It all started out innocently enough with the words: "hey doc whaddya think of this thing on my nose?"
Doc: "Hmmmm....... don't like the look of that, I think we'd better get it checked out."
Queensland being the skin cancer capital of the world - doc was taking no chances. And. Thank. God. For. That!
A ten minute appointment and quick biopsy later and "intra-epidermal squamous skin cell carcinoma" was confirmed. (Not at first, you understand - oh no don't think anything, even something as serious as a cancer diagnosis could go that smoothly for yours truly. Unfortunately, when I called to get my biopsy results the not so bright young thing at the skin cancer clinic initially told me I had the all clear. My relief at "dodging the cancer bullet" was short lived when her older, wiser and slightly confused colleague called me the following Monday to see why I hadn't been in touch regarding my results - we were querying cancer after all...... Her silence as I explained how I had already got the good news from her colleague spoke volumes and told me, more than her words ever could, it wasn't good news at all....... Note to people under twenty-three: Someone phoning to see if they have cancer is not the same as phoning to make a hair appointment. It is kinda bloody serious! So please get off Facebook, put the mobile phone down for a minute, halt that twitter post and CHECK YOUR FACTS! Ok, rant over......)
Anyhoo, once we had cleared up the "have I or haven't I got cancer" issue, the lovely lady at the skin cancer clinic made an appointment to see the doc again. Skin cancer is so prevalent here that there are just walk-in clinics where you can go to see if that mole, lesion or itchy freckle is something other than a skin irritation. Dr. Heeby-Jeeby (not his real name but this is what I call him due to the acute case of the heebie-jeebies I get when I consider what I very nearly let this guy do to my face) assured me that we had caught this thing early enough. However, due to the fact it was at stage two in its development (there are four stages apparently) he advised the best course of action was to just cut the damn thing out and as luck would have it he could squeeze me in that day. Okaaaay, this was a little more action than I was expecting and I felt like the skin cancer bus was going a little too fast. I tentatively enquired as to how that would work. Tentatively, you understand, because I didn't want to give this guy any indication we were going ahead with his plan. A tiny voice in the back of my mind was shouting, "whoa!"
"Well, I will make an incision here," he said, pointing at the offending lesion, "then I will cut around here, and then because I will have to take away so much to make sure we get it all, I will make an incision up here," pointing to between my eyes, "where I will take a flap of skin to cover the site of the carcinoma."
It was the word "flap" that got me. What? "Er... what will that look like afterwords?" I asked.
"Oh, it won't look too good to begin with but the scars will fade in time and merge with the natural age lines of your face," he replied.
"Hmmmm......" I said, "I'm not sure...." I envisioned the surgical equivalent of hair- line fractures - only on the surface of my skin - healing up over time and eventually being almost indistinguishable from the erm "crinkles" (the Dude's word) already competing for space at the top of my nose and between my eyes.
"Here, let me show you," he offered as he turned to his computer, "this is a man I did practically the same procedure on a few months ago."
And before I could say, "oh that'd be nice," up popped the image of a man in his seventies and all thoughts of speech deserted me and the best I could manage was a strangled "oh." And the image wasn't nice at all!
Holy shit! Forget tidy little hairline type scars fading softly into the background - this guy would put Harry Potter to shame.
|Harry and the mark of Voldemort|
"Oh, I think I'm going to explore other options," I croaked. Dr. Heeby-Jeeby didn't look a bit impressed and I got the distinct impression he considered me an incredibly vain creature as he admonished, "as you wish but I wouldn't take too long if I were you."
With a feeling of doom hanging over me, I scuttled back home to the comfort of the internet and started researching treatment options for "intra-epidermal squamous skin cell carcinoma." Cream, laser and light therapy all featured but none had as high a non-return rate as surgery. Uh-oh, now what?
This is where serendipity intervened. As luck would have it The Dude has a little pal in his class whose mother just happens to work in a plastic surgery clinic. And as luck would further have it she just happened to be picking her little fella up from school that day and, spotting the post-biopsy dressing on my nose, kindly enquired as to what I had done. One explanation and horrified recounting of my "surgical option" later she patted me on the arm and assured me "that's not going to happen, you're going to see Dr. Alys Saylor."
"Oh, am I?" I squeaked.
|A Little Post-Biopsy Accessory|
And that is how, on a warm Tuesday morning in September, I found myself in a place I never, ever thought I would be - a plastic surgery clinic. And I was shocked - there wasn't a fake boob in sight, no botox babes, not even a trout pout. Frankly I was a little disappointed - there'd be no salacious dinner party material out of this visit. I was busy staring at the carpet (well there wasn't much else to look at) when a pair of perfectly shaped legs appeared before me. I heard my name being mentioned and looked up to see the lively eyes of Dr. Alys Saylor looking at me questioningly. "That's me," I admitted as she shook my hand and asked me to follow her to her office. I was slightly mesmerised. Doctors are rarely good adverts for their own services but Alys Saylor exudes health and vitality along with a no-nonsense professionalism that I was immediately impressed with. She already had my details from the skin cancer clinic and proceeded to tell me in no uncertain terms, "that thing's got roots like a tree, God only knows where it could spread to," that my best option was surgery. Note: If you don't like being told something straight up then never ask an Aussie. Thankfully, I like my info clear, concise and straight between the eyes. "Okaaaay," I drawled, "but does that mean I am going to look like Harry Potter afterwards?"
She looked shocked and laughed, I think a little nervously, I'm sure plastic surgeons are asked for all sorts of crazy looks, maybe she thought she had a HP nut on her hands and I WANTED to look like Harry Potter.
"Why would you think you will look like Harry Potter afterwards?" she asked.
I explained all about what Dr. Heeby-Jeeby had been selling.
"I can assure you, you will not look anything like Harry Potter after I'm finished with you," she laughed and proceeded to explain how I should be left with an almost indistinguishable scar that would run across the top of my nose. I thought about my two beautiful children and how being an older mum meant I couldn't play cancer roulette with my health. "When do we get rid of it?" I asked.
A few weeks later I was back and one of the nurses kindly injected what can only be described as super-anaesthetic into the area at the top of my nose. I swear I didn't feel a thing for hours! Dr. Alys asked me if everything was okay and then proceeded to do her thing. 97.3fm was pumping great music out over the sound system and Alys and the nurses chatted away. I closed my eyes. I knew instinctively I was in good hands. The only icky part was when she had to cauterise the wound and I realised the burning smell was that of my own flesh but I quickly pictured daisies and rainbows and all was okay again in my world. Fifteen minutes later and I was good to go. A few painkillers got me through the night and a week later I was back for a check-up and to get the results. For the first time in my life I had actually followed my doctor's advice and done everything she had advised to ensure as good a post-op outcome as possible. In this case it hadn't been too hard as she had said to do as little as possible! Dr. Alys was mega-impressed with my "efforts".
"Mmmmmm nice clean wound," she enthused, "it's looking good and oh by the way we got it all, you are cancer free."
The relief that washed through me at those words is hard to describe. Even I hadn't realised, until that point, how worried I had been.
"Whoopeeee!" I exclaimed, "I'm off to buy me a bottle of Bolly!"
I can tell you, those bubbles never tasted so good.
It's a few months later now and the scar has faded from an angry red to an almost unnoticeable line across the top of my nose. The international spotlight has fallen on skin cancer in recent months, mostly due to Hugh Jackman publicly acknowledging his diagnosis of Basal Skin Cell Carcinoma and the latest findings by cancer care and research organisations like McMillan in the UK, who recently confirmed: "Over the last thirty years the rate of malignant melanomas in Britain have risen faster than any of the top ten cancers in males or females."
|Hugh Jackman sporting his post-biopsy accessory|
1. When exposed to direct sunlight always, ALWAYS wear sunscreen. SPF 30 is advised as a minimum.
2. Wear a hat. Many skin cancers are located on the face.
3. Avoid direct sun exposure during the middle of the day.
If you have any sort of freckle, mole or crusty / angry looking pimple that won't go away then get yourself checked as soon as possible, the earlier the various forms of skin cancer are caught then the higher the potential there is for a positive outcome and there is less chance of you ending up looking like Harry Potter.