I didn’t really know what to expect on a January day in 2013 when I first walked through the door of the Phoenix Plastic Surgery Institute, into the consulting rooms of Dr Gerard Bayley at the Ramsay Specialist Centre in Greenslopes, Brisbane.
Like many people, the term “plastic surgery” brought to mind images of face lifts, tummy tucks, nose jobs and boob jobs, so I imagined the waiting room to be full of image conscious young and not so young women wanting these cosmetic procedures.
Well, how wrong I was. The waiting room was, in fact filled with mostly middle-aged to elderly men and women, who, it would seem, had real medical problems that needed the skill and expertise of a plastic surgeon to fix.
My own reason for the consultation was to see about the removal of a large lump that I had next to my nose and had seemed to have become more noticeable lately. Dr Bayley immediately recognised it as a BCC (basal cell carcinoma) and wanted to do a biopsy the following week. This came as a bit of a surprise as I thought it was an old scar, the result of a childhood injury.
Having been through the removal of a melanoma on my forearm six months earlier, which meant taking a noticeable chunk of skin and tissue and a six centimetre scar, I wasn’t too keen to repeat the experience, especially on my face!
Well, I procrastinated and cancelled the appointment – a very silly decision in hindsight. After all, being a 55 year old menopausal woman, I guess irrational behaviour can sometimes be a symptom! That’s my excuse anyway.
Fortunately, Dr Bayley took the time to follow up with my GP, who rang me and explained the importance of having this type of thing dealt with and the problems that can arise from having a BCC close to the nose. So I rescheduled the appointment for late March and waited 4 days over the Easter break for the pathology result. Yes, it was a BCC and needed an excision.
I made an appointment for the following week. I was given the option of going into hospital for day surgery, or having the operation under a local anaesthetic there and then. At that stage I was so nervous about the whole thing I opted for the local anaesthetic as I just wanted it over and done with.
The needles in the face weren’t too pleasant, but after that I relaxed and couldn’t feel a thing. Because it was a large BCC, the operation involved doing what is called “flap surgery” so that I wasn’t left with the skin on my cheek being pulled too tight.
When it was all over I looked at myself in the mirror and saw two long rows of stitches running from my nose to my chin. I just wanted to get home as quickly as possible and luckily I had my husband waiting for me to drive me home.
The rest of the afternoon was spent with a bag of frozen peas on my face! Dr Bayley told me it was important to do this to reduce the bruising and swelling. Some strong pain killers helped over the next couple of days and my diet was restricted to things like soup, yoghurt and scrambled eggs – anything which didn’t require a lot of chewing.
I was relieved to have it done, but was it finished? Not quite, as I found out a week later when I returned to have the stitches taken out. Because it had been there for such a long time, unfortunately this BCC had spread and the pathology showed the excision hadn’t “cleared the margins”.
When the nurse who took the stitches out told me this I burst into tears. All I had wanted was for these scars to heal and to start feeling like my old self again. Of all the areas of the body, I think the face is the one that most people would not want to be cut with a surgeon’s scalpel. It’s not like you can just put a dressing over it and forget it .Every time I looked in a mirror I was confronted with it. The nurse and receptionist were both really lovely, kind and supportive and took the trouble to make me a cup of tea and reassure me that it would be alright.
So, another appointment to see Dr. Bayley was scheduled for 5 week’s time and my scar was healing nicely – such a pity to have it cut open again., especially since people kept remarking on how good it looked and I had a lot of comments like “Wow, he did a great job, you can hardly notice the scar” when I had makeup over it.
The second operation was done under a general anaesthetic at the PA Hospital. the following week – so much better to drift off to sleep and wake up when it was all over. The surgery took one hour to do and then I went to the recovery room where the nurse asked if I would like an orange juice and a chicken sandwich. Mmm….not really! I couldn’t open my mouth wide enough to bite into a sandwich, let alone chew it!
A short time later I was told I could go home along with a prescription for some strong pain killers. I walked out into the waiting area feeling relieved to have the operation over and didn’t even care about the two women who stared at me with their gaze fixed firmly on my swollen cheek and two rows of stitches, probably thinking I’d been in a fight out on the town the night before!
So, it was back to the soup and yoghurt diet for me until the swelling eased and then the following week the stitches were taken out. It was then that I got the best news of all – the pathology result came back with the words “excision complete”. It was finally over. The only thing left to do was massage the scar every day to iron out the lumps and bumps from the stitches.
All in all it was a great result considering I’d had the BCC for so long. I feel very fortunate to have been in the care of such a skilled surgeon – especially one who took the time to make sure I had it dealt with as quickly as possible, because as he pointed out to me, I could have lost half my nose if it had been left too much longer.
This type of statement comes as a real shock and I think many people don’t realise the dangers of skin cancers on the face and the disfigurement they can cause. In my case I feel particularly fortunate as this same BCC had not even been noticed at a check-up at a skin cancer clinic last year.
I wish I could turn back the clock to that day when I was 17 years old when I went to the beach with a group of friends and I fell asleep with my face exposed to the summer sun. The next day, my face was completely swollen with terrible sunburn and looking back now, it was probably then that the long-term damage was done.
Nevertheless, I’m pretty lucky the way things turned out as I know many aren’t so fortunate. So, to sum it up – thanks a million Dr. Gerard Bayley!