Basal Cell Carcinoma…By The Numbers

13: The date. On Friday the 13th [insert dramatic music], I had Mohs surgery to remove a basal cell carcinoma (i.e. cancer) from my face.

Mohs surgery is a precise surgical technique used to treat skin cancer. During Mohs surgery, layers of cancer-containing skin are progressively removed and examined until only cancer-free tissue remains.


4:45: The hours and minutes the procedure, including Mohs surgery and plastic surgery, took from start to finish.

2: The number of doctors who treated me.  First, a dermatologist who specialized in Mohs micrographic surgery.  Second, a plastic surgeon who closed the wound.

Infinity: The number of times the right side of my face was poked with a long metal needle filled with local anesthesia. As a point of clarification, the assistant at the dermatologist’s office, Maggie, anesthetized me with a gentle and caring hand. Thank you, dear Maggie. You have the hands of an angel. I adore you. Later on, the arrogant self-confident plastic surgeon robotically stabbed my face over and over again with the gentle hands of an axe murderer.

2: Number of rounds of Mohs surgery before my face was officially cancer free.

50: The percent chance that the cancer would be gone after the first cut. I lost that round, but some people get cut three or four times, so there is gratitude hidden deep in this tale.

$.10: The wound on my face after two rounds of Mohs surgery was approximately the size of a dime.

2: The number of times I cried at the plastic surgeon’s office after Tanya, the assistant, explained what the scar on my face would look like and how it would most likely swell, give me a black eye, and take months to heal.

Here’s the thing about how my anxiety works.  I climb one mountain at a time.

Two hours earlier, I was anxious about how many cuts the Mohs dermatologist would have to make. An hour before that, I was worried about getting the kids dressed, packing their lunches, and dropping them off at school on time. Fourteen hours earlier, I was worried about Dylan getting his 20 minutes of nightly reading done. Forty-eight hours before that, I was worried about PTO bingo night and how many rounds of bingo we would have time to play and if we would have enough prizes for the kids and if I was going to make an ass out of myself at the microphone because I co-chaired the whole thing and had to get up on stage in front of over 200 people to say a bunch of stuff. Four days before that, I was worried about whether or not a kid would crack his head open on the ice at Dylan’s ice skating birthday party. (No one did.) A week earlier, I was worried about whether to make mashed sweet potatoes or baked sweet potato wedges for Thanksgiving. A week before that, I was worried about the ugly bandage on my face when the dermatologist biopsied the little bump on my cheek that I thought was a pimple.

One mountain, one cliff at a time.

I didn’t worry about swelling, scarring, and the months (months!) it would take for my face to heal until that moment in the examination room at the plastic surgeon’s office. I hadn’t really truly thought about any of it – the dime-sized hole on my face, the additional needles that were coming, the stitches, and the thought that I might have to do it all over again someday because once you get one basal cell carcinoma you’re likely to get another one – until right then.

I totally lost it. Tanya gave me a tissue. She was lovely. Like Maggie. Eventually, I stopped crying. Then I lost it again.

7 or 8: The number of stitches on my face.  The arrogant self-confident plastic surgeon didn’t count as he went along.  (Figures.) Despite my description of this guy as an axe murder, he’s highly regarded, and he assured me that my face will heal nicely….unless it doesn’t, in which case there are “things he can do,” which probably involve more face stabbing, so I’m hoping on a wing and a prayer that this works out the first time.

2: The number of weeks until my follow-up appointment with the plastic surgeon.

2: The number of months until my next check-up with my primary dermatologist.

3: The number of months between future dermatologist check-ups for at least one year and probably for the rest of my life.

3: The number of bowls of Skinny Pop I ate when I finally got home.

1: The number of bowls of matzo ball soup (homemade and defrosted from Rosh Hashana) I ate after I finished the Skinny Pop.

1: The number of books I (finally) finished during all of the waiting. (“The Husband’s Secret” by Liane Moriarty, in case you’re wondering.)

4: The number of selfies I took during the ordeal.


After Mohs round one.


After Mohs round two.


After stitches.


You know what they say.  A couple that does basal cell carcinoma together, stays together.

One two more things:

26: The number of children and adults who were shot and killed tragically and violently at Sandy Hook Elementary School one year ago today.

1,000,000: The number of times I’m going to hug my kids today (after the ibuprofen kicks in).

Numbers are fun. Perspective is everything.


Filed under anxiety, basal cell carcinoma, cancer, gratitude, health, math

5 responses to “Basal Cell Carcinoma…By The Numbers

  1. All my best – good to look at certain things quantitatively. A friend of mine here went through a similar process on her upper lip (under her nose) – was extremely freaked out but the scar is completely invisible now. Thinking of you…


  2. Bandage or not, scar or not, you are so beautiful. Don’t hold on to the little things…hold on to the bigger picture, all that you have in your life that is precious, like your husband and adorable kids, and the gift you have been giving to weave beautiful stories no matter how sad or scary the topic. You know, I have always thought scars are beautiful…they are kind of a map of your life, showing you have battled and won.


  3. An impressive share! I’ve just forwarded this onto a coworker who has been doing a little research on this.
    And he actually bought me dinner because
    I discovered it for him… lol. So let me reword this….
    Thanks for the meal!! But yeah, thanx for spending time to discuss this
    matter here on your blog.


  4. Pingback: bad skin biopsy: why I’m lurking in the shade – THE HOME TOME

  5. Melanie

    Thank you for giving me an idea of what I might go through. Haven’t even been to dermatologist yet. Dr. said the words “cancer” and basal cell today, but I had already looked up “infected looking pore cancer” and kinda had an idea. I will now try to prepare for needles in my face. 😒

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s