Opinion: Facing an old nemesis

One year ago in March my family’s old nemesis paid me a visit. It didn’t arrive with a large suitcase. Instead it made its presence known with a waxy white patch with faint red lines throughout, culminating in what looked like a very small pimple.

While the arrival might have been subtle, I knew from the moment I picked at the little spot and it wouldn’t heal just what I was dealing with.

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Sure enough a biopsy several months later confirmed my suspicions. Basal cell carcinoma had taken up residence on my left nostril.

I’ve learned many things since that initial diagnosis.

First of all, although this form of skin cancer is the most common, actual numbers of Canadians dealing with the disease are fuzzy. It is just not tracked as well as other forms. Secondly, it can take many years to manifest itself. The causes are ultra violet rays from the sun and tanning beds, both of which are preventable. Thirdly, the cancer isn’t as deadly as others such as melanoma, but left to its own devices it is invasive, and both the disease and the treatment can be disfiguring.

Most of the lives basal cell cancer claims are among the elderly. For one reason or another, the patient either doesn’t realize what the growth is or chooses to ignore it. I understand that. In my case, a much-anticipated holiday and pure stupidity led to my postponing a visit to the doctor to confirm what I suspected. I thought that once the diagnosis was made it would be a simple matter of being referred to a specialist – and presto – it would be taken care of. Let me hasten to tell you, that was not the case.

After waiting over a year from first finding the growth on my nose, I finally had an appointment with a doctor who would do the surgery. (Full disclosure: I did have an appointment with a first surgeon six months after the initial discovery. He sent me on to the next specialist.)

After a consultation, surgeon number two told me I would likely need a skin graft to cover the hole the operation would leave.

Two months later I met with surgeon number three. She agreed that further repair seemed possible. A flap of skin from my forehead would be used for the graft. The kicker was the patch needed to stay hooked up to my forehead for three weeks to establish its own blood supply.

So here I am four weeks later. I now sport a nose that doesn’t quite look like it belongs to me, although my final fantastic surgeon guarantees me a year from now the graft will be barely detectable. While I still have a forehead missing a fair bit of skin, it’s healing nicely.

I consider myself very lucky. The other members of my family that were visited by cancer didn’t live to tell their story.

The moral of my story: wear sunscreen all the time – parents douse your kids in the stuff – and for heaven’s sake, stay away from tanning beds. This is one visitor I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

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