This was my opening statement to the postal clerk who was used to laughing at my jokes. I said, “My throat was slit when I went to Eugene last week.” It got her attention and every one else’s in the small lobby at the post office. Suddenly, I was the center of attention. I went on to tell that it had been part of minor surgery to remove a basal cell carcinoma and leaned my head back to show the bandage on my throat. It was an easy surgery, and days later by phone, I learned that the dermatologist had gotten all of it. I was glad of that, but I also enjoyed telling people I got my throat slit. At times, it’s fun to be a little outrageous.
It had been a year and a half, since I had seen my dermatologist, Dr. Diane Baird, due to the pandemic. Normally, I see her in Florence every four to six months, and, she often finds something. The appointment was just a few weeks ago. Because it had been much longer this time around, I figured she’s find something. I had three spots on my face I was concerned about. And she found two more on other parts of my body that she was concerned about.
Two of the three spots on my face were precancerous and she froze them with liquid nitrogen. The third spot was nothing to worry about. The ones that she found, she biopsied. The one on my back turned out to be precancerous and the scraping she had done for the biopsy was all that was necessary to take care of it. The other one was the basal cell carcinoma on my throat. That one, I would need to go over to Eugene for minor surgery.
I’ve often had to have skin cancers removed. I’ve probably been diagnosed with 45 to 50 that have all been successfully removed. The first one was discovered when I was 39. And I’ve been checked every year since. And the last 15 years or so it’s been more often. On most visits something is found and either zapped or biopsied. I’m used to it.
During the past decade, the Mohs microscopic procedure has been used often on me to remove skin cancers. This is where they take a very thin layer of skin tissue and check it under a microscope to see if any cancer is found. They do this over and over until no cancer exists. Each layer takes about 45 minutes, so it can take hours. I happen to be the happy owner of a four-Mohs nose. My poor nose has also had about 30 precancerous spots zapped.
I’ve had two serious situations with skin cancer. The first was during the early 1980s when my whole face was treated all at once with Efudex for numerous precancerous spots. Many people have a few spots that scab over when using Efudex, and their face never looks bad enough nor do they feel bad enough to stay home.
It was different for me. I rubbed on the Efudex cream and within a couple days, my whole face reacted with redness and then blisters that began oozing. Then it crusted over into one giant scab. As it healed, the scab pulled at the corners of my eyes and around my lips and nose. I was miserable. I also had cold sores all over my lips. I felt hot all the time and only felt relief when I held a wet cloth on my face or a cold can of beer pressed against it. I was burning up. Good thing it was January and the weather cool. I couldn’t have stood it to have the heater on.
I was teaching during that time, or I should say I was taking time off from teaching during that time. I missed three weeks of school during the Efudex treatment. I would go in every few days to turn in lesson plans for the substitute. One of my first-grade students, Laura, arrived early one day and saw me. She took one look and said, “I liked it better before.” I told her, “You and me both.” The doctor, however, was thrilled. Evidently, I had hundreds of pre-cancerous spots on my face and just about all of them were reacting to the Efudex. I took no photographs of that experience.
After the scab started coming off in bits and pieces. Every part of my face started peeling. That was when I was at my ugliest. Finally, the whole top layer was simply gone. I looked like I had brand new skin—which I did. It was like baby’s skin. I had to be very careful because it burned easily in the sun. Nearly all my precancerous spots disappeared during this treatment. But over the decades since, I acquired some new ones––particularly on my nose.
Fast forward 30+years to my second serious skin cancer situation. I had an in situ melanoma on my cheek removed. Evidently, it had been a harmless freckle for decades before it started growing larger and getting darker. As a kid, I had a number of freckles across my nose and cheeks. They disappeared during my early teen years. But not this one.
Just before Halloween in 2012, Dr. Baird determined that it should be biopsied, and we found that it was a full-blown melanoma. I had had a couple of pre-melanomas on one leg before but never a full-blown one. So, she made an appointment for me with Dr. Jay Park in Eugene. He is also a dermatologist who has extensive experience in the Mohs procedure. He was the one who did the four Mohs procedures on my nose. He knows my face well.
For this melanoma, he also used Mohs. When all the cancer was removed layer by layer, it left an area about one inch by an inch and a half with no skin covering. Dr. Park made a large shallow incision that was in the shape of a “Z” which allowed him to pull and maneuver skin into place to cover the hole. Then he stitched it into place. For a couple of months, I had what I called, “The mark of Zorro!” Within a few months, though,it was almost impossible to see. He did a wonderful job. Today, no one notices it unless I’m in bright light at a certain angle.
As a young person and throughout my life, I’ve avoided the sun because I burn easily. As a baby born in Honolulu, I received a lot of sunburns very early, I later learned. As a kid, whenever I went swimming, I would get sunburned. Then as a teenager, I got a sunlamp and received a second-degree burn all over my face and chest. Never used it again. So, these experiences must have been enough to cause many of my skin cancers. As an adult, I use sunscreen daily and try to stay out of the sun mid-day.
Dr.Baird, my dermatologist, suggested I take Niacinamide twice a day because it is supposed to cut down on skin cancers. So I do. It hasn’t eliminated me getting them, but perhaps there are not as many or as severe.
When I had my throat slit in Eugene a couple weeks ago, I was a willing participant! And the scar is already less noticeable.