On March 1st, after saying a difficult goodbye to my fiancée, I boarded the flight that would take me to DFW. (For those who don’t know, I proposed to my girlfriend on Feb. 28, 2020, and she said yes!) This short three-week trip was planned early last year before Lily and I were serious. I was returning to Texas for my granddaughter’s first birthday. Along with that, I was planning on taking care of a few other things while in the states. Things like selling my truck, collecting some needed documents and oh yeah, getting that tiny spot on my nose and my neck checked out.
Lily had been worried about the one on my neck for some time. The one on my nose was barely noticeable by anyone else other than me. I told her I thought the spot on my neck was a scar that I had behind my ear that I kept irritating while shaving. At least that’s what I was attributing it to for a couple of years now. Before leaving I promised her I would have it looked at, hoping that would make her feel better about something that I thought was nothing and make her feel better about the three weeks that I would be gone. As the time for my trip grew closer, Lily and I grew closer, and those three short weeks began to feel like they were going to be an eternity.
Enter the “Coronavirus”!
I could just feel it in my spirit that Lily was not comfortable with me leaving. I tried to reassure her that the time would pass quickly. That I would be back before she knew it and we would pick right back up where we left off. At this point in the game, the Coronavirus was just beginning to be “big” news. It was surprising to me to see how many people in the various airports I traveled through were wearing protective masks. I filed this “foreshadowing” away as them just being germophobes, and didn’t give it much thought.
It seems I had barely been in Texas a week when the talk started bubbling up about quarantines and lock-downs and sheltering in place. I stayed optimistic through all the news driven-panic and social media hubbub, keeping a close eye on my March 23rd flight back to Colombia. I kept myself busy with all the to-dos on my list. Jade’s birthday party, check. Dinner with dad and the kids, check. Meet with my financial planner, check. Lunch with friends, and so on. All the while hoping I could beat the panic and make it back to Colombia before things got crazy. What happened next was not what I was expecting.
The visit with the doctor
March 12, I am happily sitting in the examining room waiting for the dermatologist to come in and see me and to tell me, “All is well, don’t worry!” adding one more “check” to my list. Looking closely at my skin with her magnifying tool it didn’t take her long to say, “Well, I need to do a biopsy on it. But I can tell you right now its Basal Cell Carcinoma, skin cancer.” Huh? Uh… wait, what? That’s not what I was expecting. “So what do we do now?” was my obvious question. “I get a sample, send it to the lab and when the results come back we schedule you for surgery to remove it” was her frank answer. She explained that Basal Cell isn’t dangerous unless left untreated. Ok, that makes me feel better but I have a flight in 11 days. Can we get this done by then, was my primary concern. I even had a short-lived thought about getting this done in Colombia. Ok, probably not a good idea.
Well, the tests came back positive and the Coronavirus went “viral.” It wasn’t long before I received the news that Colombia had closed its borders to all travel. Like Tom Hanks in the 2004 movie The Terminal, I felt like a man without a country. (Ok, that’s a little dramatic but you get the idea). So, I guess that takes the pressure off of getting the surgery done quickly, which turned out to be a good thing.
A case of “The Cure is Worse Than the Disease”
A little graphic, continue at your own risk
March 23, the day of my surgery (ironically the day I was originally supposed to fly out). This day I’m having Mohs surgery performed on my nose, the one on my neck will be another day. I’m told it’s a good option. They only remove a small amount of skin at a time, test it under a microscope and only continue if any cancerous tissue remains. Ok, perfect, let’s get ‘er done. After a series of painful shots near the end of my nose, I’m good and numbed up. Lying back in that chair I feel the doctor scraping away. Being right there on my face it feels pretty aggressive. Round one. After testing the doc says, “Nope, didn’t get it all.” Round two. Ok, better results! “We got it all that time, let’s sit you up and take a look.” I was happy to hear that, but I wasn’t prepared for what I was about to see. Holding up a mirror the doctor says in a nonchalant voice, “Well, the question is now, what do we do with THAT?” Taking a look in the mirror my heart stops. I am looking at a circular hole on the side of my nose that is about the diameter of a Canadian dime. A perfectly round hole I could put the tip of my finger in. I’m talking a third nostril. Certainly not what I was expecting! My mind racing, I’m yelling to myself in my head. What happened to Mohs surgery is the better option? Being less invasive! Better results! This doesn’t look like better results to me! While staring in the mirror I am feeling a wave of emotions, fear (how the heck do we fix that?), depression (what now?), anxiety (I will never be the same!). Then suddenly, like a warm blanket being placed on me during a cold night, I feel at peace. I feel God’s embrace. I hear God telling me that I am blessed. I hate to use the cliché “it could be worse”, but that is exactly what I heard. Taking a breath and calming down I listened to the doctor as he went over the options. I didn’t like the simpler skin graph option, easier to perform but less than optimum results. There is a chance it wouldn’t take or the skin tone wouldn’t match. Not a good option to fill such a big hole. We went with the second option. Although it is more invasive and requires more surgery and has a longer recovery it should yield better results.
Option 2 consists of making an incision down the length of the nasolabial fold (otherwise know as the smile line of the cheek) and back up towards my eye to release a thick flap of skin, maybe about an inch long. That flap will be swung over so that the end can be stitched into the hole while the flap remains connected to the top of my cheek, in order to keep blood flowing. My cheek will then be stitched closed at the nasolabial fold. We then wait for some healing of the cancer site before separating the flap from the cheek and making it all look pretty again. Which is where I am at the time of writing this post. Waiting, with a gauze bandage covering a weird flap of skin crossing over from my cheek to my nose. I have now had the spot on my neck completed. It required a bigger section to be removed but the hole was easily stitched closed. I now have had the stitches on my cheek and my neck removed and they are both healing nicely.
Although the extensive surgery on my face and neck is certainly not what I expected, nor the Coronavirus pandemic. Not to mention the weeks turning into months being separated from my love. I am feeling that I am very blessed. This extended stay is allowing for plenty of time to heal, time to think, to prepare for the future and to reconnect with God. During this time I have been amazed by the healing power of the human body (please, someone try to tell me we are not intentionally and lovingly designed by a creator) and thankful for the wonder of the internet (and video chat) which has kept Lily and me connected for well over a month now.
I pray that all who read this post are doing well. Remember to take time to be thankful, count your blessings, love your family (and your neighbors). And take care of yourselves and each other.
May God bless you all during these crazy times.
To God be the Glory!