It wasn't what I wanted to hear, when the doctor said I know exactly what that is. The small growth (that looked like a red pimple) on my face had continued to reappear in the same location each and every time I removed it. After a number of years I decided to get it looked at, and as I suspected it was skin cancer. When you first hear the word cancer from your dermatologist it makes you think the worst of course, but after listening to his consultation and doing a little research on my own, I knew that everything would be OK.
We scheduled the outpatient surgery as soon as possible because my doctor said the longer I waited the worse the growth would be and the less chances of containment of all of the cancer cells. I of course was in complete agreement with that and made the arrangements to have it removed. The procedure is called MOHS surgery. The growth ( in it's simplest explanation ) is scraped layer by layer, and it's cells are tested at different stages of the surgery, until they have determined that all of the cancer has been removed.
I'm going to describe to you the days events of the outpatient surgery and I want you to keep in mind that this cancer could have been prevented if sunscreen as we know it today, was used on my fair Irish skin during my youth.
The surgery began with the doctor drawing some markings on my face and explaining to me where the incisions would be and then how the growth would be removed and tested. There would be some waiting periods while the cells were walked down to the lab for microscopic analysis. This he informed me would be the difficult part. There would be three or more times that I would have to wait for the results. Sometimes the cells would be removed by the third attempt, and other times it could take much longer. There was no way for him to tell until he began, so he asked me to be as patient as I could. After the removal there would be another hour and a half or so until the reconstruction stage would begin. That part would take a couple more hours. It was going to be a long day!
During the surgery I received as many as 16 shots of localized anesthetic to help with the pain, but I will tell you I felt the pressure the entire time, and I could hear every scrape of the doctors instruments as he removed the cancer cells from my face. It is not something I ever want to experience again, even though, up to fifty percent of the people who have this surgery performed eventually will find another growth in a different area, at some time in their life. The damage to my skin was already done and there wasn't anything I was going to be able to do about that. I learned through my own research that I could only protect myself from further damage from the sun by using a good quality sunscreen every day for the rest of my life.
When the test results came back after the third waiting period, the doctor informed me that I was lucky, and he had removed all of the cancer cells on the third attempt. This made me quite relieved knowing it would help to speed up the remaining reconstruction stage. He asked if I wanted to see what he had removed and handed me a mirror to look at my face. I was in complete disbelief at the size of the hole that was now under my right eye and next to my nose. If you can believe me, it was about the width of a dime but as deep around as a good sized marble. I was now a little scared as to how he was going to put this hole back together. Wouldn't you know it, time for lunch, and I was instructed to go sit in the waiting room for an hour and a half or so and then the reconstruction would begin.
After his lunch, the doctor then again drew some markings on my face to explain to me how he would repair the hole. It would be necessary to make three more incisions to be able to pull skin and muscle together so that it would heal as normal as possible. He would use my existing lines on my face for the cuts, one would extend down the entire side of my nose. This part of the day took about three hours and I ended up with a total of fifty six or so stitches that would dissolve over time. I can tell you that it took a couple of years for all of the stitches to disappear. Most of them on the surface were gone quite quickly, a month or two is all. The ones underneath took many years to come to the surface and I could feel them from time to time. The doctor told me I would look "normal" in about a year and that within three years or so I wouldn't be able to see much of anything. He was right and unless I point it out to you, you probably wouldn't even notice my scar.
I wanted to share with all of you this experience so that you will remember how important it is to wear sunscreen when you are outdoors! This is not something you can take lightly. If you don't want to do it for yourself than at least do it for your children. The effects of sun damage and sunburns may not show up until you are much older, but are completely preventable. Our parents did not have the products that we have available to us today to protect ourselves and our kids from the long lasting damage from the sun. It takes just a few minutes to apply and it will save them from having to go through the long and painful couple of days that I did. Ask your dermatologist what they recommend for your type of skin. I use an SPF rating of 45 and I have never been burnt while wearing sunscreen. Store a few extra bottles of sunscreen in places where they are readily available. Keep one in the boat, one in the camper, pool or beach bag, etc, and follow the directions accordingly and you will be protecting yourself and your children from the damaging effects of the sun.
Now go out there and catch a few fish this summer, and feel good knowing your family will be protected. Enjoy the warm sunny days ahead, and don't forget to Cast Across America!
Cast Across America is an organization dedicated to the promotion of fishing both recreational and for sport. Join us on Facebook at Cast Across America, Twitter at CastAcrossAmeri, and on the web at http://www.castacrossamerica.com