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March 13, 2015

The Words You Never Want to Hear

A couple of weeks ago, I heard them all, in brief succession, and my world changed in the matter of seconds.

Biopsy, positive, cancer, face, disfiguring, surgery, now.

I had just returned home from a particularly stressful week at work, where I was trying to keep my sanity knowing something was hanging over my head and wanting to keep it private until I knew, which caused a lot of misunderstandings and stress.  I was breathing a sigh of relief thinking about a relaxing weekend, when, at 5pm on a Friday, the phone rang.  I had the answer and it wasn't what I intended.  I had put so much focus on health and visualizing a good result that it hit me like a 2x4 in the back of the head.  I actually felt my legs gave out from under me and had that "out of body" experience that only comes from a shock to the system.  I broke.

I immediately started to research skin cancer, and googling images made me sick.  I still didn't know what kind of cancer, how big, and how long the surgery was going to take, but I knew it needed to get out of my body, so I scheduled a consult with the surgeon, who referred me to a plastic surgeon to do the "repairs".  Repairs?  Stitch it up, whatever, it's a scar, right?  Wrong.

After consults and blissful chosen ignorance of the word "disfiguring", I went through with the MOHS surgery to remove the cancer that was right between my eyes.  There are no words to describe the fear, the smells, the feeling of someone digging in your forehead for bad tissue and removing layers of skin and flesh.  I was awake through it all - and trying to keep it together.  After two surgeries and 3 hours in that chair, I was cleared to go home.  Cancer was gone (99% certainty, which is pretty damn good) and I asked to see myself in the mirror.  The nurse hesitated, asked me if I was sure I really wanted to see, and I said yes.  It was the moment you know you should have said no.  I was a monster.  What you see in a zombie movie.  Your reflection is a stranger looking back at you, horrific and terrifying.  I broke.

The nurse was incredible and offered me so much love and care.  She sat there and cried with me, telling me that she felt I was a beautiful person inside and I would be again on the outside.  Not to worry, the plastic surgeon can do miracles.  Who does that?  I lucked out and was the recipient of so much great care.

So, I went home, I DROVE HOME, and sat in shock until the next day, until I could see the plastic surgeon.

The next day I woke up and for a second I was normal.  I didn't have a hole between my eyebrows, I was me.  For a second.  And then reality hit.  I went to the surgeon and he removed the bandages and said "I can work with this".  Those words meant a lot at that moment, and for a few hours, he and his assistant took the time to reconstruct what I hoped would be my face again.  I was awake, with enough local anesthesia to not feel my nose for a couple of days.  At the end of the surgery, he said he wanted me to look at what he did.  I felt a wave of nausea and shook my head no.  He said I needed to see what was there now, not what I remembered from the first two surgeries.  It was not going to be "pretty" but it was not going to be "that" anymore.  I picked up the mirror and held it in front of my face.  Swollen, bruised, traces of blood... but I saw my face.  I saw me for a moment.  I hugged him.  He told me not to cry because the stitches were so close to my left eye, but I couldn't help it.  I was going to have a hell of a scar, maybe some skin pulling, but I was on the road to healing.  I took a deep breath and went home.

I'm not done yet, I still need care and surgeries, but the worst is over.

Why am I sharing this?  Because we just don't know how strong we are.  How much we are truly loved, how resilient the body is, and how the mind can switch from devastating thoughts to those of hope in the span of a day.  I am grateful that the cancer was removed, that I have a job that supports my decision to work from home until I am done with all these surgeries and micro adjustments and until I no longer look like I went a couple of rounds with Tyson and lost in a major way.  For friends who care about me and my well being (mental and physical).  And for people who chose a career in the medical field.  We often look at plastic surgeons as people who focus on the superficial, aesthetics, looks.  I look at them as people who take great care in giving others hope in the middle of drowning.  My surgeon is my life line.

This has been such an emotional week, and going from fear to hope took a lot of work.  But I didn't do it alone, and I felt each and every single thought of love directed my way.  From my family, to my friends to the professionals who truly understand.  Will I have a scar on my face?  Yes.  Will it be a constant reminder of pain and fear?  No.  It will be just a scar.  And when I look at it, I will feel how much love, skill and care went into it.   Love trumps fear.

And even though my eyes close shut when I do, I am smiling right now.
Life is a gift.

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