Healing After Skin Cancer Surgery: My, How Things Have Changed

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.

The pressure bandage stayed in place for 24 hours.

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.

Once the pressure bandage was removed, I could see the running stitch through the steri-strips.

Faith renewed

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.

Speedy healing

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.

The day of my post-surgery checkup--stitches removed and a little adhesive still hanging in there.

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.

Almost four months later--minimal scarring!

What are some of your tips and tricks for healing after skin cancer surgery?

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