Saturday, February 24, 2018

PSA: Get your skin checked!

Public Service Announcement: Get your skin checked, wear sunscreen, grab a hat!

Several months ago I noticed a spot on my lip that didn’t seem to go away. The dermatologist tried freezing it a few times, but when that didn’t work a biopsy confirmed basal cell carcinoma. Basal cell carcinoma is 100% treatable and rarely spreads, in other words, if you have to get cancer, this is the best one to get. A simple procedure called Mohs’ Surgery takes care of it all. Moh’s surgery is designed to get rid of 100% of the cancer and leave as much as the healthy skin as possible. To accomplish this, they cut out the cancer and then do a biopsy to see if there is still cancer along the edge. If there is, they cut again, biopsy again, and repeat. It can take several cuts and the biopsy takes about an hour in-between. They recommend you plan to spend 5-8 hours at the office.

The day of, I prepped well. I was in it for the long haul! I packed a bag with knitting, books, my laptop, and a handful of articles I’ve been wanting to read. Because this wasn’t a big deal, and I'm a proud independant woman, and I didn’t want to inconvenience anyone, I made arrangements to ride the metro there and back. I was really discounting my irrational side as I made my plans.  I was pretty anxious the week before the surgery. What if they found more. What if they found melanoma. What if I come out looking like Frankenstein? Cancer is scary….even if it’s the nicest form of cancer there is. So I changed all of our plans the day before, sent the girls to a friend’s house and had Will drive me to my appointment. Will deals with change the same way I deal with cancer; it was not the most pleasant of drives and it involved a fair bit of sniping. 

Dr. Marisa Braun and her team at Braun Dermatology were amazing. The staff was friendly and efficient. They made sure I understood everything and answered all of my questions before we began. I thought I felt calm and ready, but after Dr Marisa did the first round of cutting, she cauterized the wound. It didn’t hurt. I’m not sure if it was the smell of burning flesh, the thought of being burned, or the relief of getting rid of cancer, but I freaked out. My whole body started shaking and I started sobbing. She had to stop cauterizing and I sat up on the table and swung around flinging blood from the gaping hole in my face. I probably had a wild-eyed look of a rabid panicked dog, but Dr. Marisa and the nurse were very patient and  calm in the face of my crazy. I am very grateful to have found them for this procedure. 

I had an hour in between each cutting. I didn’t want to exhaust everything I brought with me for entertainment so in between one cut and the next, I called into a meeting at work. In between the next set, I looked at a 3D printing project. I had just exhausted all of my non-packed entertainment options and was getting ready to dig in my heels for the long haul when I was called back in for the third cut. Imagine my delight when they told me it wasn’t needed. I was now 100% cancer free and it only took two rounds!!!! I had planned to be there until 5 and I was out before noon.

They took off the bandage so I could get a look at the damage. When I remarked how large it was, Dr Braun reassured me that this was TEENY compared to what she usually has to take off. Translation: I’m lucky! And I definitely appreciate how fortunate I am. Dr Braun gave me a few rows of internal and external stitches and sent me on my way. This is when I realized another flaw in my independence plan…the jostling and bumpy metro ride was perfectly timed with the fading of my local anesthetic.

The doctor’s office warned me of swelling, but I really pictured this to be more like mole removal and not REAL surgery. I was shocked at how quickly my lip swelled up when I got home. The icing and the Advil helped to keep it down, but it was still pretty large. I guess it was a shock when I got the girls off the bus. Anne refused to look at me. I explained to her that it was just a band-aid and a little cut but she couldn’t bring herself to look in my direction. She finally went outside and stood all alone in the rain for 20 minutes while she processed it. She came back into the house and gave me a hug. Elizabeth processed through painting. She made me a lovely water-color to commemorate the occasion.

I'm still pretty swollen and sore, but I'm so pleased with the outcome (and my family is pleased that I can't talk much thanks to the swelling). I think once the swelling goes down, you'll have to get VERY close to me to even see that I have them on face. I'll say it one more time, Dr. Braun was INCREDIBLE!!!!!!
 So this is me: skin cancer-free. To stay that way, I will be getting check-ups every 6 months, but I’ll remind you to get yours annually too! The damage to my skin could have been years ago (although I think it was probably from a particularly bad burn on my honeymoon), so Will and I are going to be more diligent with the girls' skin too. 
Big thanks to the friends who helped us out with the girls this week! And thanks to friends and family for your thoughts, well-wishes, and distractions. 

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