Here's Your Sign - Basal Cell Skin Cancer
I was born with a tiny broken blood vessel located right beneath the corner of my left eye. It remained my whole life, just a teeny little red spot, barely noticeable. I never gave it any thought, unless I was getting ready to go somewhere special. Then I covered it up with makeup. When I was twelve, I was diagnosed as being very nearsighted. I had to wear glasses......all the time, except for sleeping. Soon, I didn't give my glasses a thought. I was used to wearing them. I barely noticed them except for when I was competing at a sport. Then they would slide down my nose until I looked like someone's granny. As I got older, I toyed with the notion of buying contacts, but the idea of intentionally sticking a finger in my eye wasn't appealing.
Soon, I was heading into my 40's. I never gave my broken blood vessel or my glasses a thought until I took a physically demanding job. As a general manager of an extremely busy restaurant, I was in constant motion. I became very aware of my glasses as they habitually slid down my nose. I also became very aware of the broken blood vessel. It was becoming irritated from my glasses sliding back and forth over it. The area had become a tiny bit raised and a bit more red, sometimes getting a tiny scab over it. Off to the eye doctor I went, in search of contacts.
During my eye examination, the doctor asked how I had injured the corner of my eye. It was such a tiny spot, almost a pinpoint, I was surprised she had noticed. I explained the presence of the damaged blood vessel and the constant slipping and sliding of my glasses. She seemed to be OK with my explanation, but recommended that I keep a watch over it. If it continued to crust over, or got any worse, she wanted me to see my family physician. A week after starting the use of contacts, my bump went away. There was no crusting, and the redness was back to normal.
For two years, there was no change in the appearance of my broken blood vessel. However, my eyes were getting older. My contacts were becoming more of a hindrance than a help as I now needed to be wearing bifocals. Out came the contacts and on went the glasses. It didn't take long for the irritation to spring up again, only this time it was the circumference of a pencil eraser. I didn't bother seeing a doctor. After all, I had experienced it before and it was easily remedied. All I needed to do was limit my use of eye glasses. That was a problem since I needed them to see. Every now and then I would examine the spot for changes, but mostly I ignored it. I was a very busy woman. Time moved on.
One day my boyfriend remarked about the size of my spot. He thought it looked much bigger. I looked at it and agreed that it seemed to have grown a tiny bit. I wasn't concerned. I had too much to do and didn't have time to run off to the doctor. I put it off for another couple of months, all the while getting more and more irritated with my boyfriend who seemed preoccupied with it. Years before I had suffered from a broken blood vessel on my leg. It had begun to bleed just under the skin until I had a “bubble” on my thigh. I had seen the doctor. He had told me to let it alone as it would eventually heal itself. The only thing that could be done for it would be to cauterize it. He felt it would be better to give it a chance to heal on its own. I followed his instructions and the bubble went away as the vessel healed. I saw no point in treating this one any different.
After another few months, I noticed the spot was now starting to grow at a rapid pace. It began to break open and bleed. I didn't even have to touch it. I could be sitting down reading a book and blood would start to run down my face. It wasn't long until infection set in. I purchased antibiotics and ointments which seemed to help, but the size was now almost as big as a quarter. I was finally getting worried. Not only had it gotten much bigger, but the appearance was nothing like it had been. Now it was a very dark red that makeup could not cover. It was almost like a thick scab, with bumps all through it, and the skin around the edges really hurt.
That spring I came down with a very painful urinary tract infection which went straight to my bladder. Within 24 hours I was in so much pain I couldn't stand up. My boyfriend took me off to the emergency room, hoping the pain wasn't caused by anything worse than the infection. As I lay there waiting for a doctor to see me, the farthest thing from my mind was the sore spreading across my face. I curled up like a baby, praying someone would soon come to ease my suffering. Imagine my shock when the doctor walked into the room, took one look at my face and said, “That's cancer on your face and it needs to come off yesterday!”
It took a month until I was sitting in the dermatologist’s examination room. I was poked and prodded until three more suspicious looking spots were discovered. These were all easily removed at once and sent off to be biopsied. The one on my face was another matter. It had become so aggressive that I had to keep a bandage on it at all times to staunch the bleeding. It appeared to grow more with each passing day. The doctor didn't feel the usual methods of removal were an option. She took pictures of my face to be sent to a surgeon who specialized in eye surgery. I went home to wait for a telephone call from the surgeon's office.
Because the cancer had become so aggressive, I was seen within a week. I had the fortune of getting one of the best eye surgeons in the area who was head of his department. He specialized in both eye surgery and cosmetic surgery. As I listened to my options, I was gravely aware of how bad I had allowed my condition to become. Though basal cell cancer is the least deadly and not usually likely to metastasize, it can be severely disfiguring if left untreated. I was now faced with the possibility that I would require several procedures for reconstructive surgery to rebuild a lower eyelid, my cheek and nose, depending on how deep the cancer had gone and whether it had attached itself to the bones.
Ten days later I was being prepared to go under the knife. My face would be cut from the corner of my eye, below the lower eyelid on out almost to my hairline. A second cut would start at the same corner and go down alongside my nose almost to my lip. After the cancer was removed, the flap of skin would be pulled over and stitched. The areas not able to be covered would require a skin graft which would be taken from behind my ear.
Four and a half hours later, I woke to half my face being covered in gauze. I didn't feel any pain. In fact, I couldn't feel my face at all, which left me worrying if I had one left. I lay there wondering how I was going to get through the next eight months of reconstructive surgeries. I wondered if I would end up looking anything like my former self. I wondered how my boyfriend would see me and if he'd still be attracted to me. I worried that my young grandchildren would be terrified of my appearance.
As it turned out, my worries were unnecessary. Though all indications had been otherwise, my cancer hadn't attached itself to the bone. My doctor was so skilled in his surgical abilities that he was able to save the rim of my lower eyelid, stitching the skin together with such precision that there is no scar in that area. The incision along my nose didn't go as well though it isn't horrible, and the area needing the skin graft has shrunk to a half dollar size. Though I also have a depressed pocket the size of a dime in my cheek, I've chosen not to get any more surgeries, much to my doctor's chagrin. He is a perfectionist and isn't happy to have any scarring of any kind.
I have chosen to keep my scars as a reminder and a warning of the dangers of putting off medical care for any reason. I was extremely lucky to not have to go through reconstruction of my face. As it is, I have very little feeling under my eye and along my nose, and during times of extreme concentrated eye contact, an annoying twitch develops. I'll deal with that as it is another reminder; one that tells me I've still got my sight.
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