a woman sits in a reclining doctor's chair and a doctor stands nearby. Behind them is an image of a giant scar with stitches

My Skin Cancer Surgery, in Pictures

At my last six-month checkup with my dermatologist, she saw a small area on my chest that needed to be biopsied. My doctor called me a couple of days later with the news that the area was basal cell carcinoma, and we scheduled an appointment for her to surgically remove it.

I've been here

I’ve been through this so many times that the news of yet another surgery didn’t bring me anxiety right away. I knew, though, the anxiety would come later; it usually really sets in after I’m prepped for surgery and my doctor is giving me the numbing shots.

Before I knew it, it was surgery day. My appointment was at noon, so I used my lunch hour to drive to my doctor’s office and have the surgery. Each time I’ve had an excisional removal for skin cancer, it’s been a fast process - I’m usually in and out in under 30 minutes.

The beginning

When I got to the office, my doctor’s medical assistant went over the consent forms and took a picture of the area that would be removed. Dr. K. then came in. After a bit of chatting, she asked if I was ready. She cleaned the area, draped it, and then gave me numerous numbing shots.

She allowed several moments for numbing to take effect, then she started the incision. I don’t like this part, because while I can’t actually feel the incision, I can feel pressure on my skin and it’s a weird feeling. I should say I usually can’t feel the incision, but when she moved to a different area on my skin I could feel that, so she gave me another numbing shot. Dr. K. is really good about letting me know how things are progressing, and I was thankful when she said she was done with the removal. I still had cauterizing (to help stop bleeding) and two layers of stitches to go, though.

The stitches

I think I dislike the stitches even more than I dislike the incision, because although I can’t feel the stitches going in, I can definitely feel the tugging on my skin as she pulls it back together and sews it up. Dr. K. does an internal layer of stitches that will dissolve and an external layer of stitches that I have to come back to have removed two weeks after surgery. Once she’s done stitching and a photo is taken of the surgical area, the area is covered with a large bandage and surgical tape, which stays on until the following morning when I remove it to wash the area and re-bandage it.

One thing I can count on is that approximately four or five hours after excisional surgery, I’m going to feel pain. And it can be pretty intense for a while. Thankfully it usually lasts just the first night. This time, though, it also hurt the following day, and I end up taking Advil several times to help ease the pain.

Bandages irritate me

Another thing I can count on is that my skin does not like the adhesive on bandages. By the end of two weeks, my skin itches and I have a red outline of where the bandages have been. I still haven’t found a bandage that doesn’t cause a reaction for me.

I’m relieved when it’s finally time to have my stitches removed. I’m once again finished with the stitches and wound care, until next time. Here’s hoping, though, that there doesn’t have to be a next time.

The small reddish area is basal cell carcinoma. It doesn’t look all that suspicious, but it’s cancer.

Judy with a basal cell carcinoma on her chest

Immediately after surgery.

Judy's bandaged chest

Photo of the stitches.

A fresh wound on Judy's chest with stitches

Stitches removed, leaving a fresh scar.

A scar on Judy's chest after her stitches were removed

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