to myself. Putting a tiny needle, even though it was tiny and this gal was good, when she went right under my eyelid, I thought I was going to pass out. I understood at this point the severity of what I was experiencing and this was NOTHING like I had experienced before. I also was hoping really hard that it would only be this one cut and they would come and tell me we were done and I could make my way to the ocular surgeon. It didn’t happen that way.
This is me after the second cutting because there was cancer still in the margins. You can see that I am starting to bruise and turn yellow already. Not pretty at all, huh? So much for my couple sutures, right? It turns out that the cancer was deeper and wider under the skin so while there was only a small papule on the surface, much more was lurking underneath. Basal cell is a slow growing cancer, supposed to be at least, so when my ocular plastic surgeon told me he was surprised at how invasive it became in such a short period of time, I was thankful I didn’t procrastinate on this and thought that maybe I should’ve done it sooner than I did. Lesson learned!
I will continue with part Two and plastic surgery as I journaled that day and I want to share those thoughts with you. It’s interesting what goes through the mind when undergoing a procedure such as this, or more like, what went through MY mind. Silly girl! I also have post op photos and weekly update photos that I will be sharing.
ARE YOU THINKING TWICE NOW ABOUT GETTING THAT MUCH NEEDED SUNTAN?