I consider myself a pretty healthy person — I do my best to eat right and exercise. My body is my temple and I try to treat it that way. So I was surprised when I got a phone call from my dermatologist telling me I had skin cancer. As far as I know, there is not much I could have done to keep from getting skin cancer other than stay out of the sun or protect my skin with sunscreen, so, having a healthy lifestyle, really didn’t help me in this case.
Around the spring of 2017, I noticed a spot on the top of my nose. It was very small and I really didn’t think much about it other than I had noticed it was there. I really didn’t want to go to the doctor because I was leaving my job (and therefore my health insurance) so I let it go and tried to forget it was there. After this whole ordeal, I was curious as to how far back this may have been on my nose without me really noticing it. As a teacher, they always took our pictures at the beginning of each school year. I went back to these pictures and discovered that the spot appeared as early as August 2013. So, it was sneaky. I didn’t truly take notice of it until about 4 years later, in 2017.
May 2017 — when it started to bother me and I knew something was up
July 2019 — getting dark — time to think about calling the skin doctor
As the months and years went on, it was getting darker but stayed about the same size. Make-up really didn’t help cover it up either. I tried several essential oils, as well as a dark spot serum but nothing really worked to make it go away. I continued to shrug it off and do nothing but I knew I would have to address it at some point. I went for about a year without any health insurance after I quit my teaching job, so there was no way I was going to do anything about it then. In January 2019 I decided to break down and get health insurance. Even then, it took me until September to decide to call a dermatologist. It was difficult making the appointment because then you have to admit that something might be wrong. It was real — that it wasn’t just a freckle that just decided to harmlessly appear.
On the day of my appointment, I was given two options: (1) do nothing and continue to monitor it or (2) take a biopsy and see what was going on. Having a sharp blade sheer off a piece of skin on my nose was not something I was looking forward to, but I decided to go head with the biopsy. I was ready to face this head on. The biopsy was actually pretty painless (other than the needle they used to numb my nose). It was done in a matter of seconds and then it was sent off to the lab. It was quick and easy and I left with just a small band-aid. It was a couple weeks later that I got the phone call telling me it was cancer — basil cell carcinoma — the good kind! Yay! At least it wasn’t melanoma.
They told me I would need to schedule an appointment for a Mohs surgery and that I should plan to be there up to 5 hours. The nurse also said it was very effective in getting all the cancer. They would numb my nose and take small slices of skin to look at it under the microscope. If they didn’t get it all, then they would take another slice and look again until they got it all. I dreaded this day, but had no idea what was really in store for me.
Day of surgery
On the day of the surgery I was nervous, of course. The absolute worst part was getting the needle put into my nose to numb it. After that I couldn’t even tell what they were doing. The procedure was quick — maybe 10 minutes. After the first sample was taken, I waited in the waiting room for about an hour with a huge bandage on my nose. I heard my name and they called me in to tell me they needed to take another slice of my nose. Great! More needles and slicing, but I was still pretty numb so it was not as bad the second time. Another hour went by and when I was called back I was told that they were going to do one more slice and then stitch me up because they were sure that would get the remainder with the last slice. So, one final slice and then they stitched me up.
Getting the stitches in my nose was not fun either. I got both internal and external stitches. The feeling of having someone tug on my nose and sewing it up when it’s numb is about one of the most uncomfortable feelings I have ever had. The doctor told me that he had to make the incision bigger and in the shape of a football. Apparently mine was circular at first. This allowed the skin to come together without buckling and making a bump as it healed. Good in the long run, but worrisome because now the incision was even longer. And of course, I couldn’t see anything at this point, so my imagination was running wild.
Before leaving with my monster bandage on, I asked the nurse what would have happened if I had just let this go. She told me eventually the tumor would have eaten away at my nose. Maybe this procedure wasn’t so bad after all! Upon leaving, I saw the last slice they had taken out of my nose — I actually saw a piece of my nose laying on the tray in the doctor’s office! OMG it was huge! Was there even anything left of my nose? I had no idea what it looked like under the bandage and I really didn’t want to know.
Right after surgery
Driving home I was a wreck, but I decided to stop on my way home and pick up a natural treatment for swelling and pain called Arinca. The nurse had recommended it. I think it really helped.
I had no idea that this procedure would be so different from the biopsy. To say I was unprepared for this surgery is an understatement. I kept thinking, “What had I done?” I had planned to work that evening. Right! I had a HUGE bandage on my nose and I was in a lot of pain. The next day was about the same. So I holed up in my house as best as I could and tried not to think this was the end of the world.
After 24 hours I was told to take the bandage off, wash it, put Vaseline on it, and cover it was a bandage or two. While having this huge bandage on my nose was not pleasant, finding out what was underneath it was not something I was looking forward to. What I found was pretty alarming. It appeared that I would be disfigured for the rest of my life. The stitches made it look worse of course. Both touching it and looking at it really grossed me out.
Day 2 — big bandage off, little bandage on. You can still see the stitches on the tip of my nose. Twice each day, I washed, patted dry with clean gauze, applied Vasoline, and bandaged my nose.
Day 3 — all exposed and REALLY ugly
Day 7 — external stitches taken out. I was feeling a little better about things. The healing was occurring.
Day 12 — healing continues!
A little over 2 weeks after surgery
1 month after surgery