Saturday, 12 November 2016

The cancer diaries: Ear today, gone tomorrow

In the spring of this year, I was diagnosed with skin cancer on my right ear. It had been growing on the top of it for years, and had been misdiagnosed as a minor bedsore by my family doctor who will be forever known as the Worst Family Doctor in Ontario.
He left town in the spring, fleeing a malpractice suit not doubt. That's when I showed the painful bump to a young walk-in doctor who literally jumped back after she looked at it.
"You have skin cancer," she told me.
Not shit, Sherlock.
She quickly found me a dermatologist who confirmed the diagnosis and lopped off a big chunk of the offending tissue and referred me to a MOHS clinic, one of the first of its kind in Canada. The wait time was eight months, and I'd almost forgotten about it.
This week, I got a call.
"Can you come in within the hour?" the receptionist asked.
"Can I?"
The stars had aligned. My granddaughter is usually in my care but her dad had decided to work from home on Wednesday. My friend Jennette had called just minutes before the doctor's office called, inviting me to lunch.
Instead, she was treated to yogurt from the cafeteria and a two hour gabfest with other patients, most of whom looked to be in their 70s. It reminded me of the time I got cataract surgery five years ago, when I was the only non-geriatric patient in eye surgery daycare.
There was no time to be nervous. I planted myself in the chair of Dr. Jillian Macdonald who is one of the only doctors in town who does this MOHS stuff which is a methodical, and highly sophisticated process, which involves a tag team of surgeons and a pathologist who take layer after layer of skin from the offending area, and get it analysed on the spot. Each layer is taken until the pathologist can no longer find the cancer -- in my case, basal carcinoma. At that time, the patient is declared cancer-free and is discharged to go and either get more skin cancer, or smarten up.
Dermatology has come a long way from the days when a surgeon would take a scalpel and lop off your ear, only to have you come back in a few weeks to have more cut off. Old fashioned surgery was kind of like flying only with instruments in a storm. JFK Jr. did that, and look what happened.
Today's MOHS surgery is much less painful and much less stressful.
My procedure took less than two hours even though it required the assistance of the tiny fingers of a plastic surgical resident who "closed me up" and dressed the wound with a piece of the back of my ear -- virgin skin from place where the sun don't shine. That graft was able to repair the top of my ear which lost about a baby finger-sized piece of humanity. The longest part of the surgery was the transplant, and the time spent suturing me up like a trussed piglet.
I learned something about myself. The plastic surgeon told me my right ear stuck out more than my left. Now they were even. It was like God left me a little extra room on the right side so that I might learn my lesson.
It was pretty easy-peasy, though the sight of me did scare my daughter when she dropped off little Kenny the next day. Kenny was non-plussed and spent the last couple of days trying to rip my bandage off with her little seven month old fingers.
You really can't scare a baby with that stuff.
The worst part of it is having to wear a big bandage which is designed to keep the surgical site moist, and ensure that the skin graft doesn't shrivel up and plop off over dinner. The bandage isn't easy to put on -- and keep on -- and doesn't do much as a fashion statement. I didn't care much -- I was just happy to be declared "cancer-free".
As I sat there on the surgeon's table, I thought to myself what I dumbass I have been all these years. I spent decades playing tennis and golf, and frolicking in the surf wearing a baseball cap, with never a thought to the fact that my ears, indeed, were made of the same skin as my nose and chin.
From now on, the ear will always been a reminder of all the risks I've taken over the years.
I have many scars including one on the other ear from the time I fell of a couch and landed on a coffee table ending a spirited conversation during a political convention.
But this one, I will remember the most.
Skin cancer is payback for dumbassery.
Thankfully, basal carcinoma won't kill you. It will just kick your vanity in the nuts.
Still, I'm grateful the cancer was one the outside.

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