Monday, September 14, 2015

Skin Cancer...Seriously

Yep. Just had to rev up an already busy time of life.

During the last few weeks of my employment prior to our time of transition mentioned in previous posts, I took advantage of a free skin cancer screening being offered at my employing hospital's cancer treatment partner clinic.

Why, you ask?

Well, no, I had not recently noticed anything suspicious I wanted to have assessed. No, I had BEEN having a spot for nearly 15 years that I knew NEEDED to be assessed. (Pics at the bottom of this post)

Why did I wait so long, you ask?

No good reason. Truly. I guess the old cliche' that "Nurses are the worst patients" is partially true in my case.

Long story kinda short... 

Way back in my college days when I frequented tanning salons, I noticed almost immediately after one tanning session that I had a strange, small, black sore on my mid-upper chest. It was about the diameter of a pencil eraser. It scabbed over with a black scab but had a strange burning sensation that went well below the surface. I took months to fully "heal" though it never fully went away. It basically eventually turned into what looked like a scar. However, that spot on occasion would become more pronounced than at other times. I did quit using tanning beds very soon after I noticed this new "friend."

A couple of years ago during a beach vacation, this formerly scar-looking spot actually opened back up with a small scab in the center that easily bled then scabbed over off and on again. Once again, I should have had it assessed then...but never did.

Finally, during this year's skin cancer screening I went and had it checked. Crazily, at the time of this long-overdue assessment, it was actually nearly unnoticeable for the first time in years. Almost immediately, however, when I walked into the screening dermatologist's exam room he spotted it and said I definitely needed to see a dermatologist for a biopsy.

Fast forward...

I found a derm on my insurance plan, had a shave biopsy done during a lunch break from work, waited over a week for results which still did not come. I called to schedule a surgery to be done during the last week of my employment just in case it was needed since he had verbally told me he was certain it would need to come out regardless of results. Time on the job, and in town for that matter, was ticking away for me and I could no longer wait on results to schedule the surgical excision (removal) of this spot.

The day I came for surgery (during a work day, since this was to be a quick procedure) the dermatologist (who was wonderful and had wonderful staff) told me he had JUST received results the day before and that the results were not definitive (in other words, the pathologist was not able to certainly diagnose my situation). He had even re-routed the specimen to a specialist who then ran every possible test on them that he could and still could not definitively diagnose my specimen.

All-in-all, my dermatologist said that I definitely had Basal Cell Carcinoma (skin cancer, but very treatable and not one that spreads)...however, there was a possibility that I also had melanoma mixed with it (very bad skin cancer that does spread elsewhere). Either way, he said he was going to err on the side of caution and remove more than he would have if it was just Basal Cell. He also was going to send the tissue he removed for more testing to see if they could get a definitive diagnosis with it.

Sooo, during the last Wednesday I lived and worked down in South Louisiana, I had minor in-office surgery to remove this spot. All went well. It took several days to get the final results back from the biopsy of the specimen removed in surgery, but they came back as only Basal Cell after all and clear margins (he got everything, in other words). (Please do not worry for me. This was really a very very easy situation compared to what so many other people face daily with regards to cancer and many other debilitating conditions. I just want this to be a warning to all of you that this or worse could happen to you or someone else you know.)

That all being said, I now have a much larger scar than the initial "scar" that I had learned to live with. That is okay though. Another lesson in humility. ;)

Now, for the whole point of sharing this with you...


Seriously, my dermatologist said that the UV rays from tanning beds are NOT the same as getting the sun's UV rays at a much more concentrated amount. They are MUCH WORSE and you have a VERY HIGH CHANCE of getting MELANOMA SKIN CANCER!!!

Sorry to yell, but I care about y'all! :)

Now, like any good, crazy nurse would do...
I documented some of the procedure with pics for you. 
No, not the actual procedure, but the before & after as well as, of course, the room setup!

My "friend" before the procedure...seriously...very small.
If you can read this, it is my initial biopsy resullts from the specialist.

My bandage after the procedure

A few days later...notice the bruising

After I removed the bandage on the day I was told to. Had to start using petroleum jelly and bandaids or other bandages as directed by the doctor after removing his waterproof bandage.
One last look before suture removal

And now the stitches are out!

Yes, of course I removed them myself.
No, really, I almost got a nurse or doctor friend to do it, but instead, I spent my Independence Day evening home somewhat alone (with the baby in bed) removing my own stitches. Yes, I have removed hundreds of stitches (and staples) in my past life as a trauma/surgical ICU nurse. Never my own, though. Was a strange sensation, but not bad. Much better than the unexpectedly odd sensation when the doctor was actually putting the sutures in. 

And in case you are wondering, the redness is the beginning of a horrible reaction I had to the tegaderm (clear, waterproof) dressings I was using. I finally just had to stop using a dressing (against my doctor's advice). Never knew I was one of "those patients" who has a strong sensitivity to some bandages. It was no fun. Burned like the dickens...whatever the dickens is. Felt like they were eating through my skin like acid. Blistered and everything. Not fun at all. 

So there you have it! 
My PSA for the day (no, not the Prostate PSA...the Public Service Announcement PSA). 
Please, avoid potential danger and at the very least discomfort and scarring. 


And until next time...Carry on... 

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