When you hear the words that you have skin cancer it can be an especially traumatic time. You may scour the internet for the latest treatments and quickly become overwhelmed by all of the medical jargon and information. What can help in these instances is to hear the firsthand accounts of other patients who have been through a particular treatment or procedure.
One of the most read articles here on Skin Cancer Connection (with well over a hundred comments) is a post by our Doctor Kevin Berman about Mohs Surgery entitled, "Mohs Surgery: What will the scars look like?" Although this article was posted on our site in 2007, there are still members who come on a regular basis to add additional comments and to share their story.
One of our Skin Cancer Connection members who writes to us each month to provide updates is Gemma. She had her Mohs surgery at the end of September of 2009 and has come to our site on a regular basis to provide the details of her recovery. I was personally touched by her dedication to tell her story. Gemma confided her reason for her writing when she wrote: "I don't know if anyone is reading this, but it sure was helpful to me to find this site, and helpful to have a place to write about my progress, even if no one is reading it but me." Well Gemma, people are reading and want to hear more.
I have invited Gemma to give us an interview so that she can give us the full story about her surgery and on-going recovery. For anyone who wants to know more about Mohs surgery for skin cancer, please see our Mohs surgery information page.
I now present to you, Gemma.
Thank you Gemma, for sharing your story with everyone here on Skin Cancer Connection.
Gemma wants us first to know this:
"It might be relevant that I am a 57-year-old woman who grew up in Southern California at a time when the dangers of sun exposure were not known. I have fair, freckly skin. As a teenager, I went to the beach a lot and got sunburned many times. By my late 20s, I knew sun exposure was bad. I have avoided the sun and worn hats and high spf sunscreen for the past 30 years."
What type of skin cancer did you have and what were the signs that you had it?
I had a 4 mm basal cell carcinoma on the front of my nose. I go to my dermatologist twice a year. On my last visit, in September 2009, I showed her what looked to me like a pimple that never went away. She suspected it was a bcc and took a biopsy, which came back positive.
What type of treatments did you investigate before deciding upon Mohs surgery?
None. I have had 2 previous bcc's. I know that the best option is Mohs surgery, for 2 reasons: it takes a minimal amount of tissue, and it gets the entire cancer. The first bcc was on the side of my nose, about 15 years ago, before Mohs surgery was invented. Apparently, the skin on the side of the nose always heals beautifully. I can't even see the scar. The second bcc was about 3 years ago, at my hairline. For that one I had Mohs surgery. It also healed beautifully. Now I have just a thin white line that is very hard to find. The front of the nose is different. It tends not to heal quite as well. I am still learning about this.
How did you select your doctor?
My dermatologist is part of a group of dermatologists. One of them is a trained Mohs specialist.
Did it work? Were they able to remove all of the cancer cells?
It always works. All the cancer cells are removed as part of the Mohs surgery.
Tell us about the experience. What did it feel like? How long did it take? Were you frightened by the procedure?
It doesn't really hurt. The time it takes depends on how many layers it takes to remove the cancer. Detailed information about the Mohs surgery is available online and in printed literature from your dermatologist. It's a little scary having someone cut your face, of course.
Did you have to take much time off from work?
No. I went back to work right after my appointment. I had a big bandage on my nose.
What has this experience been like for you emotionally?
It is traumatic to have your face cut. It is very difficult not knowing how you will look in the end. The healing process takes a long time.
What has been the most difficult part of the healing process?
Healing takes a long time: 6 months to a year. Right now I am only at the 3-month point. It is difficult to wait, not knowing exactly what to expect. Also, I know that, depending on how the scar looks after 6 months, there are various options for improving the scar, such as cortisone shot, laser treatment. It has been difficult getting all the information about all the options.
Would you undergo this type of procedure again if you had to?
Yes, but I would consider having a plastic surgeon close the wound instead of the dermatologist. I don't know if this would give me a better result, but it might.
Thank you again Gemma for granting us this interview. I am hoping that other members who have had this surgery done can chime in to share their stories and experience as well. Please do come back to update us on how things are going for you as you continue your healing journey.