Sharon’s Basal Cell Story

    Basal Cell Carcinoma - Sharon’s Story

    In January 2014, I had a basal cell carcinoma removed from my nose. The procedure required three stages of Mohs micrographic surgery and extensive reconstruction. As a nurse and esthetician, I fully appreciate the importance of sun protection in preventing skin aging and the development of skin cancer. Growing up, however, I didn’t fully understand the importance of sun avoidance, and I’ve spent over half my life in the sun, horseback riding, skiing, scuba diving, and trapshooting.

    My basal cell carcinoma didn’t start out as anything much. It was just a small, pink, flaky area of skin on the tip of my nose that would occasionally bleed, but it never healed or went away. Skin cancer’s ABCDE guide, which categorizes signs of melanoma, didn’t seem to apply: 

    • Asymmetry - one side doesn't match the other side
    • Border - uneven edges
    • Color - uneven shades of tan, brown, or black
    • Diameter - larger than a 1/4 inch (pencil eraser size)
    • Evolution - any change in size or shape

    As the discolored skin on my nose didn’t fall into any of those categories, I wasn’t concerned. But Dangene noticed the pink area and suggested that I have it looked at by a doctor. I did, but only six months later! Yes, even nurse-estheticians make mistakes!

    Dr. Anetta Reszko, a dermatologist, performed a small biopsy on my nose. It turned out to be a nodular basal cell carcinoma that would have to be removed via Mohs surgery. Dr. Reszko explained that the cancer had grown beneath the skin’s surface, developing deep roots that had to be surgically removed. I would then need reconstructive surgery, and she recommended this work be done by Dr. La Trenta, a plastic surgeon.

    Dr. Reszko performed three rounds of Mohs surgery, numbing my nose so I felt no discomfort. She removed cancerous cells until she was satisfied that  the margins were clear and all the cancerous material had been removed. From there, I went directly to Dr. La Trenta’s office—in the middle of the city’s first major snowstorm of the year, a comical commuting odyssey. But the look on Dr. La Trenta’s face when I arrived was sobering. 

    Having spoken with Dr. Reszko, he told me this was a worst case scenario. He was concerned that the scar would have to start between my eyebrows in order to move enough tissue to reconstruct my nose. At the time, I was unable to appreciate the seriousness of the situation, but I knew I was in great hands. It was only after the surgery, when I saw the “before” pictures, that I realized what an amazing job he’d done!

    I was back at work ten days later. Dr. La Trenta told me that my nose would keep healing over the next eighteen months. Recently, Dr. Rezko added a little Juvederm filler to my nose for better proportion. I have been so lucky with my great doctors!

    I now go in for a skin cancer body check every six months. Once you have had skin cancer, you are at a higher risk of getting a secondary cancer. I pay attention to anything that is discolored, bleeding, or not healing. I am even more conscientious about using sun block and wearing a hat and clothing to protect against the sun. I still do a lot of outdoor sports, but now, I am sun smart!

    Always Remember Dangene’s Summer Protection Plan:

    • Use a physical sunblock that contains zinc oxide and titanium dioxide to protect those delicate areas we often forget: knees, nose, chin, hands, tops of the feet and shoulders (the latter is crucial considering all the fabulous shoulder-baring clothes on the runways!).
    • If the bugs love you, use an organic spray to avoid bug bite scars that can mar the skin and take too long to heal.
    • Use an anti-friction stick or Band-Aids to avoid blisters.
    • Wear a scarf or hat to protect your hair color, hair follicles, and the often overlooked, easy-to-burn, tender scalp.
    • Wear lip balm with SPF coverage 24/7 and keep a stick, pot, or tube handy so you can reapply often (remember to reapply before the lips start feeling dry).
    • Wear big, movie star sunglasses to protect the eyes and eye area, walk on the shady side of the street (like Diana Vreeland), and wear long sleeves and long, loose pants whenever possible. Super-sensitive people may opt for sun-protective clothing and/or a chic parasol.