Judy Buer's Experience With Radiation Therapy for Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Editor's Note: This guest piece was written by Judy Buer, a SkinCancer.net community member, who shares her journey with radiation therapy for squamous cell carcinoma on the nose. Judy hopes to help others going through similar experiences with skin cancer and spread awareness around radiation therapy.
Diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma
On May 19, 2020, my doctor diagnosed an invasive, moderately differentiated squamous cell carcinoma on my nose. I had noticed a pimple-type lesion on my nose during the lockdown for COVID-19 and thought it could wait until my next appointment in May after the lockdown lifted. It hardly seemed like an emergency! I was 67 years old, and my only other experience with skin cancer was a history of a melanoma in situ on my leg that my dermatologist was monitoring.
A week after the diagnosis, I had a Mohs procedure performed by a dermatologist who was unsuccessful in removing all of the cancerous tissue and who thought the tumor had likely gone down to the bone. The dermatologist then set up appointments with a head and neck surgeon and a plastic surgeon.
I was under general anesthesia as the head and neck surgeon first removed the rest of the tumor and then, a week later, the plastic surgeon performed a forehead flap skin graft to cover the defect. The tumor board at the hospital reviewed all of the information, including biopsies performed at subsequent surgeries, and recommended additional treatment of radiation therapy for this pT3 squamous cell carcinoma.
What is radiation therapy for squamous cell like?
I met with the radiation oncologist, and she went over all the benefits and risks of the treatments. Once the flap graft healed, the radiation treatments began. I received treatments five days a week for four weeks. The treatments lasted only about 30 seconds once everything was set up. I did not experience any side effects other than a little redness at the site on my nose. I was able to keep working and engage in my normal activities. The only risk was that, according to the plastic surgeon, radiation can delay healing and make the tissue difficult to manage if one needs additional surgery on the skin graft.
My particular forehead flap graft required a revision after the initial surgery. Since I was having radiation on that area, I could not complete the revision until the tissue had a chance to heal. My plastic surgeon recommended that I give the tissue at least six months to recover, so I agreed to wait. I completed the surgery for the revision on April 23, 2021. It was a long time to wait, but the tissue was healthy and the results were very good.
Adjustments and learnings
My biggest adjustment has been to accept my slightly altered nose and forehead when I look in the mirror. I try not to focus on my appearance, but on what is truly important – my faith in God and serving others. I also try to remember that it takes time and patience for things to heal, but they do get better eventually!
My advice would be to listen to your physicians and do ask questions. Do not be afraid to call the office and talk to the nurse if you have questions or concerns. Research articles online and refer to helpful websites like SkinCancer.net. Lastly, make sure to take care of yourself - body, mind, and spirit!
How well have your skin cancer diagnoses been explained to you?