Tuesday, February 04, 2014

World Cancer Day

Since today is World Cancer Day, I thought I would post something personal about cancer in my own life.  Just within this past year alone, I fought two battles with skin cancer - both located on my head.

The first one showed up about a year ago as small bumps on top of my head.  At first I thought it was just dry skin from the winter air. I went to see my amazing dermatologist in Chicago and he very quickly diagnosed me as having Actinic Keratosis ("AK").  AK is found on the skin that has often been exposed to the sun for long periods of time.  Untreated AKs can advance to squamous cell carcinoma ("SCC"), the second most common form of skin cancer, and some experts believe they are actually the earliest stage of SCC.

Day 14
"Dr. Amazing" gave me a prescription for Fluorouracil, a topical ointment that I was to apply to my head twice a day for 2 weeks.  He warned me to use this medication during a time when I was not planning on being particularly social.  Look up images online and you will see why (fortunately mine never got that bad.)  The medication essentially burns the AK off the skin.  We discovered that my skin was slow to react to the medication, so I increased the application time by another week.  By Day 21, my skin was raw, sensitive, and ugly.  I wondered how it could ever heal from this procedure.  But it only took 1 week for my skin to restore to normal, with all traces of the AK and bumps gone. 

6 days after surgery
My second bout came after living in Miami for about 4 months.   I noticed what looked like a pimple on the right bridge of my nose, probably from wearing my reading glasses so often or not washing my face well enough.  So this time I went to a dermatologist in Miami who diagnosed it as basal-cell carcinoma ("BCC").  Unfortunately, a topical cream wouldn't help.  I needed to have surgery to have it removed.  The surgery required 6 stitches.  I also had a reaction to the sutures and had to have them removed about 2 weeks after the surgery.  I was fine with the scar on my nose, but because the skin was pulled, the right side of my nose ended up being higher than the left for about 2 months. 

It would be easy to blame Miami or Southern Florida sun on my problems, but the truth is these both started while I was living in Chicago.  Still, the warning is the same:  sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen.  Most skin cancers can be avoidable, but they can also be undetectable.  I thought I just had a pimple on my nose and it ended up being cancer.  You can never be too sure.  I have my face and head checked annually.  And on World Cancer Day, I say that it is a good idea for everyone.

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