[Note: Since basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer, affecting one million Americans each year, there’s a good chance one or more of my readers will have to deal with this at some point. I hope this brief narrative of my own experiences, and the unflattering self-photos, will help someone else be better prepared.]
I've lived 85% of my life in Oregon and Southeast Alaska, where clouds, rain and cool weather are the norm. And even after moving to this Land of Enchantment, I’ve not been a sun-seeker. Tanning beds? Never! So how did I end up with two little spots on my face which turned out, based on biopsies, to be basal cell carcinoma? The doctor, and the Internet, tell me that even one bad sunburn as a child can result in these carcinomas, much later in life. And who hasn't had ONE bad sunburn as a child?
Although I learned that basal cell carcinoma is slow-growing and the least likely of the skin cancers to spread to other parts of the body, just hearing the word "cancer," with all of its scary connotations, was disturbing to me. But after a few days, I settled down and was just ready do what needed to be done to put this behind me.
On June 23 I went in to have the first one removed. It was on my left cheek. I had read about Mohs surgery, but was in denial, I guess, for I did not anticipate the size of the incision (about ¾” long) nor the need for stitches. I went home with a bulky compression bandage on my face and feeling like everything was spinning out of my control. (Surprise, Linda . . . you are NOT in control!)
I didn’t see the wound, or the stitches, until I removed that bandage the next day. When I looked in the mirror I was shocked. It wasn’t a pretty sight! The first thing that flashed through my mind was The Phantom of the Opera. Where could I find one of those masks?
Over the next couple of days the bruising and swelling became a little worse.
By Day 6, when I went back to have the external stitches removed, a lot of the bruising had faded. I was nervous, going in, because the wound was still seeping a few drops of blood now and then, so I didn’t know if the stitches had done their job. I was also nervous because now I would see what the actual incision looked like, without the stitches. How bad would the scar be? Would I need to stop, on my way home, to purchase the Phantom mask?
The nurse removed the stitches, said the incision was healing well, but thought it could use some Steri Strips to keep it closed tightly for just a few more days. She put them on before I got to take a look, so I still didn’t know what the bare incision looked like. The nurse told me the Steri Strips would fall off on their own in ten days or so, but said I could remove them before that if I wished. She also gave me some samples of a gel (Kelo-cote) to use on the scar, once the Steri-Strips were off, to help it fade.
As of today, three-and-a-half weeks following the procedure, I'm pretty pleased with how the scar is fading. With a little make-up, it's not terribly noticeable. However, on July 7 I returned to the dermatologist to have the second Mohs procedure done, on a spot near the inside corner of my right eye. So, once again I'm sporting a bandage. The doctor decided this second one did not need stitches. I was happy at the time, but it seems to be taking longer to heal than the first one, so now I wonder if that was a good idea. Time will tell.