Community member Sue Merring hasn’t always thought of herself as an advocate. After surgeries and recurrences, she became more active in the skin cancer community, and realized how she could contribute to skin cancer awareness. We learn about her approaches to diagnosis, coping, and the importance of stories…
Where does your skin cancer story begin?
My story began in September 2017. I was at a regular checkup with my doctor when I asked him about a scar on my face. Approximately 10 yrs ago I was in a car accident that left a scar on my right cheek. I noticed over the years it had gotten larger and most recently began to bleed and ooze. I was put on antibiotics and referred to a plastic surgeon to have the scar removed.
What was your diagnosis and treatment like?
The plastic surgeon examined my cheek and told me he believed it could be skin cancer and scheduled surgery. All went well. I woke up to an incision along my frown line and no more scar! I went and had my stitches removed and I was shocked how great I looked. That evening I received “the” phone call: basal cell carcinoma all margins positive. Still I felt no big deal “just skin cancer” that is what I told my husband. His reply was it is serious, cancer is cancer!
I went for my second surgery still not too concerned just worried. As the surgeon marked my face I asked him about a little bump, no bigger than a pinhead, next to my eye. Surgery went well, except I was shocked, the incision now went from my nose to the bottom of my chin. The biopsy next to my eye was eight stitches long.
I had my stitches removed and I was told my cheek was clear! Yeah! My eye, on the other hand, positive margins. Ugh! Knowing I needed more surgery I showed the doctor a spot on my left temple and one on my right breast. Biopsies were done temple was benign and breast was positive BCC margins clear.
How do you cope with treatment and recovery?
While recovering I read a lot on-line about skin cancer. I had no idea how serious it was. I spent a lot of time educating myself and reading other people’s stories. I didn’t feel like anyone really understood how I was feeling except for those in a similar situation. Nothing anyone said was what I wanted to hear. I did not want to hear “cancer” and I certainly did not want to hear, my first reaction, “only skin cancer“. Reading other people’s journeys made me feel “normal”, I wasn’t alone, my feelings are what other people have experienced and somehow eased my anxiety some.
How has skin cancer affected your mood?
I have ten more days to wait for my next surgery for my eye. I am emotionally exhausted and find myself not talking about it anymore. Why the change in me? I don’t want people to think I am overreacting or want sympathy. I did go public on social media even showing pictures of myself in an attempt to educate my friends and family. I honestly don’t know how they felt about it. I have heard a lot of comments that hurt and make me very angry. “What are you worried about?”, “You are lucky it’s only basal cell”, and those haunting words “only skin cancer”.
How do you deal with skin cancer scars?
My scars are not on my face but in my heart. I am truly grateful that I stumbled across this website. Being able to feel an emotional connection with people I never met is surreal. I do not feel alone because I know there are many people out there who feel just like me and it gives me strength. I hope every skin cancer survivor finds their strength by sharing their journey and reading about others. We are warriors!
How do you stay positive?
I am sure I will continue to read other’s stories to keep going strong! I pray someday for more skin cancer awareness and eventually a cure!