The one where I had skin cancer

5 Jan

So, on January 2, 2014 I had two facial surgeries. The first surgery was to remove skin cancer cells from the space between my upper lip and my nose, and the second surgery (plastic) was to repair the damage done by the first surgery. Here’s how it happened.

Back in September I went to the dermatologist for what I thought was a suspicious bump on my scalp. Cute story: I have skin that, if left in the sun for longer than 10 minutes, will burst into flames, so I’m on guard about every new bump or discoloration that pops up on my body. So after a few days of hanging upside down over the bathroom mirror trying to see my scalp, I finally booked some time with my dermatologist to see what was going on. She tells me, after looking at my head for less than a second, that the mysterious bump is an infected hair follicle and nothing to worry about. I exhaled for the first time in days. I figure since I’m there, I’ll get my money’s worth and ask her a few other questions.

I had had a very very small black dot above my lip for months. Six, maybe eight. I was convinced it was a blackhead. I normally have pretty clear skin, acne-wise (holla, Noxzeema!), so I was confused at why it wasn’t going away. I asked her if she thought I would need to get special blackhead cleanser to make it go away. She looked at the spot, made a face, and leaned waaaaay in with her little magnifying glass/light thing. She made another face and said “hmm. I would let me biopsy that if I were you.”

As you can imagine, I’ve had a number of skin abnormalities removed, frozen, scraped, what-have-you, over the years. Doesn’t really bother me too much, so we did the biopsy with little fanfare. She remarked at how teeny the sample was and said it was probably nothing to worry about and she definitely didn’t want me losing sleep over it. The biopsy took all of the teeny dot away, so once it healed up in a week or so, there was absolutely nothing there to the naked eye. I kind of forgot about it.

Until I got the call. Basal Cell Carcinoma. I would need Moh’s Surgery. I would probably need to see a plastic surgeon afterwards, depending on how many cancer cells there were. SURPRISE!

Now, my mom has had two Moh’s surgeries herself, so believe  me when I tell you that talking to her was the ONLY thing keeping me hinged at this point. Here’s how Moh’s is done, in case you don’t know: The surgeon numbs the patient with local anesthesia, and removes a small amount of skin from the offending area. The sample is taken immediately to be analyzed to see if there are any remaining cancer cells. Patient waits. If cancer cells are found, surgeon removes more skin, and the process is repeated.

Going into the procedure, I was dauntlessly sure I would only need one pass with the knife. You can’t even SEE anything!  Plus I was in denial that I would have to do plastic surgery. I had previously discussed with my doctor the hope that, if I only needed one removal, I could maybe get away without it. “I can live with a small scar”, I said. Truthfully I was terrified of the plastic surgery because I knew I would have to be put to sleep for the operation. I’ve never had to experience general anesthesia before and the thought of helplessly losing conciousness crippled me with fear.

Well, NOPE to all of that. Guess how many dates with the knife I went on to remove a bunch of angry cells that were invisible? THREE. More than  my mom needed for angry spots she could actually see, more than either of us ever thought I would need, more than would let me escape the plastic surgeon. I had a hole in my face about the size of an M&M.

So I was booked that evening with one of the prominent facial plastic surgeons in Texas. My amazing wonderful best friend Michelle took my kids without hesitation, and my amazing wonderful husband drove me to the hospital in Plano. I trembled the entire way, trying to figure a way out of this.

Hospital bracelet on my wrist, one step closer. Hospital gown, another step closer, hair-net, a particularly unfortunate step closer. IV in arm, it’s over. No matter how much I struggle, they have access to my bloodstream now. I wonder if I’m being crazy. My husband grips my hand and remarks at how cold it is. He cups my IV’d hand to his mouth and blows warm breath on it, which makes me want to cry. I ask him if he’s worried about me. He says “Yes, of course.” This somehow makes me tremble harder. They bring me warm blankets to quell the shivering.

Prominent Facial Surgeon came in to talk to me. Here’s how it went:

Me: I’m freaking out. Do we have to put me to sleep?

PFS: ‘fraid so. You don’t wanna be awake for this, trust me.

Me: What if I don’t wake back up?

PFS: You will. Everyone does. I promise you’ll be fine.

Me: No! Don’t promise!! On Grey’s Anatomy whenever the doctor promises the patient they’ll be fine, they die!

PFS: <laughing> Oh please! Let’s not talk about how fake that show is.

(Anesthesiologist comes in)

A: You ready?

Me: No, I’m scared of being put to sleep

A: Do you get scared at night when you fall asleep?

Me: Well, no, but that’s different. I have control over that.

A: It’s not that different, really.

Me: What’s the name of whatever you’re using to incapacitate me?

A: Propofol

Me: Um, isn’t that what killed Michael Jackson?!

A: <Cringing> Yes, but his doctor was a moron. Trust me, I give this to elderly patients, frail patients, and they all come out fine. You will be fine.

Me: If you say so. Guess I  can’t live with a hole in my face. Let’s do this.

The nurse asks if my husband and I want to say any last minute I love yousor give eachother one more kiss, which makes me want to punch her. I thought you people said I was going to live!!

They wheel me into the operating room, which looks almost exactly like the OR in Grey’s, so I no longer believe the doctor’s claim that it’s “fake”. I lay there making nervous chatter with whoever will listen to me. I wish they would just give me the dang Michael Jackson drug already! Just do it so I’ll finally stop freaking shivering! I look up at the ceiling and it starts to spin a little. I ask my anesthesiologist friend if he’s started:

A: Yep!

Me: Oh shoot! Okay, what should I do?

A: Just relax

Me: Okay, I think I’ll just close my eyes and pretend I’m falling asleep at night

A: Okay, good.

Me: Or wait – should I count back from 99?

A: You watch too much television


The next thing I remember is someone calling my name. And asking me something about Christmas. They were asking me about my kids, about what I did for Christmas. I think someone said they have a 4 month old. I can’t remember what I said, but I remember feeling very well rested. I asked a nurse how long the operation had taken. Less than 30 minutes. I felt rested like I had been asleep for hours. Go propofol, I can see why Michael liked you so much.

I vaguely remember being very chatty with everyone on the way back to the recovery room. Probably just really happy to be alive. I was a little foggy, but for the most part no worse for the wear. Except I now looked like the illegitimate love child of Angelina Jolie and Frankenstein’s Monster.

Do you wanna see pics? Really? If you don’t, just stop reading. This is pretty much the end of the story. It won’t hurt my feelings if you don’t wanna see. I might not want to see them either if I were you.






Just in case you accidentally scrolled this far, but don’t really want to see the pics, I’ll post this picture of a baby chick. You can still turn back.


Cheep Cheep! Turn back!!







Okay, here it is.



Scary, huh? Here’s what it looked like later that night.

Later that night

Later that night

And the next day:

a little less Angie

a little less Angie

Anyway. There it is. I never posted anything on Facebook about it because I never thought it would be such a big deal. I get my stitches out on Thursday and the goal is that in time, it will just look like a wrinkle.

Here’s the takeaway. PLEASE use sunscreen. Everywhere. Go to the dermatologist yearly, or if something pops up. Even if you think it’s nothing. And don’t use propofol unless you’re under the care of a responsible doctor.



3 Responses to “The one where I had skin cancer”

  1. Rob Carmack January 5, 2014 at 5:51 pm #

    Steph, I’m so sorry you had to go through that, but I’m really glad you’re okay. What an ordeal!

    • Stefanie January 5, 2014 at 7:15 pm #

      Thanks Rob!

      • Robert Gruenhagen February 26, 2014 at 4:23 pm #

        Hilary’s Grandfather here: Just home after 4 hours of a nose job that required two slices. All went well til I used the ice packs as instructed. Now it hurts. Best and I hope no more of this…

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