skin cancer

I have Skin Cancer.

Who me? Skin Cancer? No way. Other people get it; not me. Yeah, right; that's what I *used* to think. NOW, I know better; my past sins have caught up with me. Here is what I looked like Sept. 24, 2K.

skin cancer

That's about 14 stitches you're looking at. Not a pretty picture eh? Maybe, just maybe, somebody else can learn from my mistakes and will not have to go through what I'm going through.

How it started

Years ago, a small scab appeared on my right temple. I did not think much of it, but finally decided to try to get rid of it. I tried every lotion and salve I could find around the house. Nothing worked. Then I tried some drugstores; showed the pharmacist what I had and asked for a suggestion. That did not work either; just a waste of effort, money and time. From time to time, a small crack would appear in the scab and a tiny spot of blood might appear; so small it was barely visible. But it bothered me so I went to a local surgeon. He carved out a piece and after the lab tested it, he told me it was skin cancer; "Basal Cell Carcinoma." Further, he told me that the test showed that he had not managed to carve out all of it. He went at me a second time and carved out some more. Once again, the lab said he did not get all of it. Rather than carve me up a third time, he prescribed "Efudex" cream (Fluorouracil) which sort of (painlessly) eats away at your flesh. This did not hurt but made an awful, gory mess of the area. After a month of that we let it heal. It seemed to have gone away for good. (The key word here is "seemed.")

Like the Cat, it Came Back. A year or two after the Efudex effort, a tiny scab re-appeared. It was so small I was tempted to ignore it. I'm not the sort of person who likes to run to a doctor for every little thing. But, hearing the suggestions "A stitch in time saves nine" and such, I decided to have a different local doctor take a look. He suggested that I visit a specialist in Edmonton. His office made an appointment for me with Dr. B. Lycka.

The Specialist

Normally, Dr. Lycka would see a patient one day for an examination and then book a second appointment for the actual operation. As Edmonton is some 280 miles from my home, he agreed to see me in the morning and cut me in the afternoon, same day. Dr. Lycka's office mailed me quite a bit of useful and informative information about skin cancer. I mentioned to them that I had found a second spot on my left cheek which I thought should be looked at. Then his office contacted my local Doctor asking him to do a biopsy to find out just what that second spot might be. My Doctor saw me at the local hospital and took a small sample out of my left cheek. I suggested while he was at it, he might want to take a look at another spot on my left temple and another on a finger. He did biopsies on all three. When I went back to his office a week later to have the stitches removed he showed me the lab reports indicating that the 3 biopsies showed no cancer. So, we were back to the cancer on my right temple.

The Trip to the Specialist

I went to Edmonton on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2000 and next morning Dr. Lycka and his nurse Tracy examined me. At 1:00PM he cut a piece out and sent it for immediate lab examination. An hour or two later he cut me a second time as the first time he had not got all of the cancer cells. An hour after that he cut me a third time. There were three of us being operated on for the same sort of thing that afternoon. Between carvings, we three patients and partners sat in a special coffee room and shared a few lies. Dr. Lycka does approximately 500 of these operations each year and has done more than 3,000. He and his nurse Tracy worked well together and tried to make the experience as pleasant as possible, if it is possible to make operations pleasant. After the third carving Tracy took a picture of the mess. I asked for an 8x10 glossy. Dr. Lycka made it clear to me that if I had seen him a few years earlier, he would probably have been able to get rid of the cancer with a very much smaller hole in my face. After my third carving, Dr. Lycka asked if I wanted to see the hole he had made. Of course I did and he handed me a mirror. Looking at the hole in my temple, it occurred to me that maybe he wanted to play golf on my face. He said that at this point he would stop as he had removed all the deep cancer but there were some cells near the surface. Carving any more would make it impossible to put me back together without skin grafting. He would finish the job later by using liquid nitrogen to freeze those cells at a later date. He told me that my local doctor had done me a *huge* favor by suggesting that I visit him in Edmonton. Then they began to sew me up. When all done, Tracy took another Polaroid shot. Here are two of the pictures she took before and after sewing me up:


cancer operationcancer operation

The Pain

I can honestly say that the pain was almost non-existent. Yes, it was rather uncomfortable when the doctor sunk the needles into me to freeze the area. Yes, pulling it all together to sew me up was something I could not really enjoy all that much. But, when we were all done, Dr. Lycka gave me 3 prescriptions and one was for a pain killer. I did not get it filled because I did not think I'd need it. And I didn't. There was virtually no pain.

Before I was back home from Edmonton, Dr. Lycka had phoned my home to be sure I was OK. A day or two later, nurse Tracy called to ask how I was doing and to tell me that another appointment had been made for me in November for the 'liquid nitrogen' routine.

The Monetary Cost

Fortunately for those of us living in Alberta, we have an excellent Health Care system. Alberta Health Care paid all of the costs. All I had to pay for was the trip to Edmonton (by car), two nights in Motels, and two prescriptions for antibiotics (one for pills and one for ointment). My Blue Cross coverage should pay for all but about $8.00 of that. Note that if you have concerns about the "tax implications" of medical expenses, please see my webpage on TaxTips HERE. For tax purposes, I was able use a cost of almost $600 due to this trip.

What YOU Can Do to Avoid all this Grief

Perhaps I should say, "What YOU MUST do." Nobody enjoys this kind of thing, and you can learn from my experience. I'd like to sum it up in two simple suggestions:

UPDATE: August 2007:

It became clear that Dr. Lycka did not get it all. It came back. On Feb. 13, 2008, I visited Dr. Lycka again and he cut me again. No option to use lasers, unfortunately, he told me. Here is how I looked when he was done. This time the hole was too large to sew up and so this hole has to be cleaned twice a day, covered with lotion and bandage, and left to heal itself. The red spot in my ear is the same problem; he did a "biopsy." The doctor prescribed Aldara to rub on the other spot, in my eyebrow.

cancer operation

My friend Judy manages a Health Food store and has been in that business all her life. She has seen many cases where cancers were CURED with "natural medicines." The father of one of her co-workers used an ointment to completely get rid of his Basal Cell Carcinoma. I got a tiny tube of it, made by Lane Laboratories, but it did not help at all.

March 2008:

March 12 was a long day. My friend Marie and I took Greyhound at 6 AM and got to Edmonton at 12:30. We ran to the doctor's office, arriving 4 minutes before my appointment time. Dr. Lycka decided the Aldara seems to have "cooked" the cancer in the eyebrow and the large hole he had carved a month ago was healing nicely. So, he took his knife to my right ear. No pain other than that of the needles. Fortunately, Mohs surgery showed that he had gotten all the cancer so he told me to use the remaining Aldara on a spot just below the previous surgery, and to come back in 3 weeks. We ran back to the Greyhound depot just catching the 3 PM bus and were back home by about 9 PM. Here is how it all looked next morning:

cancer operation

Over the next few weeks the scab left by the Aldara disappeared an the skin went back to the way it should be with no sign of the cancer. The other areas healed very well also.

Updates

September, 2010:

In September I noticed more or less in the middle of the largest area of scar tissue, some scabbing that would not go away. Clearly, the most recent surgery was a failure. I got some Aldara for $422. and started applying that on September 17. I applied this for about 3 weeks and at the end of that time it DID look better.
Blue Cross does not (yet?) pay for Aldara BUT I asked the doctor for a "Special Authorization" or some such form, and for $35, he did that and faxed it to Blue Cross. I assume Blue Cross will repay me. They didn't.

In May 2011, I had a feeling that the spot on my right temple might not be free of cancer. Plus, there was a spot on my back that didn't look right. So I went to a local dermatologist who took 3 biopsies May 27. Two were on my right temple and one on my right shoulder/back; the latter required 2 stitches:

cancer operation cancer operation

A month later I got the results of the 3 biopsies: the one on the back of my right shoulder WAS Basal Cell Carcinoma and the ones on my right temple included some Squamous Cell Carcinoma, an agressive form of cancer. We agreed that I would see Dr. Kevin Wong at the local hospital on July 22 and he will cut out the one on my back and take "several" more biopsies on my right temple to find out how much the Squamous has spread and then probably refer me to a surgeon in Edmonton to do some more radical surgery including taking some flesh from another part of my little body to fill the huge hole which is expected. He will also remove the one on my back/shoulder.

At the hospital on July 22, Dr. Wong cut out the Basal Cell Carcinoma on my shoulder with a hole the size of a penny; it took 5 stitches:
cancer operation Then he did two more biopsies on the right temple.

August 16, 2011: I went to see the docs this morning re the 3 biopsies done July 22. The one on my back was clear of cancer. The two on the right temple showed NO cancer either so I reminded Dr. Kevin Wong that he did those 2 precisely because the 3 done by his partner Dr. Malcolm showed Squamous Cell Carcinoma. He dug into my file and then agreed with me. He consulted Dr. Malcolm and they were a bit confused so are arranging for me to see a surgeon in Edmonton on October 5, 2011. That surgeon is Dr. Chris Keeling and his website lives at http://www.dermassociates.ca/.

On the morning of Oct. 4, I sent this note to my sister:

We are off to the BIG city (Edmonton; 482 km each way) so I can see the new surgeon early Wed. morning to get my face carved AGAIN. Then, more carvings throughout the day until they figure there is nothing left worth carving on. Then I hope (if I survive) to come home Thursday. Sans face. They probably will cut a chunk of flesh out (read “Ctrl C)” of my derriere and paste it (read “Ctrl V”) into my face so you can call me Buttface hereafter.

By late afternoon next day (Oct. 5) I was back home, a Happy Camper. It was a 482 Km trip each way and it all went VERY smoothly. Marie's son Norm did the driving, her Brother-in-Law Phil (where we spent the night) drove us to and from the clinic and Dr. Chris Keeling impressed us very much. After studying the file and my face, he decided to cut a hole, size of a quarter, ONLY and it took 16 stitches to sew me up again. THIS time, there was NO PAIN AT ALL! I was amazed. Dr. Keeling and his staff are EXCELLENT. Dr. Keeling is a "Mohs Surgeon, Fellow, Royal College of Physicians of Canada, Diplomat, American Board of Dermatology, and Clinical Lecturer, University of Alberta. Here are pictures of the event of today:

cancer operation cancer operation cancer operation

FINAL update:

In May of 2012 things got worse. A whole lot worse. This time I was diagnosed with TERMINAL Pancreatic Cancer. On June 20, the surgeon "gave" me 3 months. I started a blog on that at http://www.sticksite.com/the-end/index.html.


Online Resources:

Canadian Cancer Society: http://www.cancer.ca/ 1-888-939-3333 National Cancer Institute: http://www.nci.nih.gov/ 1-800-4-CANCER


BEST WISHES to Larry Ziniuk and "Duffers" in England who have had this 'fun' experience too!


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