Note – If you are sensitive to stitches/scar/medical type pictures you may not want to read this blog as I have 2 pictures listed below. They are post outpatient surgery so there is no blood. I have included them for my own future reference if I have to undergo a similar procedure again I can refer back to this blog entry.
On Monday I had two excisions done, one on my left bicep and one in the middle of my upper back. It wasn’t my first experience with this procedure as I had two done on my right arm a few years ago. The reason? Melanoma.
The two moles excised on my arm were a very low level melanoma, barely measurable. Due to this though, when I had two moles removed by the dermatologist in May and they came back as “abnormal cells” (in my bicep) and “possible melanoma in situ” (in my back) I was referred to plastic surgery to have the areas excised. That’s just a fancy way of saying they cut out the full mole in the deeper layers of the skin as well as cells surrounding the area to ensure if there is any melanoma that it hasn’t spread to other cells.
I had the option to be sedated, but I chose not to as I wasn’t the first time and figured I would be fine with the topical anesthetic. The surgeon excised my arm first and while I didn’t watch him, I looked at it once it was stitched up (internal ones that dissolve this time which was nice) and wasn’t too bothered by it. Lying on my stomach on a laid back chair not really designed to be an operating table was the most challenging part. I suggested that a face cradle like those on massage tables would be beneficial as keeping my head to the side became uncomfortable. The doctor lowered the headrest and I ended up resting my chin on the end of the chair back with my forehead on the headrest. Not ideal, but tolerable enough that I wouldn’t move during the procedure.
I was very relaxed, or as relaxed as one really could be given the circumstances, but at one point emotion swept over me. I fought off mental images of the doctor cutting into my back and tried to think about beaches, lakes and other nature images instead. I began to think about the scars I would have. Ironically I had just finished reading Frankenstein a few weeks ago. This was a shallow thought as I knew my health was more important than appearances, but the fear that I might have to continue to go through this process every few years, having various moles excised to leave scars behind, depressed me. I reminded myself that my sister would be enduring much worse in a few months when she experienced labor and delivery for the first time.
When I was finally allowed to roll over and the chair was transitioned to its upright position once more, I felt very lightheaded. I rubbed the side of my head and mentioned this and the nurse offered to get me water. I then began to slightly cry for no apparent reason. It scared me a bit and I asked the doctor if that was normal as it didn’t happen after my other excisions. He handed me a tissue and said he had seen it happen and that I went through a lot having two done instead of one. The nurse then got me some goldfish crackers and they let me recover in the room alone for a few minutes. The snack helped me get my bearings back and I quickly dressed and found the colored gauze the nurse left me to cover my arm if I wished. Looking at its swollen and bruised ugliness I decided yes, I needed it covered and immediately wrapped it.
I scheduled my wound check follow up visit and headed home to promptly take a Tylenol and lay down on the couch. It never fails to amaze me how exhausting even mild outpatient surgery can be physically on the body. I recounted my visit to Jason when he got home from work and that night before bed I finally looked at the surgical area on my back. It was a lot longer than I expected and I joked how wonderful that scar would look at the beach this year.
In the days following the excisions I began to feel better, physically and emotionally. I was reminded of many others who have large scars – my brother in law from back surgery, my first boyfriend from scoliosis surgery and my mom from her Cesarean delivery of my sister. My mom showed me pictures of a coworker who had major melanoma removed from her neck and the incisions on either side of it. It really hit home how much better it is to be scarred than have your health at risk. As my sister bluntly put it later in the week, “Better than being dead”.
The doctor called on Thursday to say that pathology confirmed there was no melanoma found in either location which was welcome news. In some ways it’s hard not to think that I was scarred “for nothing”, but health is something that you can’t take chances with. If the whole process reminded me of anything it’s that you need to be grateful for your health and everything that your body can do. It is also my public service announcement to anyone who reads this that annual skin checks are important and if anything on your skin ever looks awry to see a doctor. Melanoma is very treatable when caught early.
Do you have surgical scars? Have you ever had an emotional reaction following any type of surgery?