All I Needed was a Hole in My Head

Thursday, December 8, 2016

No, I’m not a walker. I don’t need that kind of hole in the head. But, actually, come to think of it, I should probably ask Carl Grimes if he’ll give me his hat!

This summer David and I visited my brother John in Michigan to escape the Republican Convention here in Cleveland. Wise choice. Not because things went wrong here but because it was a great visit during which I received sage advice.

I had never been to John's house since he built it a few years ago. It's very attractive, comfortable, smartly designed. efficient, and set in a beautiful tranquil location by a lake. I could see myself retiring there too but for the limited Internet in this remote area.

We talked of many things during our visit — when not discussing Trump and the convention. At one point John made a strong recommendation that at our age one should see a dermatologist annually. I had developed a bump on my face that I'd been considering getting checked, and this conversation motivated me to finally schedule an appointment. I saw a doctor about six weeks later.

The bump was indeed pre-cancerous but was easy handled with a zap of liquid nitrogen. It feels ever so slightly like a needle prick. I had about a half dozen others too. Zap, zap, zap...

Then he asked, "What about this bump?" as he turned up the light and examined the area by my right ear and sideburn with a huge magnifying glass.

"What bump?"

"This bump. Don't you feel it?"

"Nope."

Didn't have a clue. I never felt or saw anything there. I guess that's why he's the doctor and I'm not.

He said he needed to take a biopsy. He thought it might be a Basal Cell Carcinoma, but assured me these don't invade the body or shorten life. That was good news!

A week later I got the report. Indeed he called it right. I'm a winner! I wish the damn lottery was this easy. He referred me to another doctor who would perform Mohs Surgery on me. (That's good because I didn't want Larry or Curly.)

Mohs Surgery

Anyway I had the procedure done last week in the doctor's office as an out-patient. It was remarkably quick, easy and painless, and is actually quite interesting. First they numb you with local anesthetic. This is the only part of the procedure that was even mildly uncomfortable, with the emphasis on mild. Once my face was numb the doctor took a first cut at the tumor.

The idea with Mohs surgery is to cut small sections at a time so they don't remove any more healthy tissue than is absolutely necessary. They take a cut and then you wait about an hour while they examine it in the lab. They look to see if the edges are normal skin or if there is still some cancerous tissue.

If they find the edge is still cancerous they didn't get it all and you go back for another round. This continues as many times as necessary. David and I went to the cafeteria for coffee after my first round. When we came back we were told they got it all on the first try. Excellent!

I had David join me for the next part as they removed the bandage. "Wow!" was his first response. I agreed when I saw it: a round hole about the size of a dime and maybe about 1/16-inch deep. As Mohs wounds can go, I guess this was small because no major "reconstruction" was required. They numbed me up again and cut additional skin so they could draw the edges together without the skin bunching up. The doctor then sewed me up and I was on my way.

I went back today and got the stitches removed. Things look good, but it's still tender to the touch — and God forbid I absentmindedly scratch an itch!

I feel extremely fortunate and grateful that this first (and hopefully last) skirmish with skin cancer was so quickly and easily handled. No chemo or radiation is required. My face ached that night after the procedure as if someone has slugged me, and a few days later my jaw and teeth hurt for about 24 hours. And that's been it! I only took Tylenol the first day. There's been little swelling or bruising. I had a very skilled physician. It's been remarkable.

Now I just have to take care and protect myself from here on. They tell me I need to wear sunscreen always, everyday. Even in the car. And I need a brimmed hat. I've asked Santa for this because he's good at that sort of thing. I want to look stylish, you know. What I really want is a Sheriff Deputy's hat like Carl wears, with two tassels. Wouldn't that be cool?

Despite these precautions now, though, the damage that caused this tumor probably happened years ago, possibly decades ago. So even if you're young, don't think your sun exposure doesn't matter. It does. Be kind to your future self and take precautions.

Perspective

Finally, I'm making light and this really has been pretty easy to deal with — but cancer is cancer whether it's a brief skirmish or a more serious battle. It tends to put things into perspective. I escaped this time but now have to be checked every six months. I had a prostate cancer scare a few years ago and can tell you that it had a big impact on me.

Life is precious and can zip by before you even notice. Be grateful for every day. Let the people you love know how you feel. Don't sweat the small stuff, and live in the moment.

Now the pictures. They're tiny so you don't have to actually see them unless you want to. If you do, click to view.

© 2016 Robert C. Laycock

Just Sayin'

A Blog by

Bob Laycock

Typewriter courtesy of Alan Seaver

Screenshot from The Walking Dead

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