Healing After Skin Cancer Surgery: My, How Things Have Changed
Last updated: July 2021
In March of 2007, I had my first skin cancer excision--the first of many procedures to remove cancerous lesions. Almost fourteen years later, a biopsy on my collar bone came back positive for squamous cell carcinoma. In February of 2021, I had an excision to remove the spot along with a second biopsy to make sure the margins were indeed clear. Heading in for surgery, I prepared myself for aftercare, buying all necessary supplies to keep it covered and dry until the stitches were removed. I wasn’t prepared for how much things had changed since my last skin cancer surgery.
Skin cancer surgery hurdle 1: the shower
Each time I had Mohs surgery or an excision, keeping the wound covered and dry was at the top of the list of things to do once at home. My dermatologist always provides a list of aftercare reminders, and bandages and tape are always necessities. In the past, I have spent much time stressing overwrapping, taping, and doing the awkward shower dance to keep the dressing dry. After several surgeries, I pretty much had it down to an art. Several years have passed since my last Mohs surgery, and I was a little nervous about keeping a wound on my collarbone, of all places, dry.
A more than pleasant shock
Imagine my surprise when the nurse told me I wouldn’t need to keep my wound covered night after night in the shower! The dermatologist used steri-strips to cover my stitches. After the first night, I was told it would be fine to allow it to get it wet as long as I wasn’t intentionally washing or scrubbing the area--it was quite tender. I didn’t know whether to be shocked or ecstatic. Truly--covering and taping is one of the things I dread most about skin cancer surgeries.
My stitches remained for about two weeks, and each time I showered, I was relieved to forego the complicated routine I had perfected so many times before. I have to admit I was skeptical about the steri-strips; I just didn’t have the faith in their ability to protect my vulnerable, healing wound. Over the years, I had grown so accustomed to babying my excision sites that I had almost no faith at all in what amounted to clear plastic stickers. I got my hat handed to me on this one--seriously.
After two weeks of basically going about my business and forgetting that I had stitches underneath those strips, checkup day arrived. I had some significant bruising from the trauma of the surgery itself, but the excision site felt great. I don’t remember ever having a skin cancer surgery go so incredibly smoothly. I was completely blown away when my doctor showed me the healing wound. The super-thin line was already almost unnoticeable.
I'm healing well
Now, almost four months after my squamous cell carcinoma was removed, my scar is healing beautifully. I find myself marveling at it some days, amazed at how little effort I had to put into the aftercare process and how simple the entire process has become over the years. I am thankful for my dermatologist and her steady hand and expertise, but I am equally grateful for the stress and worry that has been lifted off the shoulders of patients. It makes a world of difference when we can focus our energy on healing.
What are some of your tips and tricks for healing after skin cancer surgery?
Do you sunscreen in the fall?