Thursday, March 13, 2014

Skin Cancer Removal Party

Sunday night I could hardly sleep.  I was exhausted from several months of non-stop activities, but because of my surgery scheduled for 6:45am on Monday the 10th, I couldn't force myself to hit the sack.  What was it going to be like?  Would I see the scalpel coming in to slice my face?  The skin cancer spot wasn't extremely large, but it had been growing.  The flaky, pink colored flesh was circular in shape and on the left side of the bridge of my nose.  If the surgeon cut too deeply, would it affect my eyesight?  Would I come out of this operation blind in my left eye?  Had 5 years been long enough for the basal cells to grow into my cartilage like my friend Carrie who had to have almost a complete nose reconstruction when her skin cancer spread like fire through the cartilage on her nose?  I was glad this wasn't melanoma, but what did this mean for me if I'm only 29 with skin cancer of any sort?  The answers would only come in time, but my mind demanded the unanswerable.
So much for putting the kids to bed early - it didn't buy me any extra shut-eye before the procedure.  Finally I sat to read; the words calmed my racing mind enough to help me conk out around 11:30.
In the last moments of consciousness I felt instant relief that my mind and body was relaxing - I planned to get 6 straight hours of sleep before the alarm went off.  But the tension was back at 12:30. I dozed back off. At 1:30 I couldn't sleep comfortably because one of my boys crawled in my bed.  I moved.  Strange dreams woke me up at 2:30.  At 3:30 I was eyeing the clock to make sure I didn't sleep past my alarm.  At 4:30 I was relieved I could catch one more hour of rest before the alarm.  Finally the alarm came and it was time to go get all the answers to the previously unanswerable questions. 
I tried to make myself look as cute as possible without make up, but I couldn't wipe the worry off my face or erase the bags under my eyes.  A little bit of rest would have fixed that problem!
We rushed out the door and Mitchell dropped me off at the Desert Cliffs Surgical Center.  I kissed my babies good-bye and Mitch rushed off to take them to my mother-in-law and then he planned to rush back.  I remembered the reassuring words my boys had for me the night before.  Tyson gently said, "I'm sorry you have skin cancer, Mom."  I told him I was sad, too, but that I would be okay.  Emmett said, "You might cry."  That made me laugh, and then Tyson grimaced as he imagined the cancer getting cut out of my face, "You might scream like a little girl!"  I love that they said everything no one else would say - sometimes you need the frankness of a child just so you can laugh it off.
When I opened the door to the surgery center,everyone in the waiting room had the same grim expression I did.  We were not looking forward to this.  I vocalized what everyone else was thinking, and a kind man named Jack smiled.  He showed me a spot of skin that had cancer just 2 weeks ago, and now I couldn't even tell it had been cut into.  That was reassuring.  Andy kept reading his book across the way, and Tom still couldn't crack a smile, but his wife was at peace (of course she was, she wasn't get sliced up today).  The other patients were still worried, and so was I.  In fact, where was my husband?  I texted him:  "Hurry, please!  You'd better be back here before they take me into that room!"
My name was the 4th one called, and I made the long trek back WITHOUT my husband.  I bravely shared all my personal height & weight information with the assistant, and Mitch showed up a couple minutes later.  I rested in the comfy chair that gave a false sense of security and after Mitchell pushed all the hydraulic lift buttons out of curiosity & sent me hovering higher than his head, we finally quit acting like kids and listened to Jerry Seinfeld over the intercom.  We were in good spirits when the surgeon came in.  She put purple dots on my face around a spot she said could be a new skin cancer location that we'll need to watch.  She was a kind, pretty, and happy lady, so I could focus on what I liked about her instead of what she was about to do to my face.  I zeroed in to what her melodiously accented voice was saying and closed my eyes as I processed the words that flowed out of her mouth: I could get two black eyes.  Numbing fluid was coming.  Did I feel anything? No.  I wasn't breathing, I needed to breathe.  I wanted to hold Mitch's hand, but couldn't tell him, because I was supposed to be breathing - he must have sensed it, because he reached over and "held" my ankle.  Oh, how I love him!  They were taping my face.  The tape was too close to my eyelid, could they fix it?  Tough noodles. And it was over.
I entered back into the waiting room with the old men who had been there before.  People were actually smiling this time - even Tom!  It wasn't all that bad for any of us!  The previous tension had literally been cut by a knife, and the irony is that the knife made everything better.  Who knew?  Not to mention, we all looked funny - in my head I was giggling at these real-life snowmen with pointy white noses.   We chatted up a storm and encouraged each other.  We should have been worried as the medical staff looked at our cancer cells to see if they got everything, but no one was upset this time.  Tom got his news first - they got all the cancer and he could go straight to the plastic surgeon!  We cheered!  Andy was next - sorry, Andy.  Like a little boy going into detention, he shuffled his feet back.  Tom said there was a 40% chance of not needing a second layer of Moh's surgery.  I told him that meant I would be heading back in.  I wasn't being pessimistic.  And I wasn't upset.  I just knew.  Sure enough, my name was called for a 2nd round and I said good-bye to all my friends.
Andy, Tom, Debra Jo, Dan

The second round wasn't as bad - the surgeon just needed to go deeper & not wider to get the remaining clusters of cancer cells.  I wasn't breathing well enough again, and when the assistant asked me if I was okay, Mitchell acted like he was hyperventilating while he said, "I'm (gasp) fine (gasp)."  That's when I remembered where my little boys got their "tactful" tendencies in their comments the night before - FROM THEIR FATHER!

Darlene, D-Jo, Kelly
After the second round, I met some more friends as we waited for the results - I saw Jack leaving the plastic surgeon's office, and was happy for him that he was done.  We reunited with our first friends of the day.  Dan's nose looked PERFECT, and he said good-bye with his son-in-law, Al.  I couldn't believe how amazing his stitching looked when he walked out without a bandage.  Andy left with a bandage, though.  Kelly was one of 3 people in the office that morning that DIDN'T have her nose worked on, haha.  She had previously lived in Hawaii, and has had skin cancer removal surgeries done every other year since the early 2000's.  Darlene was the sweetest thing - she was bubbly and bright, and actually acted like she was happy to be there - she acted like this was an adventure.  I felt like since I was paying a pretty penny to be there, I might as well enjoy it, too!  For the same price as an amazing vacation, Mitchell and I are getting 3 separate medical experiences this month, so we decided to live it up.  We looked at the aquarium, we enjoyed the complimentary snacks, and Mitch and I got excited when we saw the putting green for patients!  We played 3 rounds of golf and it was such a fun date!

Maybe he helped me cheat a smidgin', because I was having a hard time getting the golf ball in the holes!

WHAT is that from?  Someone is totally IMMATURE!
About 4 hours into the experience, I finally met the plastic surgeon.  Besides myself, he was the youngest person I'd interacted with all day.  He was kind, but Mitch wasn't allowed to come with me.  I wasn't scared anymore, though, so it was okay with me that he stayed in the lobby.  And then they really got me ready for a real surgery.  I felt like they wrapped me up in a body bag as they covered me with blankets, covered my hair with a net, placed smaller towels on my face.  They told me to close my eyes, and I started to get really nervous.  They showed me my wound with a mirror before they stitched it up.  That was a bad idea to look.  Imagine a penny sized, gaping red hole in your face between your eyes.  The surgeon and assistants talked to me throughout the whole surgery.  I could tell he was snipping and tugging and stitching.  Then I felt like my eyelid wouldn't close properly and I was afraid he stitched me too tightly.  Come to find out, it felt that way because it was swollen.  Come to find out I would have swelling for up to 5 days.  Come to find out, I wasn't allowed to bend over or exert myself physically for a while.  They handed me a mirror, and come to find out, I LOOKED LIKE THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN!  I chastised the surgeon, "I look like the bride of Frankenstein and that's exactly what I didn't want to look like!"  But then I had a change of heart and before I left the room, I was thanking him sincerely with a lump in my throat - my emotions were all over the place.  I marched into the waiting room and my friends told me I looked great, but I knew they were lying.  I gave them a forced smile, said good-bye, and Mitch consoled me the whole ride to my in-laws.
I texted this picture to Erin and she promptly responded with kind words that made me cry even harder.
I cried the whole ride.  Mitchell asked me, "Aren't you glad the cancer is gone?"  I responded, "No!  I just wish it never happened!"  I was a MESS!  I was grieving over my FACE!  I didn't look the same!  It wasn't me!  I was swollen and had an inch long incision, and to me it looked HORRIBLE!  I didn't want to see ANYONE, but Mitch made me go inside to get the kids.  I had a flashback to the night before, when I had told a friend of the family who was spending time with us that when you go through hard things, it's not good to withdraw and take yourself away from people who love you.  I listened to Mitch, took my own advice, and made the long walk inside to see my Borden family.  I must have looked pretty bad, because Brian was SO NICE to me - no punk jokes or anything of the sort.  They gave me ice packs and my father-in-law consoled me with "Just remember that chicks dig scars...oh...wait."  Now I know where my husband gets it from - HIS FATHER! 
Needless to say, the morning was fun.  The aftermath was not.  The morning was like a party.  The afternoon felt like coping.  I got a nap and woke up with a better attitude, but my poor hubby was exhausted from the day-long ordeal, too:

Once I got a little rest, I really was happy the cancer was gone.  Even when I was upset about the way my face looked, deep down, I was still grateful that we live where we do, and that we have the medical advances and technology available to help us catch problems early.  There are people in the world who live for years with problems that never get better, and their medical issues cause them to have a decrease in their quality of life, and many times die earlier than they would if they had been able to have access to the same kind of care we have in the States.  But even with that in the back of my mind, I just needed to sleep off the stress of the entire ordeal.

After I slept, everything really did get better!  My sweetheart, Tyson told me he loved me and that I was the best mom so many times.  He brought me a blanket from his bed.  Mitch brought me ice packs and made food.  My friend Tory & piano student Audrey brought me a delicious chocolate Chex mix desert that was AMAZING!  Tory told me, "Wow!  That really does look great! I thought I would have to come here and lie to you and tell you it looked better than it did, but REALLY, your surgeon did an amazing job!"  After she said that I started to wonder whether or not she was lying, because she had planned on lying to make it better for me!  :)  I do believe her, though, because I have seen worse pictures of my friends & family who have had skin cancer - my cousin Melissa, and my friend Carrie take the cake with their pictures.
And after my nap, I felt good enough to go to my nephew's party and I'm so happy I didn't miss it.  Tyson even gave me a band-aid and thoughtfully explained, "Here Mom!  Here's a band-aid so that no one will laugh at you."

All in all, I'm grateful for the experience (what doesn't kill you makes you stronger).  I am also so grateful for the support of friends.  I have had so many personal messages from friends on facebook, and have had personal emails from friends and family, and that has helped me tremendously.  My Aunt Kathy is going through the same thing right now, and it helps to know I'm not alone in my recovery as we've shared our experiences with each other.  At the end of the day, my friend Melissa brought me flowers & gourmet chocolate, and who can't help but feel happy with chocolate and flowers?  Even if you'd rather not experience something like skin cancer surgery, life is so good, these experiences are actually meant to bring us joy in the end, and we are so blessed to be here experiencing life and living.