Aging is Never a Simple Process
So much for aging gracefully.
We’re all going to get older—if we’re lucky—so we may as well embrace it or at the very least accept it; otherwise, we will spend the rest of our lives battling the inevitable, in vain.
Despite all the anti-aging products out there, our faces take a beating, with sagging skin, lines, tired eyes, brown spots, rosacea and more. The rest of our bodies aren’t spared either, with painful knee and hip joints and gastrointestinal issues…you name it, it’s only a matter of time before we get it.
“Is this what getting old looks like?” my friend asked me. Yes, we decided, it is. The only unknown here is when exactly does “old age” start?
Regardless, we’re caught off guard—at any age—when our bodies speak to us in a language we don’t expect, teaching us new terminology about diagnoses and treatments with which we’re unfamiliar.
It had never occurred to me that at 58, I’d be presented with what’s referred to as a predominately older person’s ailment. I suppose I’ve been burying my head in the sand, given that so many people in my age bracket have also been dealing with this issue.
For whatever the reason, it came as a huge shock to learn that I had basal cell carcinoma…on my cheek.
When I got “the call,” the dermatologist told me I am very lucky because this particular kind of skin cancer has a very high cure rate. I didn’t feel that way at the time, but with all the dire situations my friends and family have come to endure, I have come to feel grateful for my diagnosis.
She suggested I call a local “Mohs” surgeon and gave me the names of two. I had thought Mohs was an acronym but soon learned that it is the name of the man who first developed chemosurgery to remove skin cancer: Frederic Mohs, MD.
His technique, known as Mohs micrographic surgery, calls for one layer of skin to be removed at a time, while the patient waits for the sample to be examined. If the margins are clear, the surgery is done, other than closing the wound. If not, the surgeon returns to the patient and removes the next layer, enabling the least amount of healthy skin to be damaged. Check out this website for more on Mohs.
Being the information gatherer that I am, I spoke with people who I knew had had skin cancer and surfed the Internet because that’s what I do, for better or for worse. Most people I spoke with told me their Mohs procedures went off without a hitch while a couple of others said, “Don’t do it!” Both naysayers were women who did not work with a cosmetic or plastic surgeon from the start.
I soon realized that the biggest issue for people I spoke with was that they were more upset that they had to deal with cancer on their faces which led to an unwelcomed scar than any objection to Mohs itself. Radiation was also an option and there were other surgical procedures, but nothing else has the same high cure rate as Mohs does.
My Internet search also took me to some scary sites with images of people’s facial characteristics that I could not get off my mind when I closed my eyes at night. As we have all learned, such research can be a mixed blessing. While disturbing, I believed I had to brace myself for what was ahead.
Fast forward several months. I had the surgery in July and, needless to say, I am very happy to be cancer free.
The surgeon removed two layers of skin on my cheek. I had initially pictured a “layer” to be thin, like the crystal mica, with tons of them on the skin, but the reality is that the two layers produced a sizable hole that made me wonder if I’d have a direct route from my cheek to my mouth. I didn’t, by the way.
Unfortunately, I’ve had some complications with the dissolvable stitches underneath the skin. I was recently told—two months after the surgery—that it could take several months in total for the stitches to absorb into my body and for my overactive immune system to chill out.
I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve been scrutinizing my wound—about 2 and one-half inches long—and my new face complete with this scar in the mirror for months.
The first week after the surgery I didn’t go out; I felt too self-conscious. Since the second week, I’ve been going about my business, but I still feel paranoid and fragile, like don’t look at me the wrong way, or I will cry.
While I understand that removal of the cancer is the important part, and that I truly am so fortunate that it was an easy fix to make me well, the experience has wreaked havoc for me personally.
You might think I’m some kind of beauty queen to be reacting as I am but no, I’m just a regular girl who dreamed that if I went under the knife for my face I’d come out looking amazing, not disfigured.
My surgeon told me that I may want to return to the office for a scar revision, and we can start talking a few months after the scar has healed. I plan to do this.
One way or another, I’m going to have to move past this and see myself as the strong, vital and beautiful—that’s what my loved ones tell me, anyway—woman that I once was and not as a sad woman with an unsightly scar who should hide out in her home.
For much-needed levity, my husband and I named my scar “Scarlett,” which somehow morphed into “Charlotte.” I am now wondering what other body part is about to show its age.