Friday, February 24, 2017



My teeny tiny “cancer journey” * is finished.

Got the stitches out today at the ocular plastic surgeon, have to go back and have a quick follow-up in 4 weeks, but for all intents and purposes my “little ride on the cancer train” * is over.

I am hesitant to include this photo, but in the spirit of honesty, here you go.  Nurse David captured not only my recently removed stitch area, but also every clogged pore on my face and my very unplucked eyebrows.  Here you go, world!  
And I realize how LUCKY that makes me. 

Starting out with this form of cancer, basal cell carcinoma, has been a primer for me.  It’s the most common type of cancer.  It very rarely metastasizes (spreads to other areas).  If detected early, it can be removed.  I was one of 4 million people in the United States alone to deal with it this year (I was in great company!).  (You can learn more about basal cell carcinoma and other skin cancers here:  Skin Cancer link here )

I say this was a primer, because I am a realist and know that almost certainly another form of cancer will come my way at some point in life.  Honestly, most of us will have the bad fortune of getting cancer at some point in our lives, right?  Think about it:  how many friends and family members do you know who have/have had cancer?  I know loads: my maternal grandma, my sister, my mother, my dad, my paternal grandpa, friends….  So, I guess my point is, if I had to get any type of cancer at age 50, I am glad it was THIS kind.  They cut it out, they close me up, they take out the stitches, and voila, done.  No chemo, no radiation.  In the cancer department, this was like pre-school stuff.

My sister Sherry - dealt with breast cancer

My mom and dad - mom had colon cancer (this photo was from our family cruise for her last Christmas)
and dad has prostate cancer and skin cancer
Even so, I have learned quite a bit in the short 5 months I have been thinking about this!  May I share??

·         When you see a spot that you feel is suspicious, don’t trick yourself into thinking it isn’t.  For a while I pretended to myself that mine was a “dry spot”.  After a while I knew it was probably cancer, I honestly knew.  But I thought it was “too close to my eye” and I figured “there is nothing they could ever DO for it in that location anyway…”.  So, I put off going to the dermatologist.  My bad.  My very bad.  By the time MOHS was done and I showed up for the close, the ocular plastic surgeon (who I had met a week earlier and seen the pre-surgery spot) had a hard time not showing his deep concern when he took the bandage off, looked at the big chunk of my face missing, and said, “Oh.  That.  Is.  Bigger.  Than.  I.  Expected…”  He reminded me again today – I need to get checked at a dermatologist every 6 months.  If these spots are caught early they are manageable.  (And he mentioned again today how surprised he was by the size the original surgeon had to remove and left him to close…)  So, the point of this bullet is:  IF SOMETHING LOOKS SUSPICIOUS, JUST GO GET IT CHECKED.  It doesn’t hurt!  The doctor just looks at your skin.  If she/he says “false alarm”, cool!  If not, you get it dealt with.
·         Facebook friends, phone friends, card sending (and flower and cookie sending) friends and text friends are awesome.  Having people cheering you on makes it all seem doable.

·         Trust your instincts and take control of your medical care if you have the opportunity to do so.  The only other time in my life I was seriously ill, I was too sick to really be involved in the decision making.  But this time I was awake, alert, and involved.  I can sometimes have a tendency to “be nice” and not want to “hurt people’s feelings” or maybe to doubt that I could know better for myself than a professional might know.  But in this case, I didn’t feel the first ocular plastic surgeon was a good fit, and I decided to say something.  It caused a bit of a mess in the scheduling and it meant postponing everything a bit, but it was well worth it because in the end I had a doctor who literally said he “enjoys the challenge of skin cancer” cases and it turns out that is what I needed cuz mine was, ummm, a bit challenging to close up…  So, trust your gut.  It is your body, your time, your money, and your life!  Be comfortable with your medical professionals and find ones that are good fits for you.  (Note to self: use this new empowered Susan to start hunting for a really good dermatologist, cuz the one who found this originally was sort of cranky and not my style…)

Dr. Cytryn removing my sutures today.
We wore matching masks - his cuz he is a doctor, mine cuz I have the flu.

·         Anesthesia is awesome (and hard to spell).  Last night when I should have been sleeping but wasn’t, one thing I was thinking about was, “I do not remember getting DRESSED after my close surgery…  I know I didn’t ride home naked…  Did David dress me??”  So, today I was sitting in the chair at the surgical center waiting for the doctor to pop in to remove the sutures between other surgeries.  A nurse kept walking by, waiting for his next case.  He smiled and we ended up talking to him.  He was really sweet, and I finally asked, “Is your accent Russian?  It is really a pretty accent!” and he said yes, then he and David both smiled.  Turned out I had the SAME CONVERSATION with him LAST WEEK, asked him the same damn thing – he was my post-op nurse.  He said we had a good talk last week, none of which I remember!!!  So yeah, anesthesia is a good invention. 

·         Another note for good medications J (no I am not a pharmaceutical rep, but this is something I learned from a friend when I started this whole experience): do not be afraid to ask for meds.  My friend told me that she had eye surgery and asked for a prescription to calm her nerves beforehand.  I took that advice and asked the MOHS surgeon for something (because I knew patients are awake for MOHS).  She gave me a small prescription of Ativan, and I took one before MOHS.  It was exactly what I needed.  I was awake, alert, could talk and function, but was not overly nervous about her coming at my eyeball with sharp instruments. 

·         Fun cool thing – I have one little red mark RIIIIGHT by my tear duct.  At first I thought it was a scab from the surgery, then as the week with stitches progressed and the swelling went down, I began to dread it was a STITCH.  A BIG, THICK STITCH right by my tear duct.  That was gonna need to be CUT OUT…  Yes, that was another thing I was thinking about all night last night when I should have been sleeping…  But it turns out it is what my plastic surgeon called a “pie cut” (he might’ve called it a pie slice?  We have been calling it my pie hole today)!!!  It is a little slice he made to let blood come out (I think that is how he explained it?  Or maybe to reduce pressure?) like you make little cuts in the top of your pie crust when you bake!  Isn’t that excellent??  I have a PIE CUT by my tear duct!  Whew, not a stitch, just a scab, will heal.  (Also, speaking of tear ducts, he was happy mine had not been involved (there was a fear it would be) and told me today he “irrigated the tear duct” to check it.  Who would imagine?  Coolness. 

·         And finally, I know we have all heard this a zillion times and I don’t need to repeat it, but:  wear sunscreen.  I always do at the beach, but I need to be more diligent about it while out gardening and things like that.  And when I asked about it today, the doctor said, “Yeah, the spot you got it in is easy to miss with sunscreen!  That’s why you wear SUNGLASSES and a HAT, too”.  Touché, doc, point taken. 

NOT taken today, and we WERE wearing sunscreen.  I am not going to stop going to the beach
(even though I know I will be a little nervous at first...) just because of this little run in with skin cancer!
So there you have it.  thanks to everyone who has been so supportive while I have been figuring this out.  Oh, and I had graaaand plans for today; was going to get the stitches removed, take a jumping photo with the surgeon, go buy fancy ass cupcakes for the doctors and deliver them with thanks, go to a new exhibit at the Hirshorn Gallery, and spend glorious time in the sunshine.  But alas, it was all I could do to keep from throwing up my Tamiflu pill and ride lying down in the car to the doctor.  As soon as sutures were out I retreated to bed to let this dumb flu play out.  Looking forward to delivering cupcakes, jumping, and gallery hopping in the coming days/weeks. 

HUGS (but don’t hug me til this flu is gone…). 

*I say the phrases “cancer journey” and “cancer train” tongue in cheek…  I recently bought a greeting card that says “I promise never to refer to your illness as a journey (unless someone takes you on a cruise)”.  I dislike that phrase “cancer journey” and feel it makes light of people’s real experiences with serious illness.  It is a euphemism.  If you feel the same way, you need to check out the greeting cards (and other merch) at Emily McDowell website here  .  Frickin’ brilliant I tell you.  

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