Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Skin Cancer Reality Check

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. --  (1 Corinthians 6:19-20, NIV)
For the past year and a half I have done everything in my power to take care of my body, "fearfully and wonderfully made" by my loving heavenly Father (Psalm 139:14). I have eaten healthy, exercised often, and taken precautions when working or playing in the sun. However, to my detriment I have been slow to establish a relationship with a local dermatologist in the three years we have lived in Virginia, despite knowing that I needed to schedule a skin exam to follow up on some suspicious moles on my face.

This summer, nearly four years after my last skin exam, I made an appointment for a full body skin check up. The spots on my face about which I was most concerned turned out to be nothing.  However the spot I dismissed as nothing was one which the dermatologist felt should be biopsied. One week later I received a sobering diagnosis: lentigo maligna, a form of melanoma caused by sun damage. The treatment: Mohs surgery.  The prognosis:  good, because we caught it early!

Because my cancer is a melanoma the preferred treatment is "slow Mohs," a multi-day series of surgeries for removing cancerous tissue, and culminating, if needed, with reconstructive surgery by a plastic surgeon. So far this week I have had two surgeries to remove cancerous tissue. During the first procedure the surgeon removed a quarter-size section of tissue from my cheek. The pathology test came back positive, requiring a second surgery to remove additional tissue the following day.  A third appointment has been scheduled for the purpose of examining the surgery site and bandaging it in preparation for repair of the cheek defect by a plastic surgeon if no further cancer is found.  UPDATE:  As of 10/4/17, all margins are clear and plastic surgery is scheduled for 10/5!

The pictures I have posted below are not graphic but they represent a progression of diagnosis and treatment so far.  Honestly I have no idea what the wound beneath my bandage looks like, but having looked at many images on the Internet I can only imagine that my wound is not pretty.  I've seen pictures of the reconstructive surgery and scars associated with this type of cancer, and I will spare you mine. They say "time heals all wounds" and I know that in time God will heal mine. It could take 6 to 12 months, but I know that the scar will fade over time and life will go on.

So why am I telling you all this? Because I care about you.  Because most of you are like me.  You grew up in a time when we opted for baby oil instead of sunscreen, tanned skin was considered the picture of health, and sunburns, like scraped knees, were common childhood occurrences, and we never thought a thing of it. What we didn't know then can, and probably will, hurt at least some of us. Most importantly, I'm sharing my journey with you because I believe God has allowed this trial in my life to raise awareness of something that can be prevented in yours. Mine is not the face of some stranger you've never seen before.    What happened to me can happen to you.

If you have a suspicious spot on your skin, don't be afraid to have it checked out.  Even a melanoma, if caught early, is treatable. If left untreated, it can be fatal.  I was fortunate that mine was caught early. I am glad I finally listened to that nagging voice in my head saying, "Now! Now is the time to check it out!" If even one person sees a dermatologist for a skin exam, then my journey will have been worth it.  Consider me your nag -- honor God with your body and love yourself enough to get a skin check up, even if you don't think there is anything to be worried about!

I am thankful for the doctors and medical staff attending me through this skin cancer journey. I trust God will use them to accomplish my healing. If you have a health issue, please don't ignore it. Sometimes faith requires that we seek healing and treatment through medical providers. Your health is one of God's greatest gifts to you, and His grace is sufficient for you even as it is for me.

To all who have prayed me through this adventure, know that your prayers have carried me. God's peace is proof that your prayers are working. Thank you for your fervent prayers.

Mole on cheek near corner of eye.  Looks like a harmless "age spot," right?
Lentigo maligna -- diagnosed a few days after the biopsy
Last good photo taken about two weeks before Slow Mohs
Day 1 Post Op -- after removal of a quarter size section of tissue

Day 2 Post Op -- after removal of additional tissue and prior to reconstruction
Morning after reconstruction and the first time I saw what was beneath the bandage.  
Bottom line:  All this could possibly have been avoided had I gone to the dermatologist for a skin exam at the first sign of trouble. I am blessed.  We caught it early, before the melanoma became invasive and potentially life-threatening. The stitches which run from the corner of my eye (dangerously close) to the middle of my cheek will leave a scar. The scar will fade over time and, with my glasses in place, may be hardly noticeable. The experience of all this, however, will remain with me and hopefully will heighten awareness and prompt those who know me to pay attention to the warning signs and take appropriate action.




Copyright © 2017 by Dee Dee Wike. All rights reserved. www.deedeewike.com

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