“It looks like basal cell carcinoma.”
Those were not the words I was expecting to hear my dermatologist say on the morning of January 2nd. I was accompanying my Dad for his checkup when I asked the doc to just take a look at what I thought was a clogged pore. I sat there stunned as he explained needing to send a sample off for a biopsy.
As a blogger and direct sales trainer I spend a good part of my week having to look at myself on camera – whether it is performing a live training webinar, Instagram story, or on my weekly video mastermind chats. I noticed what I thought was a clogged pore on my nose – and not wanting to make it all big and red, I simply left it alone. It went from looking like a blackhead to a tiny little flesh colored bump – nothing at all that would cause alarm.
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Over time though I noticed it getting bigger, and I tried several different facial masks to see if I could open the pore, and even went as far as ordering a set of aesthetician tools to see if I could eliminate it. When my Dad said he had an appointment with his dermatologist and said I could go along, I went in to see if there was anything he could suggest to help me unclog this angry little pore.
When the doctor started poking around though he realized this was more than a clogged pore and decided he wanted to send off a sample for a biopsy. Six days later I received a phone call – that it was, in fact, an infiltrating basal cell carcinoma – and he wanted me to have it removed ASAP.
I made an appointment at Henghold Skin Health & Surgery Group for January 18th and went on about my day. I remember having a mole removed from my neck as a child, so I expected this to be the same. It was a simple outpatient procedure that required about 3 stitches and a day out of school. That was exactly what I anticipated for this. I could not have been more wrong.
On Monday, January 15th I got a phone call asking if I could come in sooner… like the next day. “No problem,” I said, eager to get the surgery done and over with and back to my normal schedule. I rearranged some meetings for later in the week, organized the girls' schedule, and arrived bright and early the next morning for the Mohs procedure.
Henghold Skin Health & Surgery Group is located just off North Davis Highway and is absolutely beautiful. The staff was fantastic and put me right at ease as my anxiety began to grow. I still was expecting a simple in-and-out procedure with a couple little stitches, no big deal. I mean the spot was so tiny. I took my MacBook and a couple snacks and I was good to go.
The Mohs procedure is the best “skin-sparing” surgery for most basal cell carcinoma tumors. The doctor begins by removing the tumor, and then a small margin around the tumor for testing. That skin is then put under a microscope to make sure there are no more cancer cells. If cancer cells are present, the doctor will take another small layer for testing until all cancer cells have been removed.
The nurse gave me a few local injections to numb the area, and the doctor made a perfect circle incision and then put a pressure dressing on the wound for me to wait while it was tested. They said it can take up to an hour to test the sample to make sure no cancer cells are present. I headed to the waiting room where I was met with gentle smiles from others who had pressure dressings just like me on various places of their faces, neck, and hands.
The waiting room was nice and open and even had a table for me to work while I waited. They even gave me a little restaurant buzzer to let me know when my results were in! How cool is that!? I settled in with my snacks and MacBook and began to work. Before I knew it my buzzer was going off.
I was very fortunate that Dr. Henghold got all of my tumor on the very first try. The next step was to close the wound. Because of the location and because of how deep he had to go to get all of the tumor, Dr. Henghold had to get pretty creative in how he closed me up. Because he is also a plastic surgeon he was able to work with the contours of my face to put me back together in the most natural way possible. This called for some significant cutting and pulling though, and by the time it was all over I had about 30 stitches in the shape of what resembles an upside down question mark. This part took over an hour – Dr Henghold took his time to make sure it was absolutely perfect. I have to say though, it is an indescribable feeling to be able to hear someone cutting the skin on your face and sewing it back together. The nurse fixed me up with another pressure dressing and a prescription for pain meds and an antibiotic and I was ready to go.
As I was checking out, the weight of it all finally hit me. As I sat there I was hit with a wave of emotions and the tears just started falling. In just two weeks I had gone from thinking I had an annoying blocked pore to hearing I had skin cancer to having a pretty extensive “minor” surgery that will forever change my appearance. It was a lot to take in. The staff was incredible and sat there with me and let me just talk through my emotions – helping me pat the tears from around the dressing and kinda “put me back together” emotionally before I left.
Mike picked me up and we went to fill my prescriptions and get a few snacks before heading home. The lidocaine was already wearing off and I knew then I was in for some pretty serious pain. I took the prescribed pain pill, but by that evening the pressure was unbearable and I had to call in for something stronger. Finally, I was able to get some relief and was able to sleep off and on for about an hour at a time that night.
My first day post-op was pretty easy. The pressure dressing has to stay on for the first 48 hours – which was not uncomfortable but because of the location, it was difficult to see around it very well. My instructions were to take it easy and rest as much as possible… but I am a terrible patient and wanted to get up and work. Needless to say, I wore myself out pretty quickly. The worst part was dealing with the pain medication side effects. I was itchy and irritable and felt like I was in a fog.
The second day I was able to take off the pressure dressing and really see what was underneath… which was two surgery shiner black eyes and a lot of swelling. I got pretty nauseated while cleaning the wound and redressing it – not necessarily because of the pain but also the anxiety around what I was doing and seeing just how much damage had been done. I was unable to open my left eye when I first woke up. Since the tumor went down the left side of my nose, the left side of my face bore the brunt of the surgery and was also pulled the tightest on the closure. By midday though I was feeling much better and took a very restful nap that afternoon.
The third day was the worst – I was very very swollen and still in quite a bit of pain – even with very strong painkillers. Because of how tightly the skin had to be pulled on my left eye it was very sore and swollen and constantly watered. I cleaned and redressed the wound again – not getting sick this time – and decided to relax more than I had the days before. By the evening though the left side of my face had swelled pretty big – making it difficult to eat.
During the early morning hours of Day Four Mike woke me to take my pain meds. I barely woke up as I stammered to the kitchen to take a pill, and was thankfully able to get right back to sleep. When I woke up later that morning I immediately noticed that I could open my eyes wider than I had the days before. I was due for more pain meds in two hours but I felt great… so I just relaxed, had some coffee, and went about my normal morning routine. My left jaw was still very swollen but not as painful.
When it came time to take my pain meds I was not hurting… at all. So I didn't. Within a few hours, I felt like the brain fog from the painkillers was fading, and though I had some pain at the incision, I felt much much better as the day went on.
It is now the afternoon of Day Four, and while I look like I have some bulldog jowls and a pretty gruesome black eye, I am doing ok still with no pain meds – not even Tylenol. On Tuesday I will have the stitches removed, and then I will continue my path to healing – both physically and emotionally. I am excited to see what my face will look like onces these scars fade and I will be left with the memory of this week.
While basal cell carcinoma is one of the “best” cancers to get – left untreated it can still grow into nearby areas and invade the bone or other tissues beneath the skin. The American Academy of Dermatology estimates that one in five adults will be diagnosed with skin cancer – nearly 9,500 diagnosed every day. Out of the six members of my immediate family on my Dad's side, I am the fifth to be diagnosed and go through this process. It is nice to know I am not alone.
Ironically, my scars will be healed about the time us Floridians start heading back to the beach, and it makes me acutely aware of the hours and hours I have spent “laying out” over the last 37 years. The beach has always been my happy place – my “church” – and where I have “found myself” many, many times. It is where I go to recharge, to rest, and to fill my soul with a little “vitamin sea.” This year though I will go with a new respect for the sun, a big floppy hat, and copious amounts of sunscreen. My time at the beach will be more about the time and people, and less about achieving the “perfect tan.”
I hope that sharing my story encourages you to visit your dermatologist and stay diligent about your skin health. Never in a million years did I think that little spot was anything more than a clogged pore, or that I would need to have a full-blown surgery to remove it. My only regret is that I did not visit my doctor sooner.