I Have Skin Cancer, Now What?
I have skin cancer. Well, I HAD skin cancer, but now it is gone. A Mohs surgeon dug a giant hole to remove the skin cancer from the side of my face. As I recover from the surgery, I cannot help but reflect on the scary fact I spent over nine months ignoring Basal Cell Carcinoma on my face.
WARNING: There are graphic photos of skin cancer in this post.
There are certain types of people at high risk for skin cancer and I’m one of them. I have light skin that burns easily, lots of freckles, and green eyes. One way to detect skin cancer early is to visit a dermatologist for a skin cancer screening. Unfortunately I skipped last year while my doctor was out on maternity leave even though I had a strange spot on my cheek by my ear.
What does skin cancer look like?
Skin cancer doesn’t look one way — it can present itself in too many ways to count. There are also multiples types of skin cancer only a doctor or biopsy can diagnose. For me — my skin cancer started as a very small skin colored bump. I thought it was a pimple, but the pimple wouldn’t pop.
Within a month, I watched as multiple small bumps formed in a shiny circle around a flat center. At no point did I think this could be skin cancer.
How do you not know you have skin cancer?
During a routine visit to my aesthetician for a facial she mentioned the spot could be a group of clogged pores. She attempted an extraction, but nothing would come out. She advised I see a dermatologist instead of aggravating the area. I was seeing a plastic surgeon for Botox and thought I’d ask his opinion the following month, but picked at the spot anyways. When I squeezed the bumps, they expressed oil and then bled. I left the spot alone, but the area formed a scab.
Before the spot turned into a scab it looked EXACTLY like the Google search image for Basal Cell Carcinoma.
A month later I showed my plastic surgeon the area at my Botox appointment. He predicted the spot to be an aggravated cyst, but said, “It’s too angry to touch.” He would be able to remove it once I gave the area three months to heal. This is what it looked like:
Within a few weeks I was in bed with Covid-19 and forgot about the scabbed over spot. The only time I remembered it was there was when it would bleed if I slept on the right side of my face.
Once I was healed from Covid and realized the spot on my face wasn’t healing I finally called a doctor. If you’re wondering what took me so long to seek medical advice — I have something called health anxiety. It’s not excuse, but it’s why I was so negligent of the spot.
I am very lucky to have a friend who owns a Dermatology Center in our town. As previously mentioned, she was out on maternity during the beginning of my skin problems. I was able to get an appointment quickly after I had my antibody test.
My appointment would not be until after I went on vacation though. I tried to keep my spot covered, but you can see it below in one of our family photos. The reddish brown spot by my ears — that’s skin cancer.
I arrived at my appointment extremely anxious since I hate anything to do with local anesthesia. It’s necessary to numb the area for the biopsy though. My friend took one look at the spot and predicted it was Basal Cell Carcinoma. Truthfully I had no idea what that meant beside the fact that I could have skin cancer.
The numbing process is rather uncomfortable. First there is a prick of the needle and then burning sensation with the injection of the anesthetic. I know plenty of people who say this isn’t painful, but I’m a big baby. While the anesthesia set in my friend explained she would remove the scabbed area with a tiny blade first. Then she would obtain a sample of the spot by scraping away at the area until she had enough to send to the lab.
The appointment was quick. I stayed for awhile afterwards to ask my dermatologist about the next steps if the biopsy showed skin cancer. My friend said there are two options. The first option removes the top layer of skin and burns the cancer with an electric needle. This is called a C and E treatment and is best for small basal cell carcinomas.
The second option is Mohs Surgery. This may be recommended if your basal cell carcinoma has a higher risk of recurring. Mohs Surgery is recommended if the BCC is larger, extends deeper in the skin or is located on your face.
My biopsy results came back in less than two weeks — positive for Basal Cell Carcinoma. My initial reaction was to cry — not because I have cancer, but because I ignored the spot for so long. I immediately decided to schedule a Mohs Surgery due to the size and location of the cancer.
Basal Cell Carcinoma is the most common form of cancer and is usually easily treatable. This cancer is most often found in areas exposed to the sun, such as the head, neck, and arms. The common consensus from my Dermatologist and Surgeon is that I most likely caused this cancer myself — from a tanning bed.
What I Know about Basal Cell Carcinoma
I’m not an expert in Basal Cell Carcinoma, but I’m learning details about the skin cancer quickly. There is no sure way to prevent BCC because some risk factors cannot be controlled — age, family history, etc. However there are some things you can do to lower the risk.
- Limit your exposure to UV rays.
- Avoid tanning beds and sun lamps.
- Wear sunscreen on your face daily and cover your body with sun protective clothing if you’re going to be in the sun.
- Check your skin regularly.
- Visit the dermatologist once a year for a full body scan — Watch a video of me getting one here.
While I currently recover from an invasive Mohs Surgery, I am taking photos of the wound and how it heals. I will share the details of my surgery and recovery in another post. In the meantime, schedule yourself a skin cancer screening. Don’t ignore your skin!