Sunday, May 26, 2013

Most decidedly not sparkly, but very important nonetheless

So, it has been quite a while since I've posted on this blog.  Lots of new things to mention, but I will save those for another day.  Today I am writing about something that is most decidedly very much not sparkly but it is important and could be life saving.

You probably don't know what month May is.  I didn't.  May is skin cancer awareness month.  Not generally a thing that I would really even think about let alone write about on a blog about my love for all things Sparkly.  But, clearly I am writing about it on a blog about my love for all things sparkly.  Why, you might wonder?

A while ago, I noticed a small blemish on my forehead near my hairline.  I thought it looked kind of strange, but didn't really think much more of it.  In time the little dark spot went away, and I continued on with my day to day life.  I can't even really remember how long ago that was - my best guess is that it was sometime about a year ago.

A lot has changed for me since last year.  I moved, I changed jobs, I changed medical insurance, and much much more (you can read about this in my next blogs).  If any of you have ever changed medical insurance, you know that it is challenging to find new doctors, get prescriptions re-written, and figure out your way with the new providers and insurance.  While I was getting up to speed with everything, I thought it might be a good idea to make an appointment with a dermatologist first to get a new prescription for something I use, and second to have him check me over for any suspicious moles.  A few years ago, I had a "skin check" with my old doctor and she found a suspicious mole on my back that wasn't quite cancer, but also wasn't normal, so she cut it out of my back.  Not fun, but not a big deal either.  Better to get "not normal" out of me before it became something bad.

So, sitting in the room with the new dermatologist, he asked if there was anything that was bothering me or concerning me.  I pointed to the spot on my forehead and said my over-exaggerated fear was that it was skin cancer that was invading my brain and that I was fearful I would die of brain cancer.  I don't really think I am going to die of brain cancer, but I honestly was concerned that it was something bad.  I don't know why I thought that or had that feeling, but I did.  The doctor pulled out this little lighted-up magnifying tool and looked at my forehead and after about two seconds, he said, "well, yes, that looks like basal cell carcinoma."  Say what?  Yes, basal cell carcinoma - skin cancer.  Yes, SKIN CANCER.  On me.  Skin cancer on my head.

Apparently basal cell carcinoma is the "good" kind of skin cancer to have because it doesn't really spread (thankfully, no brain cancer for me), and it really won't kill you.  But it is still skin cancer.  CANCER.  Oh boy, no bueno.

The doctor finished his check of the rest of me and said that he'd like me to come back in for a biopsy of the spot on my head to definitively diagnose what it is and then figure out how to take care of it.  So, two days later I marched back into his office (along with guy by my side) to have my head sliced open.  He numbed my head with a local anesthetic and then took a little chunk, slapped on a band-aid and sent us on our merry way.  About a week later he emailed me to tell me that his suspicion was correct, I had a basal cell carcinoma and that I needed to go for a consultation with a surgeon to devise a plan to take care of it.

So, the next day I called and had an appointment for a group consultation the following week.

So, according to, basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is, "usually caused by a combination of cumulative UV exposure and intense, occasional UV exposure, BCC can be highly disfiguring if allowed to grow, but almost never spreads (metastasizes) beyond the original tumor site. Only in exceedingly rare cases can BCC spread to other parts of the body and become life-threatening."

The surgeon I was going to see performs a surgery called Mohs.  Mohs surgery is less invasive than regular excision of skin cancer in that the surgeon takes only a small slice of skin to begin with and then tests it to see if there is any cancer remaining.  If there is, they go back in and take another small slice and test that slice.  If there is any cancer remaining, they go back in again.  This is repeated until all of the cancer is removed.  It is more precise and used often in places where you can't just excise the bad area plus a little extra - like places on the face or ears.

After my consultation on Wednesday, I was able to get in for surgery the following day.  So, Thursday morning my guy & I march into the office to get this show on the road.  I wasn't (and still am not) happy about having skin cancer, having to have my head sliced open, and dealing with a scar on my face.  The surgery started by getting me numbed up and cleaned up.  She took a slice, taped up my head and sent me to the waiting room.  We waited for about 2 hours and found out that I had to go back in for at least one other slice.  So, I go back in for round 2, get numbed and she took another slice, taped up my head and sent me back to the waiting room.

About 30 minutes later the nurse told me I was clear and don't need another slice.  She took us back into the procedure room and got me ready for the repair of my head.  The doctor came in, and showed me the hole in my head.  Literally there was a HOLE IN MY HEAD!  It was much larger than I thought it would be, and actually not quite as gross as I thought it would be.  She thought the best repair would be to turn the hole into a line which would eventually blend in with the other lines on my forehead.  So, that's what she did.

I got numbed back up (3rd time) and she started stitching up the hole with a ton of internal stitches and then a good number of external stitches.  She taped up my head and sent me home.

The next 48 hours weren't the greatest.  Pain, throbbing, swelling.  Drugs and ice helped some with that, but not with the tightness in my forehead.  It has been 3 days now since the surgery and things aren't quite as painful, but my head is still throbbing, it is still swollen, and it still feels extremely tight.  She had to close a big hole and pull the skin together, so of course it is tight.  There is a spot right at my hair line that I can't feel - it is so strange.  It is uncomfortable to make pretty much any facial expression because they all pull on my forehead.

But, hey, the skin cancer is gone.  That's the good news.  Hopefully it won't come back.

Basal cell carcinoma is one of the most frequently occurring form of all cancers.  According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, there are an "estimated 2.8 million cases of BCC diagnosed in the US each year."  That is a lot of skin cancer.

I grew up in southern California and used to lay out using baby oil to get tan.  I loved being tan and being in the sun.  Sunscreen was not something I used regularly.  It is awesome to be tan.  I love it.  But it comes at a price.  Since moving to northern California, I'm much more careful about sun exposure.  I wear sunscreen when I am outside for longer periods.  I wear hats.  I try to be in the shade.  I wear sunglasses with UVA/UVB protection.

The moral(s) of this story:
  • wear sunscreen - sun protection is very important
  • if you notice something strange on your body, don't delay, have it checked out NOW!
  • get regular (yearly, at least) skin checks with your dermatologist
Skin cancer is not a joke.  It can affect EVERYONE, even people with darker skin.

Very not sparkly.  Very important.   Check yourself before you wreck yourself!