My skin cancer odyssey: A photo essay. [Not for the squeamish.]

This morning I had a spot of basal cell carcinoma removed from my forehead. It cost me a day of work and since I’m just a consultant, it will leave a hole in this month’s budget (not unlike the one in my head, as you will soon see). The doctor, who was a nice guy and had a good sense of humor, allowed me to take a few cell phone snapshots during the procedure. I am posting these as a cautionary tale. It should serve as a warning that there are consequences to be paid if you, like me, disdain sunscreen while walking on the beach. Sadly, my days as a bronzed God seem to be over. Will I ever turn a head again?

First, the numbing agent. It was a rather nasty looking needle and you bet your ass I felt it going in. After the initial injection (there were two) I had to sit for :10 minutes until it kicked in. The front quadrant of my entire head went numb. It still is.

He cut out a section of my forehead that was slightly larger than the affected area…skin-2…and then bandaged me
The procedure is to take the extracted skin to a lab in the back room and examine it under a microscope to insure that all of the cancer cells were captured and none remain. The results took about :45 minutes. Well, guess what? He didn’t get it all! The doctor numbed my head again and extracted an even larger piece. I decided not to post a pic of that because it’s really horrifying.

The absolute worst part was getting stitched-up tight. My head was still numb but I could feel the thread running through my skin and the two open pieces of my forehead being pulled together. The doctor had to do some tugging to get it all to meet in the middle. I almost got sick. I felt him knotting the thread and heard it being clipped.

He got it all the second time around, thank God. I wasn’t about to let him hack any more of my head away. My friend D told me I should tape two bolts to my neck and chase children in the subway.


50 thoughts on “My skin cancer odyssey: A photo essay. [Not for the squeamish.]

  1. Jaysus Christmas what a bloody hole.Just as I am spooning fresh strawberries in my gob I see a pic of your laser-blasted noggin. I guess that puts the Florida holiday on hold this year, might I suggest Fargo as a replacement.Much health to you…. and please buy a new hat.

  2. That is truly horrifying! My mother told me to wear sunscreen every single day back when I was 25, and that is one piece of motherly advice I actually took – thankfully.

  3. This is why I shouldn’t eat lunch while I’m catching up w/my reading. Horrible. But I hope it all turns out well for you. And hopefully you had a plastic surgeon handy?I had this same procedure done on my abdomen sans plastic surgeon. Ghastly. The 2 inch core was put in a jar for all to view. The wound tore open the next week and I had to go back for more sutures. Needless to say, that was the end of my bikini-wearing days.

  4. Ouch. On the plus side, when the zombie apocalypse comes, you’ll fit right in.You may want to consider changing your blog to “The Unbearable Punishment (for not wearing sunscreen)”

  5. Cat: That’s the sad part. I KNEW it was bad for me but was young and dumb.Jayne: I’m HOPING for a scar. I’m tired of looking like an actuary accountant. I want to look like I fight ninjas for a living.MIT: This will look real sharp in a dignified place like Avery Fisher Hall.kykn: I’m counting on the fawning admiration from girls who like tough guys (vs. actuary accountants).

  6. Ouch. Hope the doc DID get everything and you won’t have to go through this again. Having some pretty extensive scars of my own, all I can say is they serve as reminders of how lucky I am to still be here. I actually found it kind of fascinating to see myself sliced open. Go figure. Wishing you only good health from now on.

  7. Ouch. I just had a two bad spots burned off. One on the back of my hand and another on my wrist. That makes five torched spots. Six if you count the chunk cut off the back of my neck about 17 years ago or maybe a bit more. I can’t remember. I still have a spot on my lip, which the DR generously allowed me to try a topical fix on for the next few months, but warned that it will have to be torched (literally, it’s a friggin torch) if it doesn’t improve.I wore sunscreen religiously through my 20’s and 30’s. Fair skinned people are just at risk and there is a genetic component and environment plays its part too.It’s a crapshot really.Lots of melanomas, for example, develop in areas where the sun couldn’t have been a factor and they even can begin internally, so you never really know where the original lesion was.Nasty scar though. With all the nerve endings in our skin, disturbing it is always painful. Glad that he got everything and that it wasn’t melanoma. Heal up and the hat suggestion is probably a good one.

  8. ye-owch. glad they got it. glad it’s carcinoma not melanoma. and can guarantee that the scar will make women swoon… almost as much as the pic of the open, gaping wound did…

  9. Sharon: The doctor is confident that everything is out. It had better be because I’m not going through this ever again. The whole thing could have been avoided. Sad.Annie: Ouch is right. The numbing agent is starting to wear off and it hurts like hell. I’ll bet I won’t sleep tonight! I was assured that there wouldn’t be a scar. I don’t see how that’s possible.Daisy: I don’t want the kind of swoon from a girl being sick to her stomach. I want the “he’s dashing” swoon.

  10. Holy crap! What a hole!!I hear the darker ales are good for stitches…Pearlp.s. Was not named after Pearl drums, although that wouldn’t have surprised me. As for whether dear ol’ Dad knows of Neal Peart, I would say probably not. I tried to interest him in Rush, but I was quite a jackass as a teenager… No, Dad’s faves were Rich, Krupa, Webb, or, as he puts it, “The Masters”.

  11. That was gruesome, though I’ve seen worse. My late wife’s primary melanoma lesion was on the back of her leg, behind the knee. The excision was probably some 4 to 5 inches in diameter and required a skin graft to close. The plastic surgeon who performed the surgery told us she’d have a scar that looked like a shark bite. And it did.Her younger brother wound up with a patch of basal cell carcinoma a couple of years after she died. Same story as you (“This thing just won’t heal!”) but eventually it was recognized for what it was and he had it removed. Tough location too, in the corner of his eye, next to the nose.Generally, I say “pffft” to sun screen. That’s a billion dollar boondoggle built on B.S. If you feel compelled to use sun screen, make sure it has TiO2 in it (that is a white pigment which reflects the radiation) and as little of any chemicals whose name ends in “benzone”.Best bet? Don’t shower or bathe before you go out into the sun. Our skin’s natural oils are protective and react with sunlight to generate vitamin D (which we need anyways). And cover up – long sleeves, hats, etc. Stay out of the sun during the hottest part of the day if you can.Thanks for sharing. Hope the pain is not too intense (got good pain meds?) and that you heal fast.

  12. Ouch that looks like it really hurts and glad I use sunscreen. Guess I should up the SPF though….If you need some pain meds J has a whole barrage. You guys can go out for a stout with your bandage and his walker what a great conversation it would be for other people.MT

  13. Hey! Why didn’t I think of taking some pics when I had my vasectomy?I have a scar (and it WILL scar!) in the same place on my forehead, from a bad car crash a while back, so we can be ‘scar twins’! And though I hate boasting, mine is bigger, goes the whole way thru the eyebrow and onto the nose! Now all you need is a shaved head and some decent tats to keep potential boyfriends away from the daughters!Feel better soon my friend! :¬)

  14. Pearl: I saw Buddy Rich perform twice! Feel it’s quite a brag. Have you ever heard the tape of him yelling at his band while on the bus? Hilarious!Rob: Thanks for the note. The doctor also said that he’s seen much worse but all I can think about is the gash on my head. Despite its controversial nature, I will continue to use sunscreen and hope for the best.MT: J and I should form a support group. All they gave me is cruddy extra strength Tylenol and, let me tell you, I wish I had a proper pain med pill right now.Sav: I already have my cover. I was attacked by ninja assassins. Six of them. Was able to beat every one into submission.Sy: I decided not to post the most gruesome pic. It was too much and wouldn’t have helped make my point any more effectively. I hope to God it heals quickly. Stitches out in one week.Map: If I shave my head we’ll be like twin brothers with one of us (you) having gotten all the talent.

  15. I’m with you on the scar thing, it will add character, you were to pretty anyway, of course you’re gonna need a good story to go with it, i’ve got a few if need be, get well my friend, i’m off the the dermo next month to see if they’re gonna hack anything else off me.

  16. Yeah, I BET that hurt! But better to have a hunk of your noggin hacked off than let the cancer spread. And yeah, you will have a scar, but eventually it won’t be all that noticeable (I bet, anyway) as we have a way of healing quite nicely from really nasty gashes. If it hurts like hell tonight, apply an icepack for about 15 minutes (with a cloth between you and it to prevent frostbite). You can do that every couple of hours, if need be. Glad it went well, Frankie!! 😉

  17. Neatly cut hole, sunscreen slacker! Freaky though how it looks like a sun, you know, with pen marks for rays and everything. Once more though, what blue eyes you have, grampa! On top of which you’re going to very soon be flaunting one number sexy scar. Ooh I say, OOH.

  18. Ponita: Not having cancer is, obviously, the lesser of the two evils but HOLY SHIT it hurts this morning. All they gave me were cruddy Extra Strength Tylenol. More drugs, please.nurse: You always know the exact right thing to say. Thank you, dear.Sid: It’s way more involved than I thought it would be. Look at the bright side; if you come to New York I’ll be easy to pick out of the crowd. Look for the guy scaring children.Nimpipi: That was just the FIRST round of cutting. The second hole was in the shape of a football (American) and twice as big.

  19. Poor love!But what a good thing done with and they may have gathered up the slack whilst suturing which is always a good idea. And here am I wittering on about a tooth.

  20. I would rather wear a wide brimmed hat, long sleeves, and limit my exposure to the mid day sun. Sunscreen actually has components that have been shown to be carcinogenic. Staying out of the sun promotes vitamin D deficiency, which depresses the immune system to the point where it can’t deal with the single mutant cells that could become cancer if not dealt with.

  21. If you lived up here, north of the 49th, you could walk into any pharmacy and ask for some Tylenol #1s, which have some codeine in them. I bet those would make your head feel a little less ouchy. No Rx required, just gotta ask for them.

  22. Good god, that’s the coolest picture of a blogger I’ve ever seen: a huge hole in your head and smiley eyes. But, ouch. And they didn’t even give you morphine, bastards.If they pulled it really tight, and it looks like they did, you’ll probably end up with a very fine silvery sliver. I used Estée Lauder Advanced Night Repair on a scar left by abdominal surgery and it’s all but disappeared.

  23. HMH: Please don’t tell me that sunscreen is a carcinogenic. Where the hell does that leave me? I love the beach. I’m sorry but I’m not cutting it out of my life.Ponita: Do you guys get weed from a pharmacy too? I should take a drive over the Peace Bridge and pick up a week’s supply.SB: Thank you, my dove. Fake tans look…well…fake. I think my tanning days are finally over.XL: Hi there. I LOVE my scar. It looks like Voldamort offed my parents.

  24. I should really show that to my bald husband. He had to have some “funny” dark spots frozen off his head before, but, your pics take the cake. Hope your OK, I think my bottom lip is permanently arched in horror at what I just saw.

  25. Jo: It was even more sickening to sit through. I honestly don’t know how anyone can choose a career in the medical field.MIT: It’ll happen! I swear!Christine: I woke up this a.m. and my forehead is starting to swell. Plus, I just got a really short haircut. I’ve never looked more ridiculous. My father is Victor Frankenstein.

  26. Apply an ice pack a few times a day (max 15 minutes with a cloth between you and it) and if it looks like it’s getting infected – get back to that doc asap and get antibiotics!!! Plus you can use something like Polysporin ointment on it daily (do you get that down there? antibiotic ointment). I be a nurse and I be a wound care type of nurse as well. You don’t want this to be infected… because then the sutures will likely pull out and you’ll end up with a very large and noticeable scar… *not* the cool kind you’re wanting!

  27. holy cow. pun intended. the “hole-y” part, not the bovine part. hope it’s healing well and you’ll feel better soon. thanks for posting this, a great lesson. thanks also for not posting that second round pic, i’m not sure i could have stomached it. i love the bolts/frankenstein suggestion too. perhaps you could have planned this better and had it done near halloween. instant costume.

  28. Daisy (or should I say, Frau Blucher?!?) Thank you for the clarification.Ponita: Thanks for the tips. You speak with a wealth of experience. I have a laundry list of thing to do with this wound and many of your tips are included it in.MCZ: Thanks for all your good wishes. If you change your mind and want to see the pic of my head when it’s really opened up, let me know.

  29. Oh my God. This is seriously horrifying. I am in a cafe and thank goodness I already ate my cinnamon roll before clicking on this. I can’t believe that huge chunk of your forehead… and I’m disgustingly curious about the photo you didn’t include. My God, this is seriously frightening. I DO wear sunscreen when I’m going to be outdoors but after this I may pull a Gunmetal Geisha and not go outside without a hat on. I hope you heal up well and that it’s not hurting too much… at least you will have a cool scar. Very Harry Potter.

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