Friday, June 10, 2011

Surgery & Recovery

After calling my husband and my dad, and emailing church friends who had been praying for me, I had to call the bride-to-be.  Her wedding was just a few weeks away.  The surgery would be on my right bicep, during the ceremony and even in pictures, it would be facing the cameras and guests.  I cant remember if I had told her before that day that I had the biopsy done, but I was a nervous wreck talking 100 miles an hour by the time I got in touch with her.  I told her that I had melanoma, that it had to be cut out, and that I knew she wouldn’t expect me to wait, so I was going with it.  I told her that if she didn’t want me to be in the wedding, I understood, and she just told me that we could use make up to blend any bandaging or scar and of course she wanted me to go ahead with it.

I had my surgery on June 2, 2010.  I had arranged for my aunt to watch my daughter, my son was away on a church retreat, and my husband couldn’t take off work, so my dad drove me to the surgery.  I cant say enough how thankful I am that God has placed such an amazing medical team on my side.  Going through all the pre-surgical paperwork, the nurse was amazing.  When the doctor came in, I immediately liked him too.  He explains the procedure to me, draws the outline of the incision on my arm.  It was a football shaped outline, with the stitches from my biopsy in the middle, perfect.  He applies the local anesthetic, tells my dad that it is okay to take pictures and leaves the room for a few minutes.  Unfortunately, the light was too bright over the incision area, and none of the pictures came out.

Meanwhile the nurse comes in and helps me get settled.  I am laying on my back, paper sheets draped over my arm and chest that have openings for my arm.  In this position, I cannot see anything.  The doctor comes back in, and he calmly talks to me and my dad throughout the whole procedure.  We talked about everything from sports to children to summer plans.  I couldn't see anything, could only feel that something was going on, but that was it.  The doctor did explain every step of the way what he was doing now/next.  My dad was standing at the foot of the table, watching it all, and was as amazed by the whole procedure as I know I would have been.  I left the office a little over an hour later.  I had 2 layers of shoelace style stitching (I’m sure there is a medical term for that) under the surface, then the outer layer was steri-stripped.  Over that, there was gauze and a square of what looked like shrink wrap.  I was able to remove the plastic wrap and gauze after 2-3 days, but the steri-strip had to stay on 10 days.

I was amazed when I took the first “shrink wrap” tape off, I expected to be bruised in the area, but I wasn’t.  I did have some puckering, or “dog ears” at the ends of the incision line, and the center was pushed in deep where the skin had to be pulled tight.  I had tricep definition for the first time in my life.

About 15 days after the surgery, I got the call from my surgeon.  My results were in, and they got it all!

My recovery was not as fast as I would have liked.   I was able to remove the steri-strip on the morning of my friends wedding, but the area was too tender to even consider putting make up to conceal it.  Luckily, my friend did not even ask me to.  As the dissolvable stitching did it’s thing, one of the pieces poked through the incision line.  At my surgeons okay, I could clip it away at skin level, and he said eventually it would fully dissolve and go away, but if it really bothered me, I could come back and he would fix it.  This lasted the rest of the summer, and in August, as I grasped the end with tweezers so I could clip it, it finally came out.  I had been afraid that everything would heal around that spot, leaving a tiny hole in the middle, but it hasn’t affected the line at all.

Also, throughout the summer, I had no feeling around the incision line.  At the ends I could feel, but in the middle, and where the skin had been pulled tight, I felt nothing for an inch or two above and below.  Being on the center of my bicep, every time I moved my arm or lifted anything, and my muscle flexed, it would pull the area, which was a little scary at times.

Today I am happy to report that I no longer have any of those concerns.  After one year, I still have a slight puckering at the ends of the incision, but I have complete feeling around it again.  There is some redness around it still, which my dermatologist assures me is normal, but has also told me that once I reach the one year mark, I can have it laser treated to break up that redness.  I am not sure what I will decide about that at this point. Probably the most disturbing point of the scar, I have a large freckle on top of the incision line, exactly where the cancerous mole was.  My doctor has offered to remove this for me, but so far I have declined.

My follow up consists of going for full body skin screenings every 3 months.  If I remain clear for 2 ½ years, then we can switch to every 6 months.  After 5 years, then I will be able to go to yearly screenings.

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