My Story – Basal Cell Carcinoma of the Scalp: Baby New Year 2014 Arrives with Baby Shampoo . . . & the Promise of a Fresh Start, Part 1

Baby New Year 2014  A Clean Slate . . . but with a Few Fingernail Scrapes Down the Chalkboard (Part 2 Here)

Being Scalped Creates a Fear of Baby Shampoo

This past Monday, December 30, at almost the very end of 2013, I had one more cancer removed. The basal cell carcinoma in the part line of my scalp was excised using Mohs micrographic surgery, a procedure I described in the November 21, 2013 post. After having a total hysterectomy for uterine (endometrial) cancer, I thought having a little pink spot taken off my scalp should cause merely a wince. Mmmm . . . it caused a bit more than that.

The wince became a series of grimaces as I prepared to be scalped in the dermatologic surgeon’s office–those lidocaine injections really smart and burn . . . really. The excision itself took only a couple of minutes. The doctor inserted two temporary stitches as I waited for the micrographic report from the on-premises lab. Luckily, after only one layer of tissue was removed, the lab reported that the margins of the excised specimen were clear–no more cancer remained in my scalp. The temporary sutures were removed, and the doctor inserted five “permanent” sutures, which he pulled very tight. He told me to return in two weeks–not the one week I expected–to have them removed. How nice. I got off easy on that one. Or so I thought.

Then the post-scalping period began. When we got home, I felt very drowsy and developed a mild headache. I hadn’t taken any pain medication yet because the local anesthetic hadn’t worn off, so I attributed these reactions to the lidocaine itself–especially when my laparoscopy incisions started to itch. I had a pressure dressing on my head (rolled gauze held in place by a white bandage), so I couldn’t see what was going on with my wound. But it started to hurt and felt like a burning, pulling sensation. I took a nap after lunch, ate a light dinner, then got ready for bed. The doctor’s nurse had given me disposable pillowcases in case of “oozing” (yuck), so I propped myself up on two pillows covered with the disposable pillowcase and went to bed, taking only Tylenol first. The doctor surprised me by saying I could wash my hair the next day.

The next day was yesterday, New Year’s Eve. By the morning, the drowsiness and itching had subsided. As instructed, I removed the dressing. All I could see was caked blood. The thought of washing my hair created quite a bit of anxiety because the incision hurt and I couldn’t even tell what I was looking at. Also as instructed, I applied gauze soaked in hydrogen peroxide on the wound and then a thin layer of petroleum jelly. Tylenol helped some, but the burning, pulling sensation continued. I did my best to get through the day, running a few errands (with a non-stick bandage covering my head wound so I wouldn’t gross people out), doing laundry, paying bills–all of which was a bit tough considering my various healing processes. The wound hurt–stung, burned, pulled–the whole day. Before bed, I dabbed at the wound with Q-tips soaked in hydrogen peroxide to remove some of the caked blood and applied a layer of petroleum jelly, per instructions. I took one of the pain pills I had left from a previous surgery, but it just made me woozy. At almost 4 AM, unable to sleep, I took a little alprazolam (Xanax), more Tylenol, and propped myself up on three pillows–the elevation seemed to help. I fell asleep until 8:45 AM.

When I opened my eyes this morning, I felt nothing. Wow! No burning or pulling pain! Before I could let myself think about it, I jumped in the shower and got out the baby shampoo I’d bought yesterday, patting it gently on the wound and then rinsing the area with my hand held under the shower flow to break the force of the water into a gentle spray. This didn’t hurt. It’s the little things that make me happy these days–I hadn’t gotten much sleep, but at least I felt clean and a bit energized for a while. But today I took it easy–and took a nap. I didn’t even file my broken nail. Not getting enough sleep makes everything harder.

As I write this, it’s early evening. I’m still taking Tylenol, which does help some, but the burning sensation is resistant to relief efforts. I’m not sure I want to do the hydrogen peroxide-petroleum jelly routine before I go to bed tonight because of this burning pain, although the pulling sensation is less, as the doctor said it would be after two or three days. So tonight I’ll at least take some Tylenol and Xanax and will prop myself up on three pillows again. The pain is less than yesterday, although still annoying. We’ll see what tomorrow morning brings. As long as the pain doesn’t get worse, I’ll assume that the scalp is just a very tender part of the body, that I’ve had some sensitivity to lidocaine, and that this is all part of a slow healing process. Yes, if anything gets worse, I will call the doctor; but I suspect that won’t be necessary.

What will be necessary is for me never to go out in the sun without sunscreen and/or a hat again. Imagine . . . in terms of pain, being scalped, even minimally, actually is worse than having your reproductive organs removed laparoscopically. I had considered just keeping the pink spot on my scalp. But after asking the doctor what would happen if I did and being told that it could ulcerate, become ugly, and grow down into the bone (although it wouldn’t metastasize, or spread), that kind of made up my mind for me. So I guess I’ll just bear up under the temporary discomfort to save myself from having an ugly, ulcerating tumor burrow down into my skull. I have enough weirdness going on inside there as it is.

Will Being Irradiated Create a Glowing New Me?

The robot-assisted laparoscopic total hysterectomy for uterine (endometrial) adenocarcinoma, of course, is the big story.

On Monday, December 23, 2013, I saw my gynecologic oncologist 10 days after the surgery on Friday the 13th, which I described in the December 14 and December 17 posts. Tomorrow, I will be discussing the outcome of that visit:

  • Diagnosis/Staging of Cancer
  • Post-op Complications
  • Radiation Treatment

Although I have more “homework” to do related to my health issues, and am having some post-op unpleasantness, I am starting 2014 cancer free. This is something to be very grateful for, as the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come reminded me this holiday season.

See you here tomorrow. . . .

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