alt=a woman holds her hands over her ears in denial

A Skin Cancer Diagnosis: Walking in Denial

Last updated: January 2023

I was first diagnosed with skin cancer in June 2018. A that time, I took the ostrich with its head in the sand approach. Basically, I was in denial of the entire situation.

The ostrich approach - denial

The plastic surgeon plainly informed me that I had skin cancer, squamous cell carcinoma, on my bottom lip and then three recurrences. However, his words failed to register with me entirely. I wanted everything to be ok, and in my mind, everything was just fine, and life moved on.

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines the term “denial” as a coping mechanism people use to avoid a situation by denying the existence of the problem. People generally turn to denial as a defense mechanism to protect themselves or avoid a reality that is too difficult for them to accept.

Four facial surgeries

During each of the four surgeries on my bottom lip, the plastic surgeon did a shave excision surgery procedure in which he removed the skin cancer, which was protruding out from my lip. Because it was on my face, he attempted to reduce the scarring to my face. The plastic surgeon did not stitch up the resulting wound. Rather, he cauterized (burned the flesh on) my face.

If you have not been through cauterization, I will fill you in. Cauterization is horrible. I have a high pain threshold, but when you can smell your own flesh burning, it is a very unsettling feeling indeed. It made me feel sick to my stomach.

After the first surgery on my bottom lip, I got back into my car and drove straight to the office. I did not home to go to bed, and I did not home to rest on the couch. I went straight to the office to work. Because, remember, I was just fine, totally fine. I had the situation, or lack of a situation, completely under control. There was no need for me to go home and rest or take a personal day. There was no issue to get over.

Being forced to care for myself

When I got to the office, I started flying through the work on my desk. My boss came in and took one look at my charred, burned, and swollen face, and he thoughtfully asked. “Ashley, why are you here? You have lots of leave time. I want you to go home.” I responded, “I really appreciate it, thank you very much, but I am busy today here at the office. I have some work that needs to be done today.”

My boss stood firm, “I want you to go home now and take at least two additional days of personal leave. You must be in a lot of pain.”

Now trying the head-on approach

A skin cancer diagnosis is difficult for anyone to digest. We all just do the best we can to accept the difficult news and keep walking. I was clearly in denial following my first diagnosis, but I feel like I have taken a healthier approach since then. Specifically, I am dealing with skin cancer in a head-on approach.

How did you deal with your skin cancer diagnosis? Did you ever feel like you were in denial of the situation? If so, how did you move beyond denial?

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