Sunday, November 10, 2019

PSA: Wear Sunscreen!

Three weeks ago, I had surgery to remove skin cancer from my face. So, that was fun. 

Just kidding, it wasn't fun at all. 

But I'm here to tell you about it because skin cancer is the most common type of cancer.  According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, 1 in 5 Americans will be diagnosed with some form of it by the time they are 70. The most common type is basal cell carcinoma, which is what I've had three times so far. 

To be honest, I tried to downplay this surgery in the weeks leading up to the procedure. Many people have to deal with a lot more difficult things than outpatient appointment and a few stitches.  Whenever I face a challenge, I try to remember James 1:2. "Consider it pure joy, my bothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance."  I mean, I can't say I was feeling joyous about the whole thing, but I definitely feel lucky to have access to early detection and good medical care. I joked that having stitches around Halloween was perfect timing. 

On the day of my Mohs surgery, Paul drove me to my appointment. Even though it was outpatient, I was a little nervous and was thankful to have the company and a hand to hold in the waiting room. The surgeon numbed the area and then removed the cancerous tissue from the edge of my nose down towards my lip. He cauterized the area (nothing like the smell of burning flesh to remind you to wear sunscreen!) and then examined it in the lab to ensure the margins were cancer free. Then he returned to stitch up the incision and send me home with instructions to wear the bandage for 7 days and avoid exercise, stooping, lifting and alcohol. 

I thought that would be the worst part but I was wrong. I think that's because I was prepared for the surgery but I didn't realize what the recovery would be like. I didn't realize it would hurt to laugh, talk or chew because of where the stitches were located.  I didn't realize how prominent the bandage would look, and that it would start to curl up around the edges and smell funny. I didn't think about how self conscious I would be about returning to work with a giant bandage on my face. Or that not exercising/lifting/stooping for a week would make me feel pretty useless. I didn't think I would start obsessing about every age spot, freckle or mole on my body wondering, "Is this normal?" Or that I would worry about the scar and how prevalent it would look on my face. Did you ever bite the inside of your cheek? And then it sticks out a little so you end up biting it again and again? It started to make me feel depressed. And then I felt guilty for being depressed over some stupid, small cancer on my face that wasn't even there anymore. "Come on, Allison. What about James 1:2? Get it together!"

There's actually a name for this. Brené Brown says "unwanted identity" is when we take on characteristics that undermine our vision of our ideal selves. So if you think of yourself as healthy and independent, being sick and dependent on others is really frustrating.  

Intermingled with my feeling sorry for myself was a renewed appreciation for my life. I felt like Emily Webb in Our Town, " Oh, earth you’re too wonderful for anyone to realize you!" Friends gave me a get well gift and I cried with gratitude at their generosity.  Family called to check on me. Paul was my rock, and loved me through every step of the emotional roller coaster.  

And so, the days passed and the bandage came off. If I wear a little concealer now, you can barely see the scar. It's a part of who I am and what I survived. I don't mind seeing it in the mirror in the mornings because its a visual reminder that we are all less than perfect and that we all have some scars. And I have a new quote hanging next to James 1:2. It says, "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about."

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