So just to start on a clarification note, this is not a sympathy post nor is it an advice guide for anyone, it is simply my experience over the past few months and how something small became something quite frightening in my life when I was least expecting it.
If you follow my Instagram or Facebook you will have seen random hospital pictures, posts and even bursting stitches warnings over the past while so this may make it all a little bit clearer as to what it was all about!
Lets roll back to a general visit to my family doctor in January this year (2016) for something totally unrelated to the little skin tag under my eye that the doctor noticed and asked about. For me, it was a small pimple I had for the past year or so that had grown on top of the skin just under my eye which looked like every other skin tag or pimple I had seen previously on myself or friends, it was nothing to worry about, or so I thought.
The doctor said I should get it removed so an appointment was scheduled to have it done under local anaesthetic. The letter came almost immediately for the small procedure and it was for 3 months later in April 2016. Everyone has small lumps and bumps on their body that they could get rid of so this was just one of them.
April arrived and I attend the hospital to have the small skin imperfection removed from under my eye. It was scrapped off the face meaning it wasn’t cut, just skimmed off the top to make the skin flat again. In and out in just 2 hours with a numb face, I headed home to bed, not that I got much sleep after having part of my face hacked away at but I got up and went to work teaching kids to dance that evening so I wasn’t that bad! The surgeon said the piece removed would be sent to the lab and results should be back in 6 weeks, it is all procedure and most likely it would be a hair follicle or some blocked pores in the skin.
8 weeks (yes, not the original 6, but 8) had passed and in that time the small scab which formed over where the pimple once was had come off and unfortunately the skin had begun to form again in the exact same place but this time there were two smaller bubbles of skin either side of were the original one was. Back for the results to the hospital in July 2016 and a Senior Consultant entered the room to have a look at the healing process and instantly said that it may need to be done again. She then went on to open my notes and histology report on the removed skin to which she said “we cannot be sure what it exactly was, we think it is 90 per cent a hair follicle but there is always a possibility it is something else”. Not a mention of the C word so I was happy that it was just one of them things that hadn’t worked out and needed to be done again. She said that they needed to cut this time to take away the skin as maybe some of the cells had been left underneath when they scrapped it last time. So now I had to wait once again for another appointment for my second surgery on the same skin tag.
I awaited another letter in the post which scheduled my next surgery for 16th September 2016, the day everything changes in my mind. I am brought into the surgery room and told to hop onto the operating table. As I sit there, the head surgeon walks in and says “so, they are undecided whether this is a hair follicle or skin cancer“, my heart drops, mouth opens and mind races as I say “what?, I was never told this“. She looked nervous and extremely embarrassed by blurting out something that was never discussed with me but assured me that the lab will have more to go on after this removal and get a definitive answer. I lay down and was so on edge, not able to think of anything other than, I have been living with this on my face for the past however many months, been back to hospitals for check-ups and only being told this when I am about to be cut into. Great!
The deep incision to remove the bump was done and 12 stitches put along the crease in my eye to hold the skin together as it healed and again I was told that results would be back in a few weeks. While I waited for results the next few days would be hell with the stitches seeping blood almost constantly and one morning the bottom few burst completely leaving me in a bed of my own blood which was not pretty or sore at all…. yeah right!
I had to return to have the stitches taken out the following week when the nurse said they would put more in instead as it hadn’t healed enough. The nurse then said “one of the team want to see you“, I thought the results would be weeks away but maybe not. The doctor arrived and opened my chart to say “we are 90 per cent certain that this is skin cancer“, there is that 90 per cent again, can no one give a definite answer?.
The conversation between myself and this nice doctor went along the following….. Doctor: do you get sun burn often? Me: No, the odd time on holiday but not all the time. Doctor: when did you last get sun burn? Me: April 2015 when I was in New York (it wasn’t even warm and never imagined I would get sunburnt that day but I did end up with a really red face).
The conversation went on about health and ended with him explaining the situation to me that this type of lesion is usually only seen in people aged 40-50 years of age so at 26 he was worried how young I was getting it, this explains the question about how often I get sunburnt. He then looked at the scar and said they would be sending the sample back to the lab for a third time to try and get a definitive answer on whether it is skin cancer but remember, they are 90 per cent sure! He also checked the rest of my body for similar skin tags or imperfections and said a full check would be required on the next check-up.
I remember walking out of the hospital and being collected by my Dad who felt the force of my attitude as I was not in the humour for any chit-chat or I told you to put sun cream on lectures, I just wanted to get home and process this information. I sobbed like a baby for a few hours, my parents and family worried about the outcome but I had to think positive, maybe that 10 per cent will be on my side.
I returned for my last check up (to date) in November 2016 and the head surgeon and consultant had a note on my file that he wanted to see me personally. When a Junior Doctor says this to you, what else are you supposed to think other than…. “oh crap!”
He enters the room and explains that yes, it is skin cancer and they removed it but they can never be sure they got it all so on going check-ups and possible removal of skin samples will be required for at least 2 years. He also says that because of where the incision was done, they could not go as deep as they would have liked, if it was on your arm or back for example they would take a huge chunk to be on the safe side but not near your eye due to the thin skin and amount of nerve endings around the senses.
So, yes my brush with skin cancer has been eventful to say the least and I am praying that it is gone and will not return. I have been left with a nice scar under the eye which is not the most flattering feature to have but I’ve got to get on with it.
I never would have thought that a small pimple-like tag could be so dangerous and the most worrying part, that the cancer was usually only seen in older people, have I aged 20 years or just unlucky? The one thing I will be doing now is keeping a check on any skin tags, moles, skin changes or freckles which may change colour.
On doctors advice they said skin cancer cannot be detected without removal and testing so places who offer skin-mapping or cancer testing without the removal of a piece of skin cannot tell you the accurate truth, although it’s debatable whether the lab in the hospital can either but after three rounds of testing I got the answer I didn’t want but it was definite.
If I could offer one piece of advice after this crazy experience, although I am in no position to do so as I didn’t listen to advice myself about wearing sun screen and protecting yourself, even after my own Grandad went through something similar and friends of the family have gone through other cancer battles, I would encourage everyone to check yourself, whether you think it is nothing or not, a quick check up to your doctor is the only way to go, if they feel it needs removing they are the ones to tell you, not yourself, I have learnt that the hard way.
My eye is now healed and although it hurt like hell at the time, it has settled down, just a bit itchy now and again. Lesson learned and fingers crossed that bridge has well and truly been crossed and never to be revisited!
Written by @Kenneth_Giles