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Excisions: Not Your Average Appointment

If you have ever had an out-patient procedure scheduled, you know there is a fair amount of preparation involved. You likely completed preliminary paperwork over the phone or via email and received several texts asking you to confirm your appointment time.

In addition, your physician’s office probably gave you a list of dos and don’ts for the night prior to your surgery in a clinic or hospital with a list of medications and precautions and headed home ready to heal. A lot goes into making this a one-and-done event for you. For many of us, skin cancer surgeries are not quite as clear-cut.

Scheduled excision surgery for my skin cancer

In 2007, I was diagnosed with melanoma and quickly paired with a dermatologist for an excision. I am an elementary school teacher and, as with most appointments, I insisted that I needed to have this one scheduled for as late in the afternoon as possible.

My first mistake

That, I think, was my first mistake. An excision surgery for skin cancer is a big deal, and I was completely unprepared for what followed. An early appointment would have given me a full day to take it all in and process the amount of healing I would require.

My second mistake

Not having been told otherwise by anyone in my dermatologist’s office, I came alone for my excision surgery. That was my second mistake. While my initial mole was tiny, the excision was a centimeter around. Even now, that doesn’t sound like it would leave a large wound, but it most definitely did.

Requiring stitches both inside and out and leaving a lengthy wound on my upper left arm, the procedure left me reeling in many ways. I wasn’t prepared for the overwhelming feelings of “what has happened” and “what have I done” that ran through my mind as I drove myself home.

And...my biggest mistake

I think my biggest mistake prior to and following the excision surgery was my own failure to ask questions. In retrospect, I would have liked to have known about the level of pain I could expect from such a large wound. I also would have liked to know that some products may irritate the tender and healing excision site-- even products I had used all my life like Neosporin and Vaseline.

Heading home from that first excision, I would have loved to have been told to expect odd sensations as my skin healed and the scar began to take shape-- I had periodic aches and pains for almost a year following my melanoma surgery.

If I could do my first excision surgery over

I knew very little of melanoma at the time of my diagnosis, so I don’t know that I can fully blame myself. I assumed I understood what was about to happen to me and assumed far too much about my own ability to handle this big event alone.

If I had it to do over, I would ask questions prior to setting up my appointment. I have gotten smarter about things since 2007 and was much more prepared for the Mohs surgeries I had for basal cell carcinoma.

Don’t go through your surgery alone

Many things have changed in the 13 years since my first excision, and support groups answer as many or more of these questions than doctors. They are invaluable resources for those of us with skin cancer.

If you are facing your first excision surgery for skin cancer, reach out to your doctor, to friends who have been there and done that, or connect with others online who can relate to your situation. Excisions for skin cancer are not to be taken lightly and shouldn’t be shrugged off as just another appointment with the dermatologist.

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