Saving Face: I Had Basal Cell Carcinoma

It all started with an innocent-looking pink bump near my jaw line. Maybe a zit, I thought, though I am not prone to those (don’t hate me for clear skin; remember, I‘ve had a black cloud stalking my ass for more than one year). The pink bump flared up and went away, just like a good little blemish should. But then it came back in the exact same spot a couple of weeks later. Intrigued, I just couldn’t leave it alone this time…and it bled. Profusely.

I just knew it was cancer. Between my stint as a health reporter and my unrelenting obsession with Google, I am an MD by osmosis. I called my dermatologist and pleaded to be seen right away. One punch needle biopsy later and my diagnosis was confirmed: basal cell carcinoma.

Really? Four months after my mom died of cancer and I have it, too? I am convinced I have a reputation up above as a badass.

I agonized about what to do. Post-mommyhood, I have pretty much given up from the neck down (screw you, Gisele), but I still liked my face. Do I try the chemotherapy cream with a considerably lower cure rate that would burn my face but eventually leave me with no scar? Or do I go for tissue-sparing Mohs surgery with a 96 percent cure rate and a definite scar? Despite my vanity, I chose Mohs…and had the wound closed by a leading plastic surgeon. Good balance, yes?

I am recovering from my surgery today, one day before my 41st birthday…the first one I will celebrate without my mom. I missed being my mom’s daughter so much yesterday. If she were alive, she would have dragged herself out of bed to make me laugh and hold my hand during my five hour procedure. She would have bought beautiful pajamas and new slippers for my recuperation period in the house. She would have delivered homemade soup to nourish my sad soul. She would have sent me inspirational emails, called me 100 times per day, and put things in perspective. And she would have been the one splurging on La Mer restorative concentrate to minimize my scar (that shit better work).

I can’t believe I had cancer—the good type, the kind that no one dies from, the “easy” one—and she wasn’t here to give me a hug. I wonder if she even sees what I am going through. I know the tumor is completely gone, and I am grateful, but the silence of her death hurts much more than my swollen, achy jaw right now. Sometimes I just need my mom, and it is beyond difficult living without her.

Below are the signs of basal cell carcinoma. When in doubt, see your doctor (I always go and have the co-payments to prove it!). Basal cell skin cancer grows slowly and is usually painless. It may not look that different from your normal skin but some symptoms include:

• A skin sore that bleeds easily
• A sore that does not heal
• A scar-like sore without having injured the area
• Irregular blood vessels in or around the spot
• A sore with a depressed (sunken) area in the middle
• Sores can look pearly or waxy; white or light pink; or flesh-colored or brown


Image via Jodi Meltzer

cancer, doctors


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Jill Attenson Gurfinkel

Such an important piece. I hope more people are aware of the signs of basal cell carcinoma! Wishing you a speedy recovery!

nonmember avatar Carrie

So touching and extremely informative! Thank you for sharing your story.

Megan... MeganJune03

I too have had basal cell carcinoma. I have never use a tanning bed.  I had gotten the cancer from years of playing outside with out sunscreen when I was younger.  I thought the spot wasn't a big deal so I never had it checked.  Thank goodness my husband pushed me to get it done.  It had grown to the size of a half dollar. I was very lucky to have gotten mine in time.  It was very close to my spine and brain stem.  If they hadn't caught it so early I don't know what would of happened. 

Some people write off skin cancer like it's no big thing.  But it really is.  No matter the type of cancer it is a really big deal. We are survivors and have a job to do.  To tell people of the dangers of tanning beds and that sunscreen is so very important all year long, not just in the summer.

Dorothy Donahue-Francone

Jodi, I have had 14 basal cells on my face and ten Mohs. They are not fun, humorous, scarless, painless and unless you know someone who has also had them on their face no one, and I mean no one fully understands the abject discomfort post surgery.

Janet Minutolo

     ..."  but the silence of her death hurts much more than my swollen, achy jaw right now. Sometimes I just need my mom, and it is beyond difficult living without her." 

No more beautiful or truthful words can be said. I wish you the best in your healing process. 

A 51yr old who daily misses the Mom infusion.

nonmember avatar Ksp

I feel for you. I wish you a quick recovery and can relate in so many ways. I had thyroid cancer Dec. 2008, an emergency hysterectomy May 2009, and was diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma Feb. 2010. I had three pin-head sized white (tiny) bumps very close to each other on my forehead. They looked exactly like a whitehead. So I went to see my dermatologist. She told me they were milia (like a whitehead) and gave me a cream given for people with white or blackheads. So I put this on, and after a while the spot turned red. I thought that the cream had irritated the skin so I tried some hydrocortisone. I thought that maybe I developed eczema. Months passed and I finally got in to see a different dermatologist. She took one look at it and said, "basal cell carcinoma". I remember saying "surely that's not possible". I just got done with thyroid cancer surgery and treatment for that, I got the spot biopsied that day, praying that she was wrong--well she was not. I had MOHS surgery on my forehead. Nine months later my mom was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. My parents-non-smokers, found radon levels incredibly high in their house. You are not supposed to have a reading of higher than 4--theirs was 22 in their bedroom. All it took was an $800 ventilation pipe to get the radioactive radon gas to an acceptable level of 2. The doctors feel that is what caused her lung cancer. Please have your houses, apartments tested. It is so easy.

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