In late December (this had nothing to do with trying to use up my flexible spending money, I swear) I decided to be responsible and go to the dermatologist for a mole check. When I mentioned this to a few friends, I was surprised to hear that several didn’t even know this is something you are supposed to do, so I figured I should share this story.
I am relatively fair skinned and have a lot of freckles (and a few moles) and though I have no history of skin cancer in my family, I’m told that I should be going for a full body scan every year, though I’d only been a time or two before this last appointment. The doctor basically looks closely at your entire body and sees if there are any questionable moles. Depending on what they see/find, they will act accordingly.
When I was there, I noticed the doctor stopping at one particular spot on my leg. I realize that this is really weird to say, but it was actually a freckle I really liked. It was cute, small, and on the top of my quad and I don’t know, I just liked it. To me, it didn’t look like anything was wrong with it at all, which is probably why I’m not a doctor.
- “This one looks suspicious,” she said. “Do you mind if I remove it and send it in for testing?”
- “Umm.. right now!? What? How does that work?”
- “Basically, I’ll just inject a little Lidocaine under the skin, shave it off, cover it with a bandage, and you won’t feel a thing. It’ll take less than a minute.”
- “Uhhhhhhmmmm ok I guess. Are you SURE it’s not going to hurt??”
Now, you should know I am a total freak about these things. I tend to get worked up over the littlest things and automatically assume worst case scenario on all things health related (some might call this a hypochondriac?), but honestly, the procedure was no big deal. I left there with a Band-Aid over the spot where my beloved freckle used to be with no harm done.
Fast forward a week later, and I got a call back from the doctor saying that the mole came back atypical and she wanted to go in to remove more.
Frantically, I asked her a ton of questions and she explained that basically, there is a spectrum between benign (nothing wrong) and melanoma (cancer), and it had come back as “moderate” on the atypical scale, so not mild, nor severe. To be safe, the doctor wanted to go back in to remove more of the mole to make sure the margins were clear (aka no atypical cells were left) and stitch it back up. It’s a fairly common procedure and though I didn’t have skin cancer, this would make sure that I didn’t develop it there.
Now, I also had this weird thing on my arm. It’s something I have had for years and have always been super self-conscious of, and oddly enough got asked about A LOT. I think it is from a scar, but I honestly can’t remember when it showed up, how long I’ve had it for, and if it has changed over time. I have had it looked at before, but I brought it to the dermatologist’s attention when I was there this time, too.
The doc said that she didn’t think it was anything serious, but that she wanted to remove it and and send it in to be tested, too.
So last Friday, January 18th, I had an appointment to get the mole on my leg and the spot on my arm removed. I told them I was freaking out, so they told me to come in 30 minutes before my appointment so they could give me a Valium to calm me down before the procedure, and I was SO glad I did that.
I definitely wouldn’t have been feeling that good without it, especially when I saw all the equipment laid out for the procedure.
After a few minutes, the doctor came in and marked up my arm and leg for how she was going to cut in. Both places were going to be cut in a football type shape around the spots, given a lot of Lidocaine via injection, have the questionable things cut out, then stitched back up with both internal and external stitches.
The procedures themselves were not THAT bad, really. I couldn’t feel anything even though I was totally awake and made the doctors talk to me the whole time about anything other than the surgery. That is, until they put in the external stitches. It didn’t hurt at all, but I could feel the doctor pulling back and forth pretty hard when she was putting those stitches in and it was a really, really weird feeling. I was relieved when it was over, and also that they did my arm first because that was the worse of the two. They put some tape-like strips over the stitches in both spots, then loads of gauze to absorb any post-op bleeding, and then taped them up.
Both places looked like this:
I was in and out in about an hour, and my aftercare instructions were this:
- Ice both places 30 minutes on, 30 minutes off for the rest of the day.
- Take Tylenol every 4 hours for pain, as needed (which did not help, at all).
- Elevate both places as much as possible for the rest of the day.
- Remove the bandages in the morning, and change them morning and night for the next 10 days until going back to have the stitches removed. I have to load them up with a ton of vaseline, then put gauze and tape over the sutures. The goal for these 10 days is not to let a scab form, because it’s better for healing.
- No exercise for at least 2 weeks, possibly 3, to reduce the risk of clotting and reopening the wounds. Oy.
The hardest part of these instructions was the elevation part. It’s my left leg, and my right arm – so that proved to be a logistical challenge. I ended up sleeping that night with my legs swung over the arm of my couch, and my arm propped up against the couch on a pillow. Super comfortable.
When I woke up the next day, my leg was no big deal. I’ll show you this picture because I don’t think it’s too graphic, but this was the spot on my leg:
Those are the stitches underneath, and then I was supposed to leave that tape over it until it fell off on it’s own. The tape on my leg stayed on for almost 48 hours post surgery, but the tape on my arm ended up coming off that first morning when I removed the original bandages.
My arm was a different story, but I’ll spare you the photos because they are NASTY. The cut is about twice as long as the one on my leg (about 2 inches probably) and bled through the bandages that first night. I almost gagged when I had to look at it in the morning because it was a lot bigger (and bloodier) that I was expecting, but luckily I was instructed to cover it right back up so I didn’t have to look at for long.
In terms of pain, my leg was barely noticeable. If it had just been that mole removal, I don’t think it would have been a big deal at all. My arm, on the other hand, hurt like a b. It stung really bad and felt like someone had stabbed me with a knife (oh wait…) and the Tylenol didn’t really help. I ended up icing it a lot that next day even though I wasn’t instructed to, and that took the edge off. By day three, it was still sore, but hurt significantly less, and now, just under a week afterward the procedure, the pain is minimal. My arm is definitely a little sore and it’s hard to forget I have stitches there, but I barely even notice my leg.
I go back this coming Monday for a follow up and to get the sutures removed, and at that point they will give me further care instructions to promote healing and minimize scarring. The thing I’m currently having the hardest time with is not being able to do any exercise at all. I’m such an active person, and I really like to eat, so I am struggling with not being able to do anything (and still wanting to eat like I am working out 6x a week). I know that my healing is way more important than my running, but I also have a half marathon coming up in March that I’m in the middle of training for, so it’s hard mentally to steer clear of running as well.
Anyway, I will keep you guys posted with how things progress with the healing (and if you aren’t offended by gross things and are curious to see a picture of my arm post-surgery, you can email me at bethsjourneyblog at gmail dot com and I’ll send it to you), but that’s what’s going on with me.
Are you good about preventative medicine and going to the doctor? Do you get yearly mole checks?