“So…I had skin cancer. I had surgery. I’m totally fine. I just wanted you to know because we are having dinner in a few days and I didn’t want you to freak out when you see a huge wound on my neck.” That is how my phone conversation went with a really good friend recently. This is the story of when I found out I had basal cell carcinoma and had it removed with Mohs Surgery. Oh and it is also about how I became depressed. I want to share my story in case you know anyone who has one of the “better” skin cancers, like basal cell, or you have it yourself. It is ok to be scared. Even though a lot of people will not give it a second thought, it is ok to feel uneasy about it. WARNING: I share photos with my stitches. If you are squeamish, you may want to skip it. I mean, its not all that grotesque but want to give fair warning. And since this post is super long and some of you may not want to read the whole thing I’ll be using a post break. If you want to read on, just click “more.”
This summer, my dad was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma. He is fair skinned with light eyes and I totally take after him. This California girl enjoyed her time in the sun all through high school and in to college. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention some time in a tanning bed prior to my wedding…Needless to say my own chances of having skin cancer were pretty high. I have had moles removed in the past but recently have been noticing some things that I felt were a bit out of the ordinary. So given my own past and now had a family history of skin cancer, I decided it would be best if I saw my doctor. The two main concerns for me were a little red mark that had been on my neck for about two months (effing eczema, I thought) and a mole close to my ripple that had a white ring around it (yes, I said ripple. I don’t want any McPerverson’s coming to my site after searching for the female body part – and I think you can figure out which one I mean). My general practitioner didn’t think anything was wrong with those two things but didn’t like the way a mole looked on my back and referred me to a dermatologist. I’m so glad that I had that bad mole because the first things the dermatologist wanted to address was the mole with the white ring and red spot. If you think something is wrong but your doctor isn’t listening, for sure get a second opinion! So I’ve become very familiar with my dermatologist’s office and its pinkness.
So began the journey of having moles biopsied. The dermatologist evaluated my body and we’ve set about prioritizing moles. You know how there is a checklist of all the signs to look for when deciding if a mole is potentially cancerous? Well, all of mine meet at least 5 out of the 6 of the criteria. So even though you know this story has a happy ending because I am writing this post, I still have many things to be removed and watched and will for the rest of my life.
Most of my visits result in me being numbed up and moles sliced away. I’ve had 4 or 5 removed so far. On one particular visit, my dermatologist said “If I call you, don’t freak out. It doesn’t necessarily mean something is wrong.” But then when the call came, he said, “You know if I’m calling, something isn’t right…” That was my neck. And it was basal cell. He explained that because of where it was, he would refer me to another dermatologist who specializes in plastic surgery who would proceed with a procedure to remove all the cells. I didn’t know until right before the surgery that it would be Mohs Surgery, the same that my dad had that summer. So leading up to it, I just thought it would be pretty similar to the mole removals I had done so far, which required a small bandage for about a week. To be fair, I do remember my dermatologist telling me that I may end up with a few stitches but I’ve never had stitches, aside from child birth (hey if I’m sharing, I’m sharing everything) so even a few stitches seems insignificant.
I didn’t really know how to feel about this news. I was kind of scared but most people I talked to were not that worried. I went out to dinner the night that I found out. One close friend said, “yeah I had that, they just take it off, right?” And we moved on. Several of the moms from my son’s elementary school have had basal cell and they seem totally fine with it. And knowing that my dad had the surgery, that it was “no big deal” and was pretty common left me feeling, well, it left me not feeling. I never really thought about it. So I didn’t make any special phone calls to friends with news of my skin cancer. I didn’t need any extra support.
Here is my, probably very wrong, description of what Mohs Surgery is. First they remove the area that they believe to contain the cancer cells. There is a pathologist right on site who evaluates the cells and determines if they need to go back and take more tissue. They do this as many times as they need to in order to remove all cancer cells.