This photo of us was taken in 2010. Looking at this photo, I think I can see the first skin cancer even then, on the right side of his nose. A spot just a little darker than the rest of his nose. Maybe I’m just imagining it, because I know where it appeared first. He had the first basal cell cancer removed at the VA in Prescott Arizona on July 1, 2011.
Several months ago, we both noticed another place on his nose, this time on the bridge right in the middle. I asked him to go to the VA to get it checked out, but he said it was just a pimple. You can see it in the photo above. And yes, it did seem to go away, and come back, then go away again, several times. A couple of weeks ago, he had an appointment with a dermatologist at the VA in Birmingham. They did a biopsy on three spots, and all three came back as cancerous. There were two basal cell carcinomas and one squamous cell carcinoma, in a cluster on Fabgrandpa’s nose.
Fabgrandpa was referred to The Kirklin Clinic in Birmingham by the VA, because the VA did not have anyone on their staff who could do the MOHS surgery that was needed. We did not know anything at all about The Kirklin Clinic, but it turns out that it is one of the best cancer treatment clinics in the southeast. This is from their website:
With over 257 exam rooms and many nationally-ranked specialties, the Clinic’s staff combines clinical care with teaching and research to produce an environment that is in the best interest of the patient. In order to tailor our treatments to our patients and families’ needs, we collaborate and communicate with them to provide them with the ultimate patient experience and highest quality care
When we were checking in to our hotel on Sunday night, there was another couple checking in at the same time. She has breast cancer, and was referred by her doctor in Florida to the Kirklin Clinic. So, we felt that we were in good hands there.
On Monday, we took the hotel shuttle over to the clinic. We found out first hand that they really do take the patient’s best interests into consideration. There were four doctors, two of whom were students, and three nurses assigned to Mr. Fabgrandpa. They welcomed me to stay in the room while they operated, and must have asked me a dozen times if they could get me anything. They brought coffee and snacks, and still asked if there was anything they could do for us.
They got Fabgrandpa suited up in his open backed gown and on the table, then drew some lines and dots on his nose where they would be operating. Next, they started the anesthesia, which was shots into his nose. They did all they could to make sure it hurt as little as possible.
Dr. Huang was the doctor in charge. He and the other doctors perfomed MOHS surgery, which is “accepted as the single most effective technique for removing Basal Cell Carcinoma and Squamous Cell Carcinoma (BCCs and SCCs), the two most common skin cancers.” (from Skin Cancer.org website). In MOHS surgery, tissue samples are sent to the lab during the surgery, not after. The surgeon can know for sure that they have removed enough tissue right there while they have the patient on the table. Unfortunately, Fabgrandpa’s lesions were deep, so they had to take a lot of tissue to get all of the cancerous ones. Then, they had to take tissue from his upper chest to make a graft to close the two largest wounds.
Those skin patches will never match the color of his nose, but they look a lot better than the deep wounds that were there. When it heals, it will be just another sign of victory over cancer, and that is what counts for me.
If you suspect that you have a skin cancer, don’t wait to get it treated. There is a whopping 97% to 99.5% cure rate for basal cell and squamous cell skin cancer when treated with MOHS surgery.
The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends that everyone practice monthly head-to-toe self examination of their skin, so that they can find any new or changing lesions that might be cancerous or precancerous. Skin cancers found and removed early are almost always curable. Learn about the warnings signs of skin cancer and what to look for during a self examination. If you spot anything suspicious, see a doctor.
Because someone loves your cute little nose (or your big ol snozz!), do it!
Update January 2018: I wanted to add a photo of what Fabgrandpa looks like now, so you can see that even though the tissue grafts are a different color, you really can not tell he had surgery there is you don’t know.