#309 In which our hero catches you up on something that might have been life-altering, but wasn’t so much.
Under the heading of “stuff that happened while I was in blogger radio silence” there’s this:
I had cancer.
There was a persistent sore on the side of my nose that didn’t seem to want to heal completely. It wasn’t a horrible weeping mess or anything, just a spot that was sometimes just a little dry, and sometimes opened up. At first I assumed one of the girls scratched me there while we were wrestling, and that maybe I kept knocking the scab off of it.
If finally concerned me enough that I went to my family doctor and asked. Specifically, I asked if he thought it was skin cancer.
He thought it was a patch of dry skin. He suggested I try applying lotion to it a couple times a day and see if it cleared up in a week or so. He said that if it didn’t, then maybe I should see a specialist.
So I lubed up my nose with lotion in the morning and right before bed for about two weeks running. It didn’t seem to help. So I went to a dermatologist.
Now, I should mention something about my family’s history with cancer: we have a lot of it. My father died of pancreatic cancer, one aunt died of a brain tumor, one uncle died of colon cancer, my mom had a lump removed from her breast. Given all that family history, I thought I would be more worried about the diagnosis than I was.
The dermatologist walked into the room, took one look at the spot on my nose and said, “Oh yeah, that looks like a basal cell carcinoma.”
I was a little pissed at my family doctor for not being so quick on the uptake… I mean, it took this guy literally seconds to diagnose me, while my family doctor had me slathering on useless lotion of a week.
But, since I had already combed the internet for information, I can’t say it was much of a surprise. I had seen photos of basal cell carcinomas and they looked a whole lot like what was currently living on my face.
The doctor told me all about how basal cell is the most common of cancers, and that it has a dramatically high cure rate. Especially with the way he was going to treat it, which was with the Mohs procedure. Ninety-nine percent cure rate? I’m in!
So I made the appointment and all that. He said it should take about an hour, give or take. I’d be awake the whole time, albeit heavily numbed up in the nosal area.
Mohs surgery is pretty interesting. If you didn’t read the Wikipedia link above, you basically cut out a small cup of flesh around the area, freeze it, then look at it through a microscope. If the edges are cancer-free, then you’re done. If there is any left on the perimeter, you cut out a little more and repeat until you can’t see any more cancer.
When the doctor was explaining it to me, he said that he makes a small incision, and that I’d go home with “maybe 3-4 sutures.” Since it was going to be so much not a big deal, I didn’t even bother with taking off work. I figured I’d just go in with a Band-Aide over my nose.
The nurse scrubbed my nose thoroughly, then the doctor came in and started cutting. I couldn’t feel anything, or course, but there was a sensation of pressure. The worst thing of all was the electric cauterizer (they had to ground me by attaching a wire to my leg… otherwise there’s the risk that something might catch fire—comforting thought). Cuts to the face bleed like crazy, like everyone knows, so he was constantly in there zapping some little blood vessel. It made a disconcerting spark noise, and stunk terribly. Ugh.
So it took him maybe 45 minutes to cut away some of my flesh. They wrapped up my nose, and I just sorta hung out while waiting for the lab report. Forty-five minutes later he came back in, saying that they hadn’t gotten it all. So he cut on me for a big more. Then more waiting. This time the report came back clear.
He explained how he had to cut away more skin than just a little circle around the cancer… not because the cancer had spread, but to make the incision lay flat and heal correctly. I took a quick cell phone photo of my face before he started sewing me up. It was an alarmingly large hole. “Eh, it’s no record-breaker,” my doctor said.
Record-breaker or not, it took 23 stitches to close me up. A far fucking cry from the “three or four” he promised.
So, as it turns out, The Scientist worked in the same building in which I was having this surgery. So she left the lab for a bit to check on me. I had just had the last suture put in when she came into the surgery suite.
I had an incision that went from roughly the top of my nose to the bottom of one nostril. It was pretty impressive looking, if I do say so myself.
Now, my wife really isn’t good with blood and guts sort of stuff. And she, like I, had been expecting just a couple stitches. She took one look at me and got light-headed. Then she fled the room.
I wasn’t allowed to leave yet, but I heard the nurses trying to calm her down in the hallway, and one came back into the room for a cold compress. I knew exactly what was happening. “Look,” I told the nurse who was bandaging my nose. “You need to know that my wife may faint, and if she faints she’s going to have a seizure. This is what she does.”
I finally was allowed to leave, and I found my wife, laying on her back in the hallway. She hadn’t had a seizure (thank God) but she was still lightheaded and generally in not a good way. She had her feet elevated on a chair, a cold, wet towel on her head, and a nurse sitting with her patting her hand.
“Good Lord,” I said. “I’m the one who just had surgery.”
I got the nurse to get me a wheelchair, and we wheeled her back down into the lab where she worked. She had more or less recovered by this time. People took one look at me and the stupidly big dressing they had put on my face then tired to figure out why I was the one pushing a seemingly intact woman in a wheelchair.
So, anyway, my face has healed up remarkably well. Everyone said this dermatologist was one of the best, and I believe it. You really can’t see the scar at all, unless you get really close and are looking for it. A year later I still have a little numbness in the area, but that is to be expected, I’m told. After the first night there was never really any pain, and I have a bottle of leftover Vicodin to prove it.
All in all, I find that I’m really unconcerned about this cancer scare. My doctor told me, “If you’re going to get cancer, this is the kind to get.” I feel like, on some level, I should be losing my shit, given my family history.
But I’m not.