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Sometimes You Feel Like Cryotherapy, Sometimes You Don't

Six-month checkups with my dermatologist have been a part of my life since 2007. My first skin cancer experience was a doozy–melanoma.

Spots that weren't on my radar

Since then I have had three basal cell carcinomas and, more recently, a squamous cell carcinoma. Throw in dozens of precancerous spots and you have the perfect skin cancer storm. Of all these lesions, the melanoma was really the only one visible to my untrained eye, and even that was pointed out by my best friend. Once again, my regular dermatologist visit revealed two spots that were never on my radar.

Six-month checkup with few concerns

This week, I headed in for my six-month mole patrol with only one spot of concern. I have a flake of dry skin on my lower lip line that doesn’t want to take a hike. I have been through the regular drill with my doctor enough to know that I would be given the option to treat it with Efudex or have cryotherapy. I saw that talk coming, and I was ready with my answer–Efudex. What I didn’t see coming was her next question.

The dermatologist saw other spots

“How long have these spots been on your cheek?” Thinking she was referring to the scarring from a spot previously frozen with liquid nitrogen, I didn’t think much of it. That is, until she continued to linger over the area with her handheld light.

At this point, I began to get a little nervous. These moments always go one of two ways. There is either a biopsy or the liquid nitrogen makes an appearance. This time, she didn’t opt for a biopsy but after freezing both spots, she told me to watch the area closely. If they reappear, a biopsy will be necessary.

Pausing about cryotherapy, especially around my mouth

Over the years, I have grown weary of the freezing and the white scars. When this journey began in 2007, my skin was younger, tighter, and bounced back more quickly. That’s not the case now. Where I used to quickly say “yes” to cryosurgery, I weigh my options more carefully now. I’ve learned over time that the white scars that result from cryotherapy around my mouth lead to puckering down the road. These two spots are on my cheek and far from the skin around my mouth. If my doctor was satisfied with a first round of cryotherapy on these two spots, I trusted her judgment.

Photo of a skin cancer spot on day 1 of cryotherapy, followed by the same spot on day 4.

Left side: Day 1. Right side: Day 4.

Two bee stings later, I was on my way home with the usual instructions on how to care for my wounds. Cryotherapy doesn’t require anything elaborate in aftercare. I was told to use Aquaphor or Vaseline and wash as normal.

It’s not the aftercare or even the sharp sting from the canister of liquid nitrogen that gets under my skin (no pun intended).

Each scar a reminder of the past

It’s the idea that I have to take this ride every six months due to the many sun-related mistakes I made in the past. Every white scar is a loud reminder of the days I spent sans sunscreen soaking up the sun and the countless hours I purchased in tanning bed visits. I was lucky this time to walk away with just two reminders.

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