A year ago, my son noticed a pimple on my forehead. It was true, there was a blemish that would not go away. You can just spot the growth in the photo (center of forehead, about an inch from my hairline). It was a waxy translucent bump that grew in diameter.
I have darkened the following picture, so you can see the basal cell cancer tumor better:
There. Do you see the pea-size raised lump of skin? Before I knew what it was I kept picking at it, noticing its dense rubbery texture, unlike the normal feeling of acned skin.
I made an appointment to see a dermatologist, who told me the spot or lesion was a basal cell carcinoma, i.e. skin cancer. He smiled and told me I was lucky, "It's the best kind of cancer." It wouldn't kill me, he said. I'd probably die a natural death first. Still, he said, you need to get it removed...because it spreads and it isn't a pretty sight. Hurrying home after the skin examination I googled the diagnosis. Dumb, dumb, dumb, for the images were horrifying. Not a pretty sight at all!
Meantime, I went in for surgery or excision of the tumor, opting to see a plastic surgeon. The photo, below, was taken 8 hours after surgery. There are no stitches covering the surgical wound. What you are seeing is an incision that was closed with clear surgical tape. I was hesitant to leave my hospital room, not wanting to scare any visitors in the hallway. Two days later, factoring in the swelling and bruising, things looked much worse.
Maybe you are thinking "Mohs! why didn't she do Mohs micrographic surgery?" Mohs procedure to remove this skin tumor was not available in my area of France. Maybe I should have gone to Paris? Or New York? Or my childhood town of Phoenix, Arizona--the sunny desert responsible for all this? The doctors there must get a lot of practice!
My French doctor mentioned doing a forehead flap,"un lambeau" in the form of the incision you see, below. He said he would proceed, little by little (removing a bit of skin, then having it tested in the lab next door). But when he began surgery, he learned this would not be possible. To be on the safe side, he cut out a larger section. Imagine my surprise when I woke up from surgery....
It is surprising the amount of skin that must be removed when the affected area is (or seems) no bigger than a pea. But they say that small spot, or lesion, represents the tip of the iceberg. With carcinoma, there is more beneath the surface, like roots beneath a tree.
Healing. Picture taken at night, without the large bandaid I wore during the day (the nurse told me to keep the scar out of the sunlight for one year, to improve its appearance).
This photo was taken ten weeks after surgery. The scar is a bit raised in the center. I continue to massage the scar tissue, in order to break down the build-up of collagen fibers (I learned this from the physical therapist who worked on my scar (a second doctor sent me to the therapist, after the scar seemed stuck. Who knew a scar could be stuck!). I am also using a silicon patch, or scar sheet, to help diminish the surgical scar.
(Alas, this was not the end of my experience... While my forehead was healing, I found out that the red "spot" on the side of my nose needed to come off. Why had I let it sit there for nearly 4 years?! It turned out to be another basal cell carcinoma (photo of the nose stitches, here). A third spot, on the tip of my nose, was biopsied a year after that, in 2013. Good news this time... it was only a papul, or kind of skin lesion.)
Here is a letter I received from Mom, who is determined to "read into" the "H" mark on my forehead (please excuse the ALL CAPS - but you know how Moms can turn emotion into enthusiasm:!) Mom writes:
WE ARE ATTACHED FOREVER BY THE DOUBLE CROSS - WHICH REPRESENTS OUR RELATIONSHIP TO ONE ANOTHER AS WE HOLD HANDS AND FORM THIS LETTER... WHICH STANDS FOR OUR HOLINESS.
I can feel your HOLINESS RUN THROUGH MY FINGERTIPS AS WE FORM THE LETTER 'H' WITH OUR BODIES STANDING FIRM AGAINST EACH WIND THAT BLOWS AGAINST OUR LIFE.
WHEN YOU LOOK IN THE MIRROR AND SEE THE SIGN WHICH GOD HAS ALLOWED TO COVER YOUR FOREHEAD YOU WILL KNOW THAT
'H' stands for HOLY and that you are holy in the eyes of GOD (and your MOM).
"H' stands for HEAVEN which is the promise you carry to all from Jesus
'H' represents the state of HEALTH you have received --- because your ears HEAR all that GOD whispers throughout every cell of your body.
When you look in the mirror you will see that you are not only cool, but you are now 'HIP'.
Yes - you will automatically smile because you will know deep within your HEART you have a HILARIOUS sense of HUMOR.
What can you say but HALLELUJAH as you notice GOD'S HAND reaching down for your HAND.
This is my gift to you on this special day - September 23, 2011 - God gave me the greatest birthday present today because he has HEALED your HEAD and HEART and joined our HOLY HANDS together forever.
Don' worry - be HAPPY!!
Every day when you look in the mirror remember God has given all of these wonderful words especially for you and that He has built a HEDGE around you forever to protect you.
p.S. don't forget that your #1 HELPER the HOLY SPIRIT is with you always to guide you, teach you, and comfort you in all things.
I think we should turn this note into a song and HUM its notes forever to each other. XOXO
An updated photo, taken 4 years after my first surgery. Can you see the scar on my forehead? My dog doesn't care. Here is the most recent photo (scroll down and a look at the scar these days).
Remember to protect your skin. I always wear a hat and sunscreen, when necessary. Try LA ROCHE POSAY SUNSCREEN - it is French and many people swear by it. Get a car sun shade to protect you from UV rays when driving.
Picture taken in 2018. What my post surgery scar looks like 7 years later. The scar is still visible, but c'est la vie! If you found me via Google, please be sure to sign up to my word journal. You'll learn French as well as a little about our life here in France. I post a lot of photos--so if you simply came here for the basal cell post of picture, you can at least follow my scar's progress :-)
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For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety