I woke up on Monday morning, July 27, 2015 with skin cancer. And if my pain meds were not causing an extreme inability to sleep, I could report that I fell asleep on Monday night, July 27, 2015 CANCER FREE. So instead, it is somewhere in the wee hours of the morning of July 28, 2015, but regardless of the date, I AM CANCER FREE.
Monday was a roller-coaster of emotions, and perhaps the most important thing to point out is that I am married to a man who knows exactly how to navigate such a ride as KELLI. He knows how odd I am and how much I need to process stuff on my own, in my own time. He knows not to ask me how I am doing. He knows not to attempt to comfort until I let him know I am ready. Yes, I know. ODD. He knows just how to BE THERE and for that I am indescribably thankful.
I have to say that I LOVE my surgeon. Dr. Cook-Norris of the Woodlands Skin Surgery Center was just what I needed when I received my diagnosis a couple weeks ago. He was thorough, he was confident in his ability to take care of me, and he was cognizant of ME as an individual. If you are ever told that you need Mohs Surgery to remove skin cancer, he is the one you need to call.
This diagram shows the typical Mohs surgery procedure. The surgeon excises the width and depth that he believes to be enough to remove all of the cancer. Then he leaves you in the procedure room to allow time for the lab to examine the tissue. Ideally, he comes back and says that the roots he removed were deep enough and that the diameter was wide enough so that there were no active cancer cells along any of the margins. Sometimes, as the diagram shows, he has to go back in once more to get a bit more from one area that still has active cells. This is important because once the microscope reveals 100% clear margins, there is less than a 3% chance that the cancer will come back. So I kind of expected him to have to cut again... however, with all the prayers, good thoughts, and incredible outpouring of love that I was having pumped my way all day Monday (from all over the planet, no less), I honestly thought I was going to be one of those success stories-- the kind in which the surgeon cuts once and then announces he is done!
Dr. Cook-Norris is, as I mentioned before, amazing. But when he came back with the first pathology report, he explained to me that he was trying to be as conservative as possible because of the placement of my cancer. He knew how apprehensive I was about the whole "cutting stuff out of my face" thing, so using the information from the biopsy results, he cut out an area about the size of a pencil's eraser head. But after that first excision, more than 70% of the margins still showed active cancer cells.
I was completely deflated.
This meant more anesthesia and more cutting.
So he went in for the 2nd time.
My confidence was restored, and I knew this was it.
Until he came back and announced that there was still more.
It was at the top of the area, but, as he explained again, he has to get it all. Before the third injection of the anesthesia into my nose (did I mention how long that needle was and how it felt as the liquid shot through my skin?), he stopped and asked me about my job. He remembered what I had described to him about what the Director of Professional Development does and asked me when I will be back "up in front of people" full time. I kind of neglected the detail that on THURSDAY (yes, in 3 days), I am leading the BISD Leadership Team Retreat and told him that I was back full time in my gig next week. He said not to worry...that even though he was having to take a great deal more than originally expected, that he felt sure that by next week, I would feel ok about getting out in front of people. (And no, I did not ask him how I'd feel about that same thing in 3 days...)
So another injection.
And then the results I had wanted 2 hours earlier.....all margins were clear and the cancer was gone.
Then came my panic again.
He had originally told me that he felt pretty confident that he would be able to reconstruct the "pencil eraser" sized area using skin from the top of my nose. He really wanted to stick with that plan if at all possible so that my reconstruction would have the same tint, same pores, and same texture as the rest of my nose. But with this larger area, would he have to change the plan and graft the skin from my ear???
No. He would not.
As I said--Dr. Cook-Norris is amazing.
He told us that he was going to proceed with his original plan because even though the "head of a pencil eraser" area had grown to the size of a penny, it was an OBLONG penny. Because the last excision was from the top of the area, it meant that the "penny" was stretched up, making it totally possible for him to still proceed with using existing nose skin to cover the...ummm... well, the hole.
Dr. Cook-Norris reconstructed my nose, stitched it all up, and then his fabulous nurse, Freddie, bandaged me all up and explained to me how to care for it. Then they sent me home in the care of my Viking, armed with scripts for heavy-duty antibiotics and pain meds and with strict instructions to rest.
Mads delivered me home to the couch and left to go and pick up a few necessities for his patient as well as the meds. Within the 45 minutes he was gone, the anesthesia began to wear off and the pain began to rear its ugly head. Ironically the nurse called during that time to check on me and I could hardly talk to her because of the crying that I was now doing. Yep. Crying. From pain. Other than skinned knees caused by falling off my bike as a kid, I am not sure I have really ever cried from physical pain...but here I was, crying. She was great. Told me to get something to eat so that as soon as he brought the medicine home, I would be ready to take the first dose. She asked me on a scale of 1-10, exactly how bad it was. I think I told her 37.
So here I am, 3m on Tuesday morning, July 28, 2015, watching season 1 of the Gilmore Girls...CANCER FREE.
Recovery is going to be a process and for a less than patient chick like myself, it is not going to be fast enough, but I can already tell that my body is not going to let my impatience have its way.
Oh, and did I mention... I AM CANCER FREE????
And if I have anything to do with it, I will remain that way for forever.