Warning. This post is graphic in nature and may be disturbing to some readers. If you are squeamish, you may not want to read it. Even if you are, though, I encourage you to read on. Sometimes it’s only through the pain and suffering of others that we learn lessons that may save us from that very same pain and suffering ourselves.
It’s a phone call no child wants to get from one of their parents. A little over a month ago, my Dad called out of the blue.
“Your Mom has skin cancer.”
I didn’t even know what to say. I mean what do you say to that? I couldn’t even think straight let alone process what I could say to my Dad. I could tell by his voice that he was more worried than he was letting on. That’s a Dad’s job, right? Be the rock.
Luckily, she had caught it very early. What she thought was a small pimple on her nose just wasn’t healing. Every couple of days, it started to bleed. That led to a doctor’s appointment. They scheduled a biopsy a couple of weeks later. Her worst fears were confirmed. She was diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma.
While my mind leapt to all of the worst possible scenarios, we talked about what would come next.
In the grand scheme of the C word, this is not actually all that serious when caught and treated early on. In her doctor’s words, it was totally treatable with an outpatient procedure. She’d go in, have it removed, and all would be right with the world again. In fact, 3 out of 10 Caucasians will get it. It’s rarely deadly. The way the doc was making it sound, it was more of a nuisance than anything else.
Whenever I need to get my mind off of things, I do what many of us do. I went out and played disc golf. One of my favorite things about playing disc golf is that when I’m on the course, the rest of my life just melts away. All there is in the world in those moments is me and the course. Here’s the insane part, though. I’ve never worn sun screen on the course and I didn’t start then either.
You’d think that your Mother getting skin cancer would be all you needed to start wearing sunscreen, right?
That’s about as close to home as it gets. Apparently I’m a special kind of stupid. I mean, it’s just a minor procedure, right? No big deal. Go to the dermatologist’s office, have an outpatient procedure, and on with life.
I must have spent a good 60 hours on the course between the time she was diagnosed and the time she had her “minor procedure”. Whether or not to wear sunscreen was just a passing thought at that point. Did I bother to put any on at all? Nope.
Why? That’s a great question. In a word, denial. First, even though it was Mom, it was still somebody else. Second, we’ve all heard we need to wear sunscreen a million times. Even though we’ve all heard it, very few disc golfers I know do it. Third, I think we all retain a bit of the invincibility complex we get as kids. Bad things don’t happen to us, just other people, right? Finally, the doctors were all making this out to be something minor. It was almost like they had just told her she needed her wisdom teeth out.
If you don’t currently wear sunscreen, and you’ve thought any or all of the above, you need to hear about this “minor procedure”.
I had to work the day of her surgery. My Dad said he’d call when they were done. They expected to get there in the morning and be home for lunch. Easy peasy. I kept my phone right in front of me that day. I even turned the ringer on, something I never do.
Noon came and went. Then 2. Then 5. Then 7. What the hell? What was going on? At about 8 my Dad called. Minor procedure my ass.
Apparently, basal cell carcinoma grows unseen under the skin. By the time it erupts through the outer layer, what you see is literally just the tip of the iceberg. Most of the cancer is well hidden until they start digging. When I say digging, that’s exactly what I mean.
The way it’s treated is they bring you into the office and numb the area with novocaine. Ever had a pimple or ingrown hair inside your nose? Remember how painful that was? That’s because your nose has one of the highest concentrations of nerve endings anywhere on your body. Well, imagine that pain multiplied several times over. Apparently, that’s what it feels like to get novocaine shots in your nose. Do you just get one? Nope. You get 5 or 6.
Once numb, the doc goes in and digs out a small slice of the cancer. Then they send you back to the waiting room while they biopsy what they just removed. They almost never get it all on the first try. The idea is to only take the cancer and to take as little of the surrounding healthy tissue as possible. So they go in small steps.
6 procedures, over 40 shots in the nose, and almost 8 hours later they finally got the last of it. Now to numb it up one last time and close the wound. What had started as something the size of the head of a pin was now the size of a dime. That’s right, a dime sized hole in the side of my Mom’s nose.
I didn’t want to put an extremely graphic picture of what this actually looks like directly into the post, but if you’ve got the stomach for it, here’s an example.
After one stitch, the doctor looked at my parents and said the unthinkable, “I can’t close this.” The hole was too big for him to deal with. What was supposed to be an in and out deal was now a full on nightmare. He sent her across the street to a plastic surgeon.
In serious pain, scared, and now possibly disfigured for life, my Mom (a total trooper by the way) went across the street to the plastic surgeon. There she was told they would need to make a long, jagged cut across the whole side of her nose to properly close the wound. They scheduled her for surgery the next day and sent her home.
Thankfully, they decided to use general anesthetic for that visit. I don’t think Mom could have taken any more shots to the nose. Especially since by that time she was extremely sore from the day before.
She’s healing nicely now and considering what she went through, her nose actually looks like it will turn out just fine. She’ll have a scar, but it won’t be that visible and should fade over time. This incident will hopefully just be a very bad memory at some point.
After hearing about those two horrible days, I immediately went out and bought sunscreen. You can bet that you won’t find me on the course any more without it. I think sometimes things need to be made very real to get your head around them. Things like skin cancer, minor outpatient procedures, “treatable” illness, and the like are all very nebulous. They are these big conceptual things that none of us can really relate to until we see them in the light of day.
They are things that on the surface seem like they could be a nuisance, but nothing to really worry about. We are so inundated on a daily basis with doom and gloom, it’s hard to discern what to actually worry about. It’s hard to decide what requires action and what is just hyperbole. We are barraged by so much negativity on a daily basis, we tend to just tune it all out. We’ll worry about it if it happens to us, but until then, most of the world is on mute.
I don’t like adding to that doom and gloom. I realize that most people won’t read this post. I realize that of those that do, I’m just adding to the din of negative noise that will be ignored for the most part. But I hope that at least one of you starts to wear sunscreen. I hope that this post prevents at least one of you from getting 40 shots in your face. I hope I can prevent at least one person from having a dime size hole dug out of their nose, or ear, or forehead.
I promise that the next post will be back to our normally scheduled positive disc golf programming. Honestly I really hesitated to write this in the first place. But this is important. I love disc golf and I love my fellow disc golfers. You guys are some of the best people that I’ve ever met. I want us all to be able to enjoy life and enjoy this beautiful sport for a long time to come. The problem is that the sport we all love is usually played out in the sun. All day long.
Playing in the sun is one of the greatest joys in life. We just need to do it safely. Please wear sunscreen when you are out on the course.