*Note: There are graphic, gross pictures in this post. If you don’t want to see them, please at least read the copy; it will be worth your while. Or, stare in amazement at how bad my face looks.

Friday before Memorial Day, 2012
Dr. Tami Cassis’ Office (my dermatologist)
Recap of our conversation:

When did that mole start looking like that?
Like what?
Like there is a pearl underneath it.
It’s just the same as it’s always been.
No, it’s changed. I think this is a basal cell carcinoma.
The best kind of skin cancer. We’ll biopsy it and then you can go get surgery to get it removed.
I don’t have time for surgery, I have a Memorial Day pool party.
It will be at the end of the summer probably.
I don’t have time for that either. It’s summer! Can’t you just freeze it off like all the others?
No. This is much more serious.

(I’m obviously her favorite patient!)

This is what my basal cell carcinoma looked like:

Can barely see the mole

Looking back, the writing was on the wall.

I’m pale.
I have a lot of moles.
I spent the first 20 years of my life in the sun without sunscreen.
I went to tanning beds all through high school and college.

But in my defense, I have been a sunscreen vigilante for the last 20 years. I wear hats. I try to stay in the shade. I also go to my dermatologist A LOT. She routinely checks my moles and routinely freezes or cuts them off, which is no big deal. It just looks like I got in a catfight. But, those maneuvers were all preventative, in the hopes of staving off any future problems.

All that turned on a dime right before Memorial Day weekend for me. I was getting a full-body mole check when my dermatologist, Dr. Tami Cassis, noticed something different about a flesh-colored mole I have on my face near my nose. She asked me when it started looking “like that.” I never noticed that it looked any different, and I look at my face everyday. She told me that it had a pearl-like sheen, a definite indicator of cancer.

Five years ago, this mole had popped up seemingly overnight after I had my third child. I had Dr. Cassis look at it shortly after its appearance and she told me that if she took it off my face, it would look worse (i.e. leave a divot) than if she left it alone. She assured me it was nothing.

Five years it was on my face, just sitting there. I had just seen Dr. Cassis not too long before it turned, so the metamorphosis from good mole to bad mole took place in a matter of months. She biopsied it, and as she was doing that, she was already telling me about a surgeon to see for Moh’s surgery, as well as a plastic surgeon. I’m reeling. It’s a mole, for crying out loud! And who is this Moh character?

As expected, I looked like I’d been in a catfight from the biopsy. So, I attended pool parties with a big ol’ bandaid on my face.  A couple of kids asked me if I fell down off my bike to get that boo boo. That was just a taste of what was to come.

My Memorial Day Biopsy War Wound

The test results came back. Definitely a basal cell carcinoma. The slowest (best) kind of skin cancer you can have. But it doesn’t go away on its own and eventually will grow and grow. It had to come out, and pretty soon.

Basal-cell carcinoma, a skin cancer, is the most common cancer. It rarely metastasizes or kills. However, because it can cause significant destruction and disfigurement by invading surrounding tissues, it is still considered malignant. Statistically, approximately 3 out of 10 Caucasians may develop a basal-cell cancer within their lifetime. In 80 percent of all cases, basal-cell cancers are found on the head and neck. There appears to be an increase in the incidence of basal-cell cancer of the trunk (torso) in recent years. (From Wikipedia.)

That weekend, I saw a friend at the pool. She had stitches running the length of her face with a skin graft on her neck. She just had Moh’s surgery, she told me. Her mole was originally the size of a small pimple. I almost passed out.

Flash forward to the surgery. It’s August. I’m in major denial that I am having surgery. I’m coming off a fabulous vacation to Colorado. I go into the pre-op meeting never realizing that I would be going under general anesthesia or that I wouldn’t be driving myself home after the procedure. Not only that, I would look like Frankenstein.

The surgeon in charge of the Moh’s surgery is a dermatologist. He locally anesthetizes the area and cuts it out. He then places that skin under a microscope and checks to see if he has removed all the cancer. He doesn’t get it all out on the first pass and goes back in for a deeper and wider cut. Two passes on my face and the cancer is gone. (Did I mention that everyone in the surgery center for this same procedure is 30-40 years older than I am? Every doctor and nurse remarks how “young” I am to be there. I’m 40.)





Two passes and cancer is gone. What are we going to do about this huge hole in my face now?

Next, I’m off to see the plastic surgeon. This is the part where I get put under, so I enter a Michael Jackson sort of sleep state and wake up in recovery with a two-inch scar and stitches up my face.

Right after surgery

Recovery has been the worst part. No pain really, but I could not do anything: no sun, no exertion, no exercise, nothing that would increase blood flow to my face. Not to mention, I looked frightful and my eye was black and snapped shut with swelling. I was not exactly camera-ready.

After many ice packs each morning, eye swelling is down and my face is bruised in shades of yellow, red and black.

Four days straight in the house broke me. I had not been housebound like this since my last baby was born or since the last snow storm. I decided to go out, stitches and all.

So I’m out, stitches and all, remembering what my doctor told me. “You think this is bad? It could have been the whole side of your face.

Here I am a week after my surgery.

One week later, right before the stitches were removed. Makeup is covering the remnants of my black eye.

I had the “best” form of skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma. Climbing up the skin cancer ladder, the next, more serious one is squamous cell carcinoma, followed by the topper, melanoma. I consider myself lucky in this regard.

I hope I scared you. I hope I scared you enough to make an appointment to get your moles checked.  

If you have one that you are questioning, guess what? There’s an app for that. Try Mole Detective. This allows you to take a picture of the suspicious mole and get it analyzed. From there, you can decide if you need to seek medical attention.


Around SB today:

And FYI if you DIY…StyleBlueprint Nashville has some fun project ideas in their featured post today: click here.







About the Author
Heidi Potter