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Published on May 11, 2021

What I went through after a growth on my scalp turned out to be cancer

By Edward A. Forbes / The Bulletin

I tested positive for squamous cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer.

Lesson learned: Use sunscreen and protective clothing when working outside and frequent sunscreen applications when outside for prolonged periods of time. Protecting your skin from the sun is a lot easier than what I had to go through to remove the cancerous skin. It’s not a walk in the park.

Untreated squamous cell carcinoma of the skin can destroy nearby healthy tissue, spread to the lymph nodes or other organs, and may be fatal.

Here is what happened.

I went to the dermatologist, and he decided to remove the small growths from my little bald head. “These look thicker than last time,” he observed. He used the scalpel this time instead of the liquid nitrogen he used in January a year ago. He gave me three shots in my scalp and then proceeded to cut.

As it turns out, none of this was that painful until he said “These are bleeding. We need to cauterize them.” Now, that smarted!

He sent the removed tissue to be biopsied and gave me instructions for care of the operated area. I could clean it with soap and water (no scrubbing) the next day, pat dry (no rubbing), dry with alcohol, and cover with Vaseline.

Not being overly bright I followed instructions carefully, and after showering (no tub bath or swimming allowed) and patting the area dry, I applied alcohol.

I should have thought a little. Raw area with cuts and alcohol - what image does that conjure up? It was a definite eye opener, so wide open I couldn’t close them for about 15 minutes!

The bonus was when the doctor called me a few days later and told me I have squamous cell carcinoma. This is caused by excessive sun exposure, a blistering sunburn as a child or teenager.

I had to make an appointment in Texas City because he planned on doing Mohs surgery, during which they remove tissue and do a biopsy while you wait, repeating the procedure until all cancerous tissue is removed.

They don’t do this procedure in Angleton, and I will have stitches. Maybe there will be enough stitches to spell out “He was a big boy and didn’t cry.”

Then it was time for the really fun part - the removal of the cancerous cells. He did local anesthesia, three to five shots, to deaden the area. Only one of them qualified as “hurt,” and please note it’s hurt with a small h.

He took a plug, literally, from my scalp and sent it to the lab for a biopsy to see if he got all the cancer.

The cutting part was not bad at all, not nearly as bad as I feared. We had to wait about an hour for the results. He saw my son sitting in the waiting room and told him to come and stay with me in The Room.

The results came back. Still positive. The surgeon prepared to go deeper. And still positive, so he went wider and deeper. Oh, joy!

He took another excised tissue back to the lab. This time he got it all.

Now we are going to do stitches, two layers, he said. But first, always my favorite part, the cauterizing of the area to stop the bleeding. I asked him if he had one of the famous wood-burning sets as a child because he seemed to enjoy this.

It’s always the most hurtful part of our visits, but this wasn’t all that bad. It felt weird when he was pushing the skin closer to each side as he sewed it together.

I never required the booze or stick they gave you to bite on in the old “Wagon Train” episodes, although the booze sounds like a good idea.

He warned me that the skin would be tight and slightly uncomfortable when I laughed, smiled, frowned, or changed expressions. He was correct. Nobody around me was allowed to tell jokes or make me mad.

The next visit consisted of stitch removal. We decided to wait a month before using the liquid nitrogen on the remaining areas.

I will be wearing a hat and using sunscreen in the future. You should do the same.

(Edward Forbes wants to hear from you. Email him at eforbes1946@gmail.com or send comments by snail mail to The Bulletin, PO Box 2426, Angleton TX. 77516.)