When Jana asked me to tell her viewers about my fight with skin cancer and my feelings, I was honored to share my thoughts and my journey that it might help someone going through the same thing. Let me first tell you a little bit of my past experiences with sunburns and tanning beds that led up to my constant fight against cancerous lesions .
As far back into my childhood and adult life as I can remember, I have had countless sunburns. I have had some so severe that it hurt to wear clothes or lay down. One time when I was about 14, I went to the beach in Corpus Christie, Texas with family. After spending all day in the sun and returning to the hotel late that day, I soon found I was in misery. I was burned so bad that cool baths didn’t help. Just having clothes or the sheets touch my body was horribly painful. Another time when I was a teenager living in Midland, Texas I put on shorts and a backless halter top and thought I would surprise my parents while they were at work by trimming the edge of the lawn. We didn’t own an edger to trim the yard so I did the entire front lawn with a pair of shears while on my knees all day and my back and head uncovered. My back later that day was covered in huge water blisters from being so sunburned! There are many more times just like those that I burned in the sun, ruining vacations and outings. None of those times did I put on sun screen or cover my head with a hat. Heck no, that would look stupid, I thought.
Later as an adult I would visit the tanning beds in the summer time so that when we went on vacations I would have my body use to the rays and possible not burn as bad, or so I thought. It would work sometimes, but I never tanned! I didn’t burn as much, but I had exposed my body to the strong rays of another kind of damage.
Then thirteen years ago, my beautician found a tiny red spot on the top center crown of my head. It was just a small, red spot! No itching, no bleeding, no scabbing. My MD referred me to a Dermatologist whom I saw for a biopsy. Two weeks later he called me at work to tell me he found cancerous cells. CANCER cells! Just that word alone was upsetting. Well, I went back to that same Dermatologist who did a bigger biopsy on the same area with even more stitches. He sent it off to the lab and sure enough, two weeks went by again that he called me at work and said I still had Cancer cells! I was scheduled to see him a third time when right before my office visit; word had traveled to my husband’s boss who happened to be head of surgery in El Dorado. If I hadn’t have gone to him when I did, the Dermatologist would have kept cutting trying to get those cells.
The surgeon was able to do a brain sweep, use the skin graft of my thigh, and sew me up with over one hundred stitches. It was 2 cm in depth and the size of a silver dollar. I was finally told later, they got it all. I will never be able to grow hair in that circle and will never have feeling there, so I have to be careful not to get hit on top of the head, like a newborn baby’s crown. The skin is a graft taken from my upper thigh to cover the bone. I will always have a dip there in that circle. I have named it my Bird bath. It hasn’t always been easy for me to talk or show people. I still catch myself sitting higher up in grandstands or standing so people don’t look down and see my head.
I have had somewhere around 100 areas freeze burned, the sweep and cancer on my head, 4 small biopsies on my mouth, forehead and cheek and back. The latest skin cancer biopsy and surgery was fifteen months ago on a spot between my eyes on my forehead. It was the size of a green pea when removed and was done by a surgeon that my Dermatologist sent me to. That doctor had a pathologist nearby and waited for results before closing the hole. I ended up with eleven stitches and black eyes.
I also have had two Fluorouracil (Efudex) chemo treatments that lasted around a month each. Efudex is the brand name for Fluorouracil, sometime referred to as 5-FU; another brand name is Carac. Technically these drugs are in fact chemotherapy, but they won’t make you nauseous or cause you to lose your hair. What they will do is make the treated area of your skin look and feel completely miserable for several weeks.
The treatment itself is not very pleasant. The drug is prescribed when it is deemed to be preferable to addressing the individual Basal Cell or Squamous Cell cancers one at time over a period of years. I have had both!
Fluorouracil treatment is used for superficial basal cell carcinoma when conventional methods are impractical, such as in the case of multiple lesions or difficult treatment sites on the face or scalp. It is also used to treat actinic keratosis (also called solar keratosis), which can lead to more serious invasive squamous cell carcinoma if left untreated. In its more potent injectable form, fluorouracil is also used to treat breast, stomach, bowel and esophageal cancers.
Fluorouracil (5-FU) is a chemotherapy compound which has been around for a long time. For topical (on the skin) use, it is sold as Efudex and Carac, and is used to kill cancerous or pre-cancerous skin lesions. Actinic Keratosis, or Solar Keratosis, is a condition in which there are generally many spots, some visible and some not, some of which will become skin cancer if untreated. So, fluorouracil is often prescribed as a method of killing many of the pre-cancerous spots before they become cancer and have to be removed by freezing or cutting.
So how do I feel now? I feel great! The picture tells it all! My face is smoother, younger feeling, and best of all going through the treatment killed a lot of precancerous spots I won’t have to fight in the future. I will have cancer spots I will have to treat the rest of my life, but at least I got some of them going through this Chemo treatment. The spot between my eyes has come back and we are keeping an eye on it for now. If you would like to see the photos you can take a peek on my blog. I will fight skin cancer the rest of my life, yes, so say my doctors, but I’m not going to give in to it by not learning from my childhood mistakes. I use sunscreen under my makeup and wear a hat when in full sun outdoors. I never get in a tanning bed and I stay in the shade when possible.
I have walked in the Little Rock, Susan G. Komen Walk for a cure. That was the most over whelming and emotional thing I have ever seen. To look over the crowd of people as far and the eye can see…many pass you with no hair; some so frail they can barely walk but fight to keep going. Hundreds there to walk for the cure of a loved one and for those lost to Cancer. Seeing that made me realize that Cancer is cancer, no matter which type…they all need a cure! I am a cancer survivor and will keep fighting!
Bio: Betty writes several blogs of her own. efudexskincancer.blogspot.com, justthoughtsonablog.blogspot.com, and thehallsbunkhouse.blogspot.com. You can find out more about her cancer journey here. She is a testament to the strength, resilience and hope that I have seen in cancer patients over and over again. It is an honor to know her and to call her friend.