A Devastating Diagnosis
- Marketing specialist Melissa Fife, 40, suffered a real-life nightmare after an acne scar on her nose became irritated, and it wound up being skin cancer involving multiple brutal surgeries.
- Despite being told it should be on the easier side to treat, unfortunately the cancer was deeper than they initially thought. Melissa would have to endure four separate surgeries to safely and efficiently clear margins.
- The toughest part was Melissa having to suffer through living with an open wound on her nose in between the surgeries.
- Skin care prevention is a must in order to avoid a skin cancer diagnosis. Using sunscreen religiously, avoiding the sun during peak hours, or just staying covered in the sun period, will help protect you.
The biopsy performed by her dermatologist in early 2020 revealed that the specific type was basal carcinoma, which is the most common type of skin cancer.Read More
“The entire procedure lasted seven hours, then the doctor scheduled me for another surgery with a plastic surgeon the following week,” Melissa said.
During the microscopically-controlled surgery, thin layers of skin cancer tissue are removed until the surgeon reaches clear tissue.
“You’re able to remove a very conservative margin around the cancer and study it in essentially real-time,” Dr. Sumaira Aasi, Professor of Dermatology and Director of Mohs and Dermatologic Surgery at Stanford, told SurvivorNet. If, when the surgeon examines the tissue under the microscope, cancer is found, the surgeon goes back and removes some more tissue.
The idea is that by making the tiniest cuts and evaluating them microscopically, the surgeon knows for certain that all the cancer is out when the last piece of tissue proves to be clear.
Despite being told it should be on the easier side to treat, unfortunately the cancer was deeper than they initially thought. Melissa would have to endure four separate surgeries to safely and efficiently clear margins.
The toughest part was Melissa having to suffer through living with an open wound on her nose in between the surgeries. Understandably, it was hard to even look at herself in the mirror, as the constant reminder was there staring back at her.
To protect her from the shock of having to see the fresh, open wound in between dressings, her family helped her get through it, taking turns tending to the area. Finally, Melissa determined that she needed to face her cancer wound to fully process and realize what she had been through.
“When I had the open wound, I wanted to hide, but I realized I was hiding from myself,” Melissa admitted, saying that her appearance was very important to her, as it is for many (and there’s nothing wrong with that).
“Since then, I’ve tried to make an effort to not hide. I post pictures of my nose on social media, because I want people to know they aren’t alone,” she said.
Her final surgery was her nose getting reconstructed by skin graft, the skin taken from her collarbone. This site was just as alarming, but nurses reassured her it would be okay and that it would heal. Thankfully, the area looking more “pink and even” and she has been hanging in there despite the horrific health experience.
To make matters even worse, one of her nostrils collapsed a little, which she plans to hopefully reconstruct at a later date when she can.
Right now, Melissa just wants to heal physically and emotionally from what she has endured, and says her outlook on beauty has changed.
Learning About Skin Cancer Prevention
Basal cell carcinoma accounts for roughly 80% of skin cancer cases. Typically, melanoma is the most aggressive, and as mentioned, basal cell is usually easier to treat. Luckily Melissa got in right away, or her story could be much different.
Spending a lot of time outdoors, as Melissa did, sounds like a great way to live, but you have to be extra cautious in the sun and be diligent about applying sunscreen.
Dr. Cecilia Larocca, a dermatologist at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, recommends to SurvivorNet that you use no less than SPF 30 and reapply it every two hours. “Your sunscreen should also be broad spectrum,” says Dr. Larocca, meaning it covers both UVB and UVA rays.
One thing that many people do not know is that you only get about 50% of the SPF on the label. “So, if you’re using SPF 60, you’re really getting closer 30 SPF of protection,” Dr. Larocca says.
To make sure you’re getting the right protection, she also recommends using sunscreen every two hours and wearing protective clothing, such as a hat and sunglasses.
Top 5 Ways to Protect Your Skin From Skin Cancer
For most people, there are simple ways to significantly reduce your risk of developing skin cancer.
We asked dermatologist Dr. Dendy Engelman to provide the top five ways to protect your skin from skin cancer. Turns out, most of her recommendations are really simple to implement, and could save your life.
- Avoid sun during peak hours – This means from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. It doesn’t mean you should never go outside during the middle of the day, but make sure you’re protected when you do venture outdoors.
- Cover your skin and eyes – A wide brim hat and sun glasses will protect your face, the top of your head, your ears, and the delicate skin around your eyes.
- Wear an SPF of 30 or higher – This is easy enough. Plenty of facial moisturizers have SPF built into them. Dr. Engelman also recommends reapplying every few hours, or after excessive sweating or swimming.
- Get an annual skin check – You can check your own skin for anything that looks out of the ordinary, but you should still get a yearly check to make sure you didn’t miss anything. If you do happen to notice anything out of the ordinary in between checks, schedule an appointment to talk to your doctor about it ASAP — it is always worth it to make sure.
- Avoid tanning beds – This one is obvious … but just a reminder, tanning beds can significantly increase your risk of developing melanoma. If you feel like you’re just too pale, Dr. Engelman recommends a sunless tanner. “There’s absolutely no benefit to going to a tanning bed,” Dr. Engelman said.