Tuesday, September 13, 2011

SKIN CANCER. IT'S REAL.

You live with the hope that you are going to be one of the “lucky ones.”  The ones that don’t get cancer.  I should know.  I am was one of them. 
I opted to visit the dermatologist a couple of weeks ago, simply as a preventative.  I did, in fact, have a questionable mole on my back, but still 99% certain it wasn’t anything to be concerned about.  Rather, the doctor questioned the WHITE, FLESH-COLORED bump on my nose.  A bump no bigger than 1 mm in diameter.  “Oh, that’s nothing,” I said.  “I think that maybe I had a pimple there about a year ago that I happened to pick…leaving a little bump-like scar.  I'm now a recovering picker.”
[paraphrasing]  “That’s a text-book story for skin cancer, Mandi.  Let’s scrape it off and send it in for biopsy,” the doctor says in response.
***
We think we have it so hard
Maybe you've got a test next week, maybe your best friend is being a b word, maybe there's some repair you need for your car that costs $1000, maybe your cat is sick, maybe your boss is a prick, or maybe your tooth has a giant cavity.  Life is just so terrible.  You want to die. (dramatically speaking)

And we go on like this for years.  YEARS!  Going from one so-called crisis to the next. Then one day you get a phone call, and you have cancer.  BAM!  Like a hit from a baseball bat to the head. CANCER.  Everything spins for a minute.  The world seems to jolt to a stop. 

Everything changes.  It sucks.  It sucks so bad, that unless you've been through it, you can't even begin to fathom the feeling.  It hollows you out in a split second.  It's like being struck by lightning. 
Yes folks…I developed CANCER.  Fortunately, I'm not going to die, or have to suffer through chemotherapy treatments.  Mine is a mild form of skin cancer.  Not that there is any good cancer or bad cancer – a disease with the word cancer as it’s suffix…well, is shitty no matter how invasive.  But in my case, I’m not having to prepare my family that they may potentially lose their mother/ wife/ daughter/ sister/ friend.
I spent most of my childhood and adolescent years playing sports and partaking in outdoor activities.  So, sure, I can recall numerous burns.  Floating the river, swimming everyday during summer break, and playing volleyball at the beach from dawn til dusk -- occasionally burning so badly that I couldn't move the next morning.  But it healed and I got a nice golden tan, never once concerned I was doing insurmountable harm to my body.  But I was no George Hamilton!  Still, I was playing Russian roulette with my life.
***
I am one day post-op today.  A specialty surgeon downtown performed the MOHS procedure on my nose to remove the cancer.  Once I was completely numbed, they switched on the bright light and laid the surgical scalpels and tools on my chest and proceeded to reconstruct the tip of my nose.  It’s a slow process, lasting 4.5 hours in my particular case.  Small amounts of the diseased skin are removed and then reviewed in a lab, until traces of cancer are no longer identified.  I heard the Dr. snipping through my skin. I felt the tug and pull of the stitches - both sub dermal and dermal.  In the end, I estimated I had about 18 shots in my nose, and 5 sub dermal and 7 dermal stitches.
People, don’t be fooled by the simplicity of my description.  The aforementioned surgery was nothing short of frightening.  Google the MOHS procedure and you’ll see why.  There was such potential for a far worse wound/scar than what I have.  I am, with no doubt, a “lucky one.”
My diagnosis is basal cell carcinoma (aka cancer).  It’s not likely to metastasize, which means that unlike its evil cousin, melanoma, it doesn’t travel to other organs. However, no one should take it lightly. Like the spreading roots of a tree, basal cell carcinoma can work its way throughout the basal skin cells much farther than the visible spots extend. Let it go too long and you could lose chunks of your nose, ear, leg, etc; a Google image search reveals horrifying pictures in which it’s consumed large portions of someone’s face. When I think about possible skin cancer scenarios, I thank God for what he spared me from.
One misconception is that this cancer only affects those over 40.  False.  There are over 1 million NEW diagnoses every year.  It’s simply those over 40 that truly begin to see doctors regularly but many times have cancerous conditions that they’ve been living with for 8-10 years.  My surgeon operates on patients as young as 16 from time to time.
Another misconception is that one had to have been a sun-worshipper to get skin cancer.  False again.  About half of my surgeon’s patients are not sun-bathers.  Some, he described, are simply runners, golfers, bikers...and those that typically wear clothing and ball caps while performing their activity
You must wear and REAPPLY UVA/UVB sunscreen when outdoors; even when you don’t think you need it.  A one-time application is not sufficient.  Avoiding the sun between the hours of noon and 3 is extremely helpful.  Wearing a broad-brimmed hat can do wonders, considering most skin cancers occur on the face, ears, chest, and shoulders.  Most importantly, get checked by a dermatologist yearly.
Jerry Seinfeld even wrote an episode around it. It was the one where he dates the dermatologist and calls her “Pimple Popper MD” because he doesn’t think she is a real doctor. After all she wasn’t saving any lives, right? That is what he believes until he meets the man she saved from skin cancer.
Folks, skin cancer is a REAL CANCER.  It’s a deadly foe that we actually can help prevent


Excuse the no makeup me, but this is 2 days post-op...


2 days post-op

1 comment:

  1. Mandi, I was also suprised when I went to the dermotologist two years ago and found out that I had the beginnings of cancer. I, unlike yourself have just been waiting and watching for cancer to pop up. Didn't we all sunbathe until our first pregnancies and suffer blistering burns when we were children? My dad would get so mad at my mother for letting that happen to me. Anyway, I had a white flakey spot on my nose so I went to the dr. after watching it for about a month, the p.a. took a quick look and said, yeah, that's, "Blah, blah, blah." "Is it cancer?" "It's blah, blah. Here's some information, see, there's a picture of it right there." As she points to the "early" picture of what I have, but the following pictures depict what it would turn into if I hadn't come in. Cancer! I was hoping to have it scooped out the week after Christmas so I wouldn't have to go back to work with a scab on my nose, but that week was booked so I had it removed the week after we went back to school, it was ok since I get to hide in the library and don't have to parade around in front of 30 kids with all eyes on me. Thanks for sharing, love the blog.

    ReplyDelete

I am incredibly grateful for your comment! I will respond as soon as possible. XOXO, Mandi

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