(Written on 6-21-21)
In my blog post on April 19th, I wrote about my anxiety about an
upcoming appointment with a dermatologist to check a cluster of bumps on the
bridge of my nose.
I finally gathered the courage to see the doctor on April
26th. By then, the bumps I’d been so concerned about practically had disappeared,
so I nearly canceled the appointment. But the woman I’d talked to when I booked it suggested I also have a full-body skin-check done while I was
there, just to get a baseline map of all of my current moles and spots,
especially any “iffy” ones. So I thought that sounded like a good idea.
To be honest, the doctor didn’t make me feel very comfortable.
He informed me I couldn’t speak to him unless I was wearing my mask, yet the
first thing he did was tell me to remove it so he could check my nose and face.
I showed him the cluster of bumps I was concerned about and he said, “Oh,
that’s nothing…a benign keratosis.”
I breathed a long sigh of relief, thinking all of my
worrying had been for naught. Then in the next breath, he said, with all the expression of someone reading a grocery list, “But that bump on the side of your
nose is cancer. Now let’s look at your neck.”
I said, “Whoa! Wait
a minute – let’s get back to the cancer!”
To which he snapped, “Don’t speak to me without your mask!”
He then said, “It’s a basal-cell carcinoma, one of the least
serious forms of skin cancer. It’s not a big problem. Have you heard of Mohs
When I get nervous, I joke.
So I blurted out, “Mohs surgery?
What happened to Curly and Larry?”
He took a biopsy at that point, slicing off the bump and
sending it to the lab. He said I’d know the results in a few days.
During those “few days,” which lasted about 120 years, I managed to convince myself the doctor was wrong. The tiny flesh-colored bump on the
side of my nose never had bothered me or changed in color or size, and I’d had
it for years. It was just an old-age bump, I told myself. Lots of elderly
people have bumps on their faces. And I’m elderly.
In the meantime, I made the mistake of looking up “Mohs
surgery on the nose” on Google. I was pretty sure the Marquis de Sade had
gathered the photos for the images. Frankenstein’s monster had fewer stitches
than most of those poor people in them. And every person’s story about his or her
Mohs surgery was like reading something out of a Stephen King novel. It seemed as if they were trying to outdo each other in gore category.
“I had just a tiny bump the size of poppy seed,” one person
wrote, “and now I’m missing half my nose. I had to have a flap of skin cut from
my cheek and pulled over my nose, and the other day I yawned and tore apart my
The stories got only worse after that one – everything from post-surgical skin turning black and falling off to pain so intense even the world’s
strongest painkillers couldn’t take the edge off it.
So when a woman from the doctor’s office called and actually yawned when she told me my biopsy had come back positive for
cancer, my first thought was she must make a heck a lot of these calls. My second thought was I was glad I could wear a mask in public without
anyone thinking I was weird...because I could conceal my future hideousness.
The Mohs surgery was set for June 17th. Six long weeks to wait. That was because the
Mohs specialist who was going to do the honors was associated with a bunch of
hospitals in the state and was in certain areas only at certain times of the
The Mohs information packet I received from the surgeon made
me start to think for the first time that removing my little bump was going to
be a much bigger deal than I’d originally anticipated, even after reading all of the
previous horror stories. It said the surgery could take from two hours to as
many as nine, depending on how many layers of skin would have to be removed. It
said I’d have one layer removed then have to wait for the lab results. If
cancer cells still remained, another layer would be taken and more waiting for the lab results. This would go
on for as many layers as it took until the results came back cancer-free.
Best-case scenario would be one layer, a stitch and a Band-Aid. Worst case would
be about five layers and reconstructive surgery.
It also said I’d have to take five days off from work
afterwards and get a lot of rest, with no heavy lifting, bending, stress or exercise. And I’d also probably have swelling and bruising and at least one
black eye. I was given a list of things I might need for my wound care
afterwards: petroleum jelly, cotton swabs, gauze, bandages, organic soap,
Tylenol, dry shampoo and more.
Call me a pessimist, but "the least serious form of skin cancer," was beginning to sound pretty serious to me.
The six weeks leading up my surgery crawled by. Living alone made everything seem
worse because I had way too much time to sit around and worry.
So I decided I needed a
diversion and threw myself into writing another novel. By the time my surgery day arrived, I’d written 86,000 words. That book was the only thing that
kept me sane because it was an escape from reality
into an alternate world I created myself. And while I was working on it, I
wasn’t able to think of things like “How much of my nose is going to be left after my
My friend Nancy had planned to drive me to my surgery and
then sit with me during the waiting periods for the lab results, but because of
Covid, I was informed she would have to wait out in the car. Not wanting to
subject my poor friend to sitting in a parking lot for hours, I decided I’d be
brave and go through it all by myself.
Surprisingly, I’d been more nervous for the first visit than
I was for the surgery. By then, I just wanted to get it over and done with. If
the surgeon had shown up with a set of garden tools, I think I still would have told
him to go ahead with it, just to get it over with.
Fortunately, I liked him. Unlike the first doctor, this guy
was cheerful and had a good sense of humor. He also allowed me to talk to him
while I was maskless, which was the entire visit, seeing he was working on my
His assistant, Chris, did all of the dirty work – injecting
the local anesthesia, cauterizing the wound, cleaning up the blood and then
bandaging. The first injections weren’t bad. A bit of a
burning sensation and then numbness. I didn’t feel anything during the removal
of the first layer of skin.
Not even fifteen minutes later, the results were back. I was told there
still were cancer cells – so on to the next layer, wider and deeper.
More local anesthesia was given – this time in an area with an open wound, so
it was a little less comfortable. But after that, I didn’t feel the taking of
layer number two.
I joked with the surgeon, “Keep going and I’ll be able to
wear a nose ring.”
He said, “Do you really want one?”
I had to laugh, picturing myself looking like Ferdinand the
Before I knew it, I was given the “all clear, no more
The surgeon then told me I had two options: I could let the
wound heal on its own and he’d pack it with some kind of dissolving gelatin
filler. But, he said, it would leave a scar. Or, I could have a graft taken
from my ear to cover the hole in my nose.
“Will the scar be able to be concealed with makeup?” I asked
He said yes, that it would be a flat scar. That ended that. I
was done with needles and carving. I opted for the filler. So something called
Surgifoam (a.k.a. gelatin made from pigs) was put on my nose and then it was
bandaged with a pressure bandage that I was told not to touch or get wet. An
appointment was made to have the bandage removed in four days.
|TWO HOURS AFTER SURGERY|
I really was curious to find out what was lurking under
that bandage, believe me. After seeing all of the scary photos online, I was expecting
to be able to land a role in the TV series The Walking Dead as one of
the zombies with its body parts dropping off.
As far as the surgery’s after-effects went, I didn’t have
any pain or visible swelling, and no black eyes. Only two things bothered me,
neither of which I’d read about during my hours of Mohs research online. First
of all, the nostril on that side started to run – like turning on a faucet. I
wasn’t allowed to blow my nose or even touch it, so I had a runny, drippy nose
for two days. I could have hung a bucket under it, it was so bad.
Also, my wound had to be cauterized several times during the
surgery and the smell of my burnt flesh was similar to that of a badly overcooked steak. When my nose was bandaged,
that odor was trapped in there, so all I could smell was burnt steak. Everything
I ate tasted like it because I couldn’t smell the actual food I was eating.
Luckily, both problems disappeared in about 48 hours.
Today I had the pressure bandage removed and was told
everything was looking good. I still wasn’t shown what the wound looked like but I was shown a diagram of the tumor that had been beneath the skin - kind of like a kidney shape. I learned that even though skin cancer might look like a tiny dot on the surface, it can be similar to that small rock you try to dig up out in your garden, only to discover it's actually a boulder beneath the ground. Also, you don't have to be a sun worshipper to get skin cancer. I'm proof of that - I'm nocturnal. But if you have arsenic in your well-water, which I do, it is another leading cause of skin cancer. I do have a purification system for my water, but it broke last year, and thanks to the pandemic, I still haven't been able to afford to get it repaired.
Surgifoam was added to my wound, and another bandage was put over it. I then was told to come
back in two days for another bandage change.
I’m pretty sure they don’t realize it’s about a 36-mile
round trip for me every time they change my bandage.
Speaking of which, after the new bandage was put on today, I
ran several errands while wearing a mask in 92-degree heat. Beneath the mask, I
could feel the sweat pooling up all around my nose. I kept thinking, “Noooo! I’m not supposed to get the bandage wet! I
haven’t even dared take a shower since my surgery because of it!”
Sure enough, an hour ago, just as I was leaning over my dog's bed, about
to put a new lightweight blanket on it, the entire bandage, complete with a chunk
of the Surgifoam, fell off my face and landed right in a clump of dog fur.
Um…I think I might be in trouble...
After a lot of searching, I found a single gauze pad and some tape under the bathroom sink and re-taped my wound. When I did, however, I made it a little long, so it was hanging down to my lip. But I had an appointment at the dermatologist's scheduled for today for another bandage change, so I figured it was good enough to last till then, and at least my wound was covered and not being exposed to germs and bacteria.
Well, last night I was eating soup and I got some of it on
the bottom edge of my bandage. I was so embarrassed, thinking the doctor would think
I was a slob when I went back today, I tried to cut that edge off the gauze. It looked better, but still there was a little soup remaining along the border.
Today, I went to have the bandage changed and the
physician’s assistant removed it and pointed out the stain right away. She then
started with, “There’s no need to be concerned about a little rust-colored
discharge, it’s usually just…"(and she used some medical
terminology). But by then, I was
laughing so hard, I wasn’t even listening!
The poor woman stared at me as if to say, “What on earth is
her problem? I’m being completely serious here!”
I finally managed to say, “That’s tomato soup! I was hoping
you wouldn’t notice!”
She started laughing and we both ended up cracking up for a
solid couple of minutes. When I was leaving, she handed me some packets of
gauze pads and said, “In case you decide to eat soup again!”
Anyway, the good news is she said my wound is looking great and healing nicely, and I finally can sleep on my right side again! Thank goodness! It was torture having to
sleep only my left!
# # #
Sally Breslin is an award-winning syndicated humor columnist
who has written regularly for newspapers and magazines all of her adult life.
She is the author of several novels in a variety of genres, from humor and
romance to science-fiction.
Contact her at: email@example.com.
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