Wednesday, August 24, 2011

the c-word

originally posted on LJ on 8-3-07
Okay, so some people know about this and some people don't. Because I'm exhausted having to recall this story for people every time it comes up in conversation, I am going to post it here. It's about cancer. I plan to write about this more in detail at some point, but for now, hopefully this will suffice:

1) in the fall of 2006, I went to my GP about a small growth on my cheek. was told it was just a cyst, no worries. I said I wanted to have it removed anyway (since it was on my face) & got a referral for a dermatologist.

2) My dematologist (who happens to be the spitting image of Abe Vigoda) took one look at it and said he was almost positive it was a basal cell carcinoma - often called the "best" of all cancers (primarily because it almost never metastisizes). he did a biopsy to make sure.

3) biopsy confirmed it was a "BCC" (as they say in the dermatology biz). so I had a small surgery to remove the sliver of my cheek containing the growth.

4) one week later, i go in to have my stitches removed. It was strange, because the nurse who removed them didn't say anything reassuring like "oh, it's heeling up nicely." It gave me the impression that it didn't matter how it was healing. My suspicions were confirmed when she rather seriously stated that the doctor would be in shortly to talk about my "results."

When the doctor arrived, he told me that the cancer actually extended beyond 3 of the 4 margins. Apparently it was "micronodular" BCC, which is a really aggressive form of BCC (or as I joked afterwards, it is the worst of the best of all cancers). It still wasn't metastatic, but this form sends amoeba-like tentacles out underneath the surface of the skin. It can burrow away underneath for a while before surfacing. Because of this, my doctor could not say for certain how much tissue they needed to remove. In the best case scenario, they would have to just have to remove a little more. In the worst case scenario, I could lose most of the skin on my cheek and have to have extensive skin grafts/facial reconstruction.

So in December, the day after my manuscript was due at my publisher, I underwent a medical procedure called Mohs micrographic surgery, where they remove a bit of tissue and do the pathology in house to figure out how much more they need to remove, and then repeat over and over until they believe they have it all. It turned out, I had an intermediate case scenario: they had to remove a fairly big chunk of my cheek (around 3 square centimeters), but at least it was small enough that they didn't have to resort to skin grafts.

5) the following day I had plastic surgery to close the hole. They had to undermine the skin underneath the right side of my face (literally separate it from the tissue underneath) and pull the skin toward my nose to close the gap. It was sorta like a face lift, but in the opposite direction. My face ballooned up like basketball. I couldn't close my mouth for a week, both because of the swelling and because my remaining skin was so tightly stretched. I had a Billy Idol sneer for about a month...

6) in May I had scar revision surgery (because the initial hole was so big, it didn't heel properly).

Now I am fine. I have a fairly big scar on my cheek, but it's much better than having cancer.

Like I said, I plan to write about this all in more detail, especially to talk about the intersection of cancer & trans. I also want to explore my sense of guilt about this whole ordeal. I mean, it was this really awful and scary experience, but at the same time I feel guilty about claiming it because I was really really lucky compared to most people who grapple with more life-threatening forms of cancer.

More to come (at some point)...