Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2004
Words that you never, ever want to hear pass the lips of your surgeon as youíre being wheeled into the operating room of a teaching hospital:
ďIíve called you in because this will be an interesting case.Ē
Thatís what my surgeon said to the small flock of interns hovering expectantly in the operating room yesterday.
Before we go any further, hereís what I want to say about skin cancer. *Insert sound of soapbox scraping across stage here*. Eighty per cent of the damage that causes skin cancer happens before youíre 19. So if youíre a zygote or parent of a zygote and you ever consider going outside or sending your child outside without sunscreen and a hat, then I want you to pause and think about this image:
Yep, thatís me the morning after my skin cancer surgery. Yep, I have a black eye on the side of my face where the cancer was, and my other eye is badly swollen, as is my face and my brand new Frankenschnozz. You think that looks painful? Well, as long as I keep popping the Percocet, I donít feel a thing.
Percocet is my new best friend in all the world.
Where to begin? Um, Ö well, there was bad news and there was good news. The bad news is that the skin cancer was far more extensive than anyone thought. My casual attitude towards a small sore on my nose that wouldnít heal, a sore I thought was caused by either the pads on my reading glasses or perhaps a piece of gym equipment, has cost me big time.
The good news is that they think they got it in time, before it started to burrow deeply instead of just spreading like ripples in a pond.
My surgeon wanted to leave me the maximum healthy skin possible, so it took him three shots to get all the cancer. He cut what looked unhealthy, sent the skin to the lab, and if he didnít get an all clear (that the excised skin was surrounded by healthy cells), heíd slice a bit more from the tiny regions the lab said werenít clear. When it was done, I was left with a lovely gash on the left side of my nose about ĺĒ long and about 3/8Ē wide.
This part of the experience? A party in a can. I donít care how much local anesthetic is pumped into your proboscis Ė feeling someone carve away at your schnozolla carries an ick factor so high that it sends my personal ickometer into the stratosphere.
Later that afternoon, I spent another hour and a half on the operating table while the surgeon rebuilt my nose through an elaborate series of skin flaps harvested from my cheek and below my eye.
As he told his students, he could have covered the wound quickly with a graft, but I would have been left with a quarter-sized flap of skin that in no way matched my nose, said skin surrounded by a large ridge where the graft overlapped my original skin.
Even with all his care, I doubt my nose will ever be the same, but he spent a very long time getting it as close to same as he could and teaching a bunch of interns the very same skills.
The spousal unit and the daughter both spent as much of the day with me as they could. My kid cashed in a vacation day to basically hang around a hospital and provide those tiny little acts of kindness that help so much when youíre skating through a rough patch in the ice. Basically, I was mothered by my kid. There arenít words big enough for my gratitude.
When I was in the surgical waiting room, an area in which family werenít allowed, a volunteer slipped into the seat across from mine and struck up a conversation. She probably didnít know this, but I was scared, exhausted, starving, half dead from a killer headache and in a fair bit of pain because the freezing had come out of my nose. My physical and emotional resources had petered down to almost zero.
I hadnít eaten since 4 a.m., the time we had to get up to be in Montreal in time for the appointment. The last of the cancer surgery ended before noon, but my reconstructive surgery didnít begin until 3. This womanís random, senseless act of kindness, to keep me talking and my mind off what was to come, kept me from melting down into a little pool of sissypants crymonkey, helped me find the composure to go through the final round.
The spousal unit and my daughter told me that after I went in for my surgery, she went up to the waiting room where they were and spent some time with them, too, because she knew the long wait would have them worried.
It is extraordinary what a difference compassionate people can make.
Twelve hours after we left home, it was over. I was so freakishly hungry that even hospital cafeteria food tasted delicious. The spousal unit and I went back to my daughterís and feasted on her home made apple pie and ice cream before heading for home. Home has never felt more nest-y than it does at this moment.
That very loud smooching sound you hear? That would be me kissing my Quebec Health Insurance card. I had Mohís micrographic surgery to get rid of the canceróitís the most expensive way to deal with basal cell skin cancer, but itís the way that leaves the patient with the maximum amount of healthy skin. When it came time to re-build my nose, they didnít slap on a graft, they did fairly complex cosmetic reconstructive surgery.
Often times when you hear about Canadaís medical system in the news, you hear about those rare times when something goes wrong. My own personal experience has always been that when Iíve needed health care and needed it fastógall bladder surgery, orthopedic reconstruction of my left knee after a sports injury, and now my skin canceróthe system has worked extremely well and the care I received was top tier.
I have to take it very easy for five days. In a week we go back to Montreal, the bandages come off and Iíll get my first glimpse my new Frankenschnozz. The following Sunday will be the Jog for the Jugs, or in my case the limp for the jugs. Iím thinking it might be wise for me to do the breast cancer
In the wonderful world of cancer, my piddling case of skin cancer is a pfffft dealie. I know that and you know that. There are members of the Five Hundred Miles to Nowhere posse such as Jen and Keri who have faced the heavy artillery of cancer. Me, Iíve been hit with the equivalent of the cancer nerf ball.
But cancer is cancer and since itís apparently my role in life to serve as an example of what not to do, I live in hope that my three loyal readers will avoid my formerly casual attitude to being outside.
Bottom line: there is no such thing as a safe tan. Period. No matter what your skin type or colouring, if youíre tanned, youíve harmed your skin.
Hereís what my surgeon, who is also a dermatologist, recommended:
Slather on the sunscreen at least 20 minutes before you head out the door, even on cloudy days. Donít forget your neck and the tops of your ears. Wear hats with brims wide enough that they cover your head, neck and ears. When itís warm, protect your arms and legs with loose-fitting, tightly woven cotton clothing. Make sure kids wear a tee shirt over their bathing suit.
Our New Words To Live By:
THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A SAFE TAN.
You know, Iím not worried about how the nose will look, but I am scared half to death that Iíll get an infection in the coming week and have to have more surgery. If you have any extra, bonus healing karma lying around, I would be most grateful if youíd send a bit my way because, uh, frankly?
Iím just too much of a sissypants crymonkey to have to go through this again.
Um, nobody since last week. *Sob*.
Oh man. This is going to be hard
Goal for 2004: 1,000 miles - 1609 kilometers
Want to delve into my sordid past?
She's mellllllllllllllting - Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2012 - Back off, Buble - Monday, Dec. 19, 2011 - Dispersed - Monday, Nov. 28, 2011 - Nothing comes for free - Monday, Nov. 21, 2011 - None of her business - Friday, Nov. 04, 2011 -
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