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Cryosurgery: Knowing When Enough is Enough

I would be lying to you if I told you that each experience with every doctor I have ever had was a pleasant one. We have all had an appointment or two that didn’t go quite as we envisioned. The hope is always that our doctors won’t lead us astray and will take our wishes into consideration. If you have a doctor who truly listens to you, count yourself among the most fortunate. Once in a while, we stumble across that one doctor who somehow fails to consider our unique situation and leaves us hanging. This is exactly where I found myself one summer several years ago.

Changing doctors

In 2007, I was diagnosed with melanoma and began my skin cancer journey. Regular appointments with a dermatologist became necessary, and I saw my doctor for a skin check every three months for a year or so until I was moved to six-month schedule. Shortly after my excision and first two appointments, my dermatologist broke the news that he would be moving from Tennessee to begin a job in the Northwest, and I would need to find a new doctor. He was glad to recommend another dermatologist in the same practice. In turn, I was glad to listen to him as I trusted his opinion.

Learning the ropes

After several appointments with my new doctor, I was impressed with her thoroughness. With each visit, she found new spots–my sun damage was and still is severe. I was still new to the entire skin cancer experience and assumed that having spots regularly removed via cryosurgery was typical. It was with this new doctor that I learned how and when to say, “That’s enough.”

Speaking up

During the summer of 2009, I went for my regular six-month checkup. It began like any other. She checked me from my scalp to the bottoms of my feet. After a complete exam, the liquid nitrogen made its inevitable appearance. As expected, my doctor pointed out some spots of concern and began to obliterate them. I am always glad to have one more precancerous spot eliminated, but I have learned my limit. This visit, in particular, taught me about those limits.

Bear with me. This is the best way I can explain what happened to my dermatologist that afternoon. You know the feeling you get when someone hands you bubble wrap? That slight little feeling of euphoria you get at the thought of hearing that satisfying pop? Hang on. Now, think of the way you can’t seem to pop just one or two. You just have to go on to the next one, and the next one, and the next. That, for lack of a better comparison, is what happened to my dermatologist.

Burning and learning

She used her dermatoscope to illuminate one spot after another and followed each with a quick blast from her handy dandy can. I lost count after the fifth shock to my skin. The burning and stinging pains ran together and felt like one throbbing mass on my face.

Not knowing better and not thinking I had the right to say otherwise, I allowed her to satisfy her own urge to purge my skin of all its ills. When all was said and done, she had burned upwards of a dozen spots from my face, neck, and chest. I spent the next few weeks looking as though I was covered in cigarette burns. Explaining to others what had happened was hard, but thinking I could have asked her to stop and didn’t was harder.

Countless white scars

Over the three years I spent seeing her, I accumulated countless white scars from cryosurgery on my face and chest. Liquid nitrogen delivers its own special shock and, in small doses, is tolerable.

Today, I have a different dermatologist and a new outlook on cryosurgery. While I appreciate its effectiveness in stopping precancers in their tracks, I know when to tell my doctor I have had enough in a single visit. Receiving treatment for skin cancer should always involve two voices. Don’t ever be afraid to let yours be heard.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • hawkfan01
    2 months ago

    My 93 yr old mother is going through this for over 10 yrs now. She just had a mohs on her left shin for a squamous cell recently. Long time to heal! Three months before it was a huge mohs on her face. Plus 12 liquid nitrogen blasts all over. It is never ending and she has another squamous cell that looks like it will require a mohs on her other leg! But if she doesn’t take care of it, it gets so sore she can’t sleep or deal with the discomfort. I am her caretaker and she is on hospice now for heart problems, but we still have to see the dermatologist at her insistence. She can hardly walk, but here we are back and forth to the dermatologist every few weeks. I call quits, but she insists on taking care of things. She’ll be 94 soon. She doesn’t see any other doctors anymore due to hospice which is a relief. But this one is never ending!

  • April Pulliam moderator author
    2 months ago

    @hawkfan01…I am so sorry you’re both struggling. I know being a caregiver can be tiring–mentally and physically.

    Your mom sounds like a strong lady. She certainly seems to be determined to take care of her skin. Just from your description of her, I can picture her as a lady with which to be reckoned. I just know she is a firecracker! I hate to hear that she is battling spots that become sore. I know that must be terribly distressing for her. She really is a great example for all of us. She’s the greatest kind of advocate.

    Please remember as you move forward with your mother’s care and face day-to-day challenges that you need to take care of yourself. I’m including a link to an article that might help you.

    I’m sending you both lots of hugs and positive energy!

    April,, Moderator

  • Tony-B
    2 months ago

    That should be our war cry….It’s my body, I have every right to have my say.

    So easy just to let doctors steer us to the treatment they prefer to give. I have yet to meet a dermatologist or plastic surgeon that actually has skin cancer.

    Come to think of it, I have yet to meet a surgeon who has had a total hip replacement but they all have their preferred ways of cutting you open.

    It’s our body and we have every right to discuss the alternate treatments.

  • April Pulliam moderator author
    2 months ago

    @tony-b…isn’t is stunning how little doctors actually know when it comes to the impact of procedures on patients? I’m always surprised by their reactions when I have questions about various side effects.

    I completely agree with your assessment, and we DO need a war cry! Our bodies are our own. We know them better than anyone else!

    April,, Moderator

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