Two weeks ago I was in for a surgery. I have always been covered in freckles. I’ve had some moles dotted about too. I never gave much thought or concern to either of these things. That was until not so long ago, when a very close family member developed a genetic form of Melanoma. Unfortunately, I have had a close family member on both sides of my family develop this kind of cancer, which places me at an increased risk. I only started to learn about the rest of this family history in the last few weeks. It would never have occurred to me to ask. Perhaps, after reading this blog post, you might consider starting a conversation with your own family.
In mid February of this year, I was home with my parents in Louth. I was rolling around on the sitting room floor playing with the cat. My jumper pulled up slightly and my mum twigged that one of the moles on my hip had gone dark and changed shape. She implored me to get it and the rest of my skin checked. My doctor, it proved, wasn’t all too happy about it either. She wrote a letter to the hospital. Within a week I had gotten a date for my hospital appointment.
All too soon I found myself in a hospital gown waiting for the doctors to come in and get a good look at me. This wasn’t exactly how I envisioned the first month of turning 23 would be. My skin was checked within an inch of it’s life. I cannot begin to compliment my team enough for their level of care, concern and professionalism. I was given a date for an excision.
I want to explain something to you at this point. I and I’m sure many others have or had a lot of preconceived ideas about skin cancer. My understanding was that it was only the kind of people who sunbathed all summer long and those who availed of sunbeds that got skin cancer. Mam and dad, to their credit, never had us in the sunlight as kids. I also manage to avoid it, for the most part, as an adult. I’m sure my housemates can testify to my sizeable suncream collection too! I now know that it does not necessarily need to be caused by the sun, however. It can also be genetic. You are at a higher risk of developing skin cancer if you have any of the following:
- Red or Blonde hair
- Pale Skin
- A close family member with a history of skin cancer
I’m obviously winning the lottery on that list..
My mum was kind enough to bring me to the hospital for the surgery. She must have thought I was nuts when I was describing to her how I was going to back into college, do some work and run errands the following day. I genuinely thought I was going to be grand. Luckily she made me pack a few things, so I could stay back up in Louth for the week recovering. The excision meant that the mole was taken off, so too was the skin around it and behind it. This was all done under local anesthetic (i.e. a nice needle full of numbness). The procedure itself took minutes. I felt bad for the poor doctor, as she had to keep wiping blood from my back. Fun fact: gingers bleed more! A few stitches later and it was over. I sadly wasn’t allowed to keep my hip chunk to put in a jar.
My wound care was pretty simple; boil some water and let it cool. Use a cotton pad and some of the water to clean the wound. Place Vaseline and a bandage over the wound. I admittedly did little in the way of movement during the week. Let this be one of the instances I admit my mother was right. The pain was manageable, but not something a Panadol could solve. The cat was delighted at the opportunity to spend the week down the end of my bed having lie-ins, instead of the usual being turfed out of his basket in the mornings as my parents head to work. He made a fantastic recovery buddy.
My stitches came out a week later. I noticed my skin had been healing nicely, until day 6 after the surgery, whereby it had started to go red. I got back to Dublin for 1 day and my fantastic pal, who is also a brilliant nurse, took a look at it. Unfortunately she felt it was infected. My doctor had warned me about this possibility. 1 in 100 cases do. I just had to be that case. I called my unit and was given an appointment in less than 24 hours. I was given a cream for the next week to treat my wound. So, whilst sharing this with you now, I am still bandaged up.
This also means I’m operating on a reduced immune system as my body is fire-fighting other infections. Given the country’s current Covid19 state, I’ve been in quarantine for over a week now (pulling my hipster move of I was doing it before everyone else!). This is added to the week I have already spent recovering indoors at home. We’re all going stir crazy right now, missing human contact. Spare a thought for those of us that have been lacking in it for a little longer! Thankfully it’s given me some time to figure out how to use the time we’ve been given. I’ll be sharing those thoughts and ideas over the next few weeks and at this rate potentially months. I had a date set to attend the hospital in a few days time to find out my results. I received a text from my hospital last Friday to let me know that this appointment was cancelled and that they would be in touch to reschedule. I’m still waiting to hear about that. I feel a bit like a sitting duck right now. I’m scared. ‘Cancer’ is a scary word to throw around and all I want to know right now is my biopsy results. At least I can be assured of the fact my new scar makes me edgy.
This can be a teachable moment. We never know what is going on in other people’s lives. We think we’re invincible at 23 (turns out we’re not). We should all be more vigilant in taking care of or in the genetic case examining our skin. We should all try our best to virtually check in on our pals and loved ones over the next while. Who’s to know how they’re handling isolation? I don’t know what conversation I’m going to be having with my doctors soon. I hope it’s a good one. In the meantime, I will be spending my time developing content to try and make your days a little brighter.