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What Happened During My Skin Cancer Surgery

Posted on Sep 26, 2014 at

Today marked the climax of the double-whammy that hit the blog this month with John’s near heart attack and my coming down with skin cancer.

A month ago I had what I thought was a mole removed from my cheek and learned two days later than I had a basal cell carcinoma living on my face. Today I went in for Mohs surgery to make sure that I was cancer-free.

For the past month while I have dutifully applied sunblock whenever I rode my bike, I didn’t give my upcoming surgery a lot of thought. From what I had read about Mohs surgery, it seemed like I would get the equivalent of a rug burn on my face. This morning, however, the prospect of a surgeon cutting into my face became real.

I was due at the hospital at 8:00 AM. That meant I had to get poochie walked before 7:00 AM because it takes me about 20 minutes to hike to Northwestern Memorial Hospital from where I live. The whole idea of being operated on hit me as I was fixing breakfast and I found myself unable to finish my morning smoothie. My dog sensed my anxiety and she was looking at me intensely the whole time we were together. After her walk I gave her some treats and a hug before leaving for the hospital. I had packed a messenger bag with a book, my iPad and a couple of healthy snacks.

The procedure was done by a team of really nice looking people. Who knew folks in dermatology looked so good? There were at least five at one time or another. The doctor started by holding a mirror up for me to point out the exact spot where the bulk of my tumor had been removed.

Here is the pressure bandage I will be wearing for the next 48 hours
They administered a shot or two of lidocaine to freeze up my cheek and started cutting. I felt no pain but was not able to see much as there was a cloth covering my eyes. I guess they were working for several minutes. I have no sense of the time involved as the entire morning ended up being a long blur. Afterwards, they applied a pressure bandage to slow bleeding and led me to a lounge where I would wait 30 to 40 minutes for the results and to find out if I could go home or they had to cut again and remove more.

The lounge was pleasant with coffee and small snacks, some healthy, some not. I enjoyed a cup of decaf coffee. I had packed a messenger bag with a book from the positive psychology class I just took as well as my iPad, so I was all set.

After 30 or so minutes the nurse returned and said that while there were no cancer cells in the first batch there was some inflammation which could signal cancer cells below, so I had to have a further round of cutting.

This was a replay of the first round after which I returned to the lounge. Several patients were there and one other fellow had also brought his iPad. By this time the fact that I hadn’t finished my breakfast smoothie became uncomfortably apparent to me and I dug in to my messenger bag and took out a Honey Stinger waffle to snack on. These are wonderful energy pick-me-ups that I use on the bike regularly for boosts.

Finally, the nurse returned with the good news that I was clear of cancer cells and I could get stitched up and go home. This took around 20 more minutes and I distinctly smelled the flesh on my cheek burning as they cauterized some of the blood vessels to stop the bleeding. The incision is just over an inch long and I believe contains 10 stitches inside and another half dozen outside. I will return in 10 days to have the exterior ones removed. The experience amounted to significantly more than the rug burn I had first imagined.

In the meantime I can shower, but not get my face wet. I had to cancel my appointment with the dentist tomorrow because I might pop a stitch. They originally said no bike riding for a week, but I bargained them down to a day or two depending on how I felt. I was very pleased that I had ridden 40 miles on Monday because I clearly wasn’t doing any riding on Tuesday.

As far as the rest of the day went. My energy felt punk and it was no strain to refrain from riding. Of course that also meant I couldn’t enjoy my usual 3000 calories of food.

I made a conscious effort to change my diet. The first thing I ate upon returning home was half of a canary melon.

I wrote about these this week. They have a lot of Vitamin C and also help your body to produce collagen to repair tissue. Through the day, I ate a quarter of a watermelon, another half of a canary melon, some tamari-roasted pumpkin seeds, an apple with crumbled blue cheese and finally, two half Hershey bars with almonds, one milk chocolate and one dark chocolate. For dinner I ate some leftover rotisserie chicken.

Although I exceeded my 2100 calorie budget, it wasn’t by much. I am writing this at 9:15 PM and feel ready for bed.

I think today took a lot out of me, besides the last of the skin cancer.

– Tony


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