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Saturday, May 29, 2010

Basal Cell Carcinoma - My Story

Now that the sun is shining and summer is just around the corner, I decided that it was time to post this message.This post is especially for all the fair to medium skinned, blond or brunette, blue or green eyed people out there. And I'm warning you, it won't be pretty, but it could save you a lot of pain. Don't worry there won't be anything bloody or gory. 

As a teenager I loved to lay out in the sun and get a "Tan" every summer, the darker the better! That was kind of the main activity of the summer, tanning. Not just regular laying out in the sun, but slathering ourselves with baby oil so that it would "burn" and then turn into a tan. Yeah, I was one of those teens in the 70's. And part of the 80's when I was no longer a teen. During the early 80's I started taking care of my skin. I happened to be talking to my grandmother and one of her friends that were in their late 70's then and still had beautiful skin. They both gave me their lists of things that they had done to keep their skin soft and smooth with few wrinkles. I started on that course immediately, following almost everything they said and have continued through the years. I have used SPF 50 on my face since I moved to southern California years ago, and when I'm in the pool I have always worn a big floppy hat to keep the sun off my face. All of this has been to try to keep the skin has healthy as possible.

Around the fall of 2007, I noticed a very small bump on my forehead and wondered what I had done. I figured I must have burned myself with a curling iron and it would go away. A couple weeks would go by and I would notice it again and wonder what it was. Sometimes it would puff up a little and then it would go back down to it's regular size so it was easy to ignore it. It was flesh colored and looked like a small water blister. Around early Spring of 2008, I mentioned it to my stylist and she said she had noticed it and that I should get it checked out by a dermatologist. I thought about that for a while, expecting that I would make an appointment but I kept putting it off.

During that summer, it changed a little bit. It got a little bigger and it would puff up about every other week. To make matters worse, I kept accidentally scraping the top off and it would bleed quite a bit, but the skin would cover it up again. I started wondering what it was, so I looked on the American Cancer Society website and I didn't see anything that looked like what I had on my forehead. Around June or July, I asked my stylist if she thought it had changed. She thought that it looked a little different and again encouraged me to get it checked. I told her that I had looked at all kinds of skin cancers on line and it didn't look like anything that I had seen. 

By the end of the summer, it wasn't healing up and if it got poked, it really hurt. I started to wear a little bandage over it so it wouldn't hurt it and I even had my stylist cut some bangs. By August, I decided that I was ready to see the dermatologist so I called to make an appointment. I was told that the first available appointment wasn't until the end of October. I actually started to panic then. I had no idea that I would have to wait so long to see the doctor. 

Twelve weeks later, it was finally time for my appointment. The doctor used a  magnified blue light head piece and looked at the skin on my face. He then took a knife and scraped down into the  sore on my forehead for a biopsy. I told him that I would be surprised if anything came back positive for skin cancer because I have shielded my face from the sun for over 25 years. He asked me if I tanned or burned when I was a teenager or in my twenties. I had to say yes, I had done that. We purposely burned because we thought you got a better tan from burning first. He then said, Basil Cell Carcinoma is something that comes in "middle age" due to the skin damage when we were young! Wow, that was not good news .

They told me that I would be notified by mail of the results. If the test came back negative, I would receive a postcard in the mail telling me that it was negative. End of story. If it came back positive, they would call me to set up another appointment. 

Within the week, I received a postcard in the mail and I was really happy to see it. Sometime later, I looked at the card and actually read what it said. I was in shock because it said that the test was positive for Basal Cell Carcinoma and I needed to call and schedule another appointment. Not only did they make an appointment for me with my dermatologist, they also made an appointment immediately following with a plastic surgeon. Knowing that I had to wait for two more weeks with the cancerous cells continuing to grow, made the days very long. I was very anxious about the whole situation that I had to face!

I just happened to take a picture with my phone before I went in to my appointment. As you can see it is quite small and innocent looking.

The day finally came and my dear hubby drove me to my appointment. I didn't know what to expect, but I was quite anxious about the unknown. There was one other man in the waiting room about my age and as we talked, we were both there for the same reason. We were both on the nervous side of calm. I was the first one called back and the doctor told me that they looked at the skin layers as "Stages." He would cut out the skin around the area, check all of the borders under the microscope to see if the borders were clean. If they weren't, he would go down to Stage 2, and he said that we always hope and expect that it will end there. He said he expected that he would get it all at stage 1. About 15 minutes later he came back to the room and said he had to take go to Stage 2. "Okay," I thought, "That won't be too bad." After all, I couldn't feel a thing, although the noises and smells were not enjoyable!

About 15 minutes later, he came back and said he would have to go to Stage 3. Wow, now I was in shock. The spot on my head was so small and innocent looking, how could this be happening. He finally came back with the results from the third biopsy and said that everything looked good now and all of the borders were clean. He didn't ask me first, but he handed me a mirror to see what he had done. He showed me briefly the different layers he had to go through it get it all out. It was very deep and about the diameter of a ping pong ball. I didn't realize that a forehead had that many layers before you hit the skull. I was in total shock. I could not believe I had ended up with a hole that big in my forehead from that small spot! I was VERY happy that I was on my way to the plastic surgeon to have it fixed.

I was really glad that my dear hubby was there to drive me to my appointment in Laguna Beach with a plastic surgeon. Just before they took me back for my surgery, the man that had shared the waiting room with me at the previous office came in and we compared notes. We both had large wound dressings covering portions of our faces.  

The surgeon assured me that he was the best plastic surgeon around and he would perform his magic on me and I would soon be on my way, good as new! By then, I was ready to get it over with so I could get back to normal life, or so I thought.

There is nothing quite like walking yourself in to a surgery room and laying down on a gurney, willingly. All the gleaming stainless steel, the bright lights, the monitors beeping, the trays with tools and instruments on them. In the past, I have had two surgery's, but I was laying down and drugged up and was being pushed into surgery and all you can really see very clearly is the ceiling! This was so different, it felt like I was in someone else's dream. The contraption that held the needles that would inject the numbing medicine were huge and they really hurt a lot, but after that there was no pain, thankfully. Before he started to repair my forehead, he talked me into letting him remove a "beauty mark." I was in a rather "dazed" state already, so I agreed. He started in on that first and I was starting to feel like I would never get out of there. 

Before he started on my forehead, he told me I was lucky that I ended up with only a hole in my forehead. He said that the man in the waiting room wasn't as lucky as I was. He had lost a large portion of his nose and he was going to have to create a new nose for him with cartilage from his ear, and his surgery would be a long surgery. It was finally over and I was ready to go home. 

Somehow I wasn't prepared for what came next. The rounds of antibiotics, keeping the wound clean and dry, black eyes, swelling, the constant headache, the numbness, and the pain around the wound. I couldn't wash my hair for 5 days! Most of all the pain. The pulling and tugging inside my forehead as it healed. They would have given me some more powerful drugs, but I don't like to take anything stronger than Tylenol. I didn't leave the house for a week and I didn't want to frighten my grandson, so I was missing him very much.

 These pictures were taken a week after my surgery.

I went to see the dermatologist every three months for over a year. He would check my skin with the special head piece that shows more than you can see with the naked eye. I became even more diligent about staying out of the sun and ended up with a serious vitamin D deficiency. My dermatologist told me that he also had a vitamin D deficiency because he stays out of the sun due to all of the skin cancer he sees on a daily/weekly basis here in California. He started me on a vitamin D regiment to get my levels up and my other doctor encouraged me to get a little sun exposure without sunblock. They say that 15 minutes a day without sunblock is safe. I think that is a personal decision. I need to see my dermatologist every year for the rest of my life.

I am writing this and showing you these pictures to try to prevent this from happening to you or someone you love. If I can encourage even one person to check their skin and make sure they don't have something new or unusual, I will be happy. Especially if you fit the profile with fair to medium skin tone, blue or green eyes, or blond or brown hair. Get it checked out. Don't wait. If you don't fit this profile, pass it on to someone that does.


  1. Thanks for posting this. I've sent it to my two fair-skinned, blond daughters, both of whom are swim coaches. I hope they will pass it along to their swimmers.

  2. Thank you for sharing. I had the exact same thing on my forehead for over a year before deciding to go in to have it checked. They did a biopsy and it's Basal Cell Carcinoma. I'm going in tomorrow for the excision but they aren't layering like they did yours. They're taking out a 3/4 inch section, will stitch it up then send it to the lab. In a few days they'll let me know if the edges are clean. If not I go back and do it all over again only bigger....and on and on until they get it all. I'm hoping they get it all tomorrow but am not very confident since I waited so long and mine is quite a big larger than the one in your original pic you snapped before going in. I've already waited two weeks since the biopsy to get in for the excision. This could be long and drawn out but at least I know what I'm up against. My dermatologist really made it sound like it was no big deal. They said if you have to have cancer, this is the one to have. Easy cheesy to take care of. I wish I believed that. We shall see. Thanks again!

  3. Thank you for sharing your story. I had a nagging feeling I should have my skin checked by a dermatologist about a month ago I showed his assistant a thing on my nose and she took a scraping, and sure enough it was basal cell. I had to wait a month to have the surgery. There were a lot of people in the waiting room with me going throught the same process. I was staged 3 times too and they said they "got it all." Then I was stitched up and have a big bandage on my nose/eye area. I'm so glad I got it when I did because others I talked to had more extensive damage. Really, I would recommend staying away from tanning booths, and wearing a hat in the sun and staying out of the sun if possible at peak hours. Wear a good sunscreen, even when just stepping out to go shopping. It is worth it to take care of your skin!


  4. thank you for posting this!!

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  5. Thank you for posting this! This could've been written by me! Almost to the date (2007) and the dermatologist handing me the mirror. I've been looking into bcc again because of a spot on my back. I'm glad it's not very serious although going through it is horrible.