I am so excited to continue the story of Rachel Gammon and her heroic fight against skin cancer. If you are interested in seeing pictures of her skin cancers, along with her treatments, follow this link: http://www.facebook.com/#!/media/set/?set=a.815541137250.2272906.38902033&type=3
Here is her continued story:
In less than one week my results were back. This time the doctor called me directly. I had 6 BCC’s , numerous actinic keratosis (pre-cancer cells), and dysplastic nevi (abnormal moles). I had no idea what I was about to get myself into…These spots ranged from my face down to my legs. I chose to do a topical chemo treatment instead of the other option I had been presented because it was cheaper. My insurance at the time was awful and was exhausted again already just from the biopsies. At this point I had $3,000.00 pathology bill and an $800.00 bill from the doctor. The chemo was expensive and lesser of a cure rate but it was my best option at the time.
I was about to face something so ugly, painful, body shocking, sickening, and disfiguring. The treatment was for 6 weeks: apply once a day for 5 days & off two. This treatment shocked and ate at my skin so much I only latest 4 weeks until my body almost went into shock. I couldn’t walk, my legs and shoulder oozed, the pain was piercing, my whole body screamed every time water hit my wounds. My legs developed knots the size of golf balls around the treated sites. My skin itched. I felt like I had a bad case of the flu on top of everything else I was feeling. All I wanted to do was sleep. I had no energy. I went from a girl full of life to something lifeless.
I cried to my mother and boyfriend. My boyfriend saw me withering and saw me at my worse. It was heartbreaking for me. My mother came and picked me up, called the doctor told them what was happening. My doctor was not there that day. So, I saw Dr. Clowers at the same clinic. I sat in the waiting room shaking and tears in my eyes. Just the touch of my clothes on my skin was unbearable. When I went into the room, I undressed my weak withered body. I had lost over 10 pounds in a month. Dr. Clowers looked at my body in amazement. She said “I have never seen anything like this….. this is by far the worse I have ever seen.” I began to cry. I will never forget that day. This took place in the fall of 2010, my scars as of January 2012 are still noticeable but fading.
My next trip to the dermatologist was in early Fall 2011. I was about to encounter the worst yet. I knew exactly what was on my legs but was not sure what was on my face. I had several biopsies that day. Results in: two BCC’s on each leg and two pre-cancer cells on my face. I had the two on my face frozen with liquid nitrogen. The two spots on my face were under my left eye and on the tip of my nose. That was the most intense pain I had felt in a long time. After the procedure was done I had two options for treatment… topical chemotherapy or Moh’s surgery. I chose Moh’s surgery.
Moh’s surgery is the most effective and advanced treatment for skin cancer today. It offers the highest potential for cure – even if the skin cancer has been previously treated by another method. Moh’s surgery treats skin cancer through a highly specialized and precise technique that removes the cancer in stages, one tissue layer at a time. Local anesthesia is administered around the area of the tumor as the patient is awake during the entire procedure. After the area has been numbed, the Moh’s surgeon removes the visible tumor along with a thin layer of surrounding tissue. This tissue is prepared and put on slides by a technician and examined under a microscope by the Moh’s surgeon. If there is evidence of cancer, another layer of tissue is taken from the area where the cancer was detected. This ensures that only cancerous tissue is removed during the procedure, minimizing the loss of healthy tissue. These steps are repeated until all samples are free of cancer.
I did my first Moh’s surgery the beginning of November 2011. My Mohs surgeon was Dr. Purvisha Patel in Germantown, TN. (http://www.advanceddermatologymemphis.com/) My right leg was done first (right quad and right ankle/below my calf). The doctor and nurses at this location are amazing. I knew going into the surgery what to expect. I also knew that I was going to be able to see everything that was going to happen. It was fascinating to watch the whole procedure and shed light on what is being done. The cancer on my ankle was a bit bigger and extremely painful numbing. Once I was numb I felt nothing but saw everything. The holes cut were about the size of a silver dollar. The cancerous tissue was removed. I was then sewn up with internal and external stitches.
The recovery was NOT what I thought it was going to be. Once the local anesthetic had worn off the next 4 or 5 days were excruciating. I tried to move around and my leg swelled. You could not tell what was my calf and what was my ankle there was so much fluid. I was suppose to stay off my legs for 12 days. The excision near my ankle was such a pain. It was hard to keep elevated because when I would prop up my leg that is the spot where my incision was located. My instructions were to elevate as much as possible, take my antibiotic, and take my pain pills every 4 to 6 hours. Needless to say I spent a lot of time on my butt with my dog. I kept my leg elevated as much as possible. I would wrap my leg to help with the pain as well. It was a slow recovery. I went to get my stitches taken out and there was some separation on my lower leg. There was not much I could do about the separation but just let it heal. I went to see Dr. Jeremy Draper at Northside Medical Center in Jackson, TN (http://nsmcpc.com/). He did my suture removal so I did not have to drive to Memphis, TN and my local dermatologist was out of the office the month of November. Dr. Draper was great and really took care of me and helped me keep a close watch on the progress with my leg.
By the time my stitches came out of my right leg it was time to go in for surgery with Dr. Patel again for my left leg. This time both sites were on my left quadriceps. The surgery went smoothly. No problems at all. It is an all-day event for Moh’s surgery. I was exhausted by the time I left. Picked up my antibiotic and pain medications, and went to my aunt’s house in Collierville and rested for the rest of the evening. The next day I had TONS of drainage from the surgery site. Went back in and everything seemed to be ok. Some drainage can happen after surgery. My leg had already started to bruise from the procedure.
Between my two Moh’s surgeries I had a shaved biopsy done on my nose. I ended up going back again because the biopsy came back inconclusive. This is the same spot where I had the liquid nitrogen blow a couple of months back. The site never healed so it caused some suspicion. I ended up going in and having a punch biopsy on my nose just 3 days after my 2nd surgery and left with 3 or 4 stitches in my nose. Talk about not feeling good and talk about hating your nose. I have always hated my nose now I really hated it. My legs ached with throbbing pain and my nose felt awful. It was really hard to get rest. This recovery was a little more difficult for me for some reason. I do not know if it was because the surgery sites were so close together or because of the location on my leg. By the third day I already had one busted suture and one site was trying to open. I knew I had to sit still and not move. The doctor decided to keep the suture in 14 days because of the last site that tried to open on my last surgery.
The two weeks went by with some difficulty: pain, aching, numbness and severe swelling. For my suture removal I went to my regular dermatologist in Jackson, Dr. Holly Clowers, her nurse removed the stitches from my nose and from my two incisions on my left leg. I got my doctors note and was ready to go back to work. Well, my 3rd day back one site completely re-opened after 14 days of sutures and 3 days a steri strips. The other site was slightly opening but not completely open. When this happened it was on a Saturday and my doctor was not on call. I was in tears. I was hurting, disappointed, and completely frustrated. I could not get any one on the phone for the longest time. I kept getting passed around from person to person. The doctor that was on call at the Jackson location refused to see me because she did not do the surgery and gave me no advice except to call the doctor who did the surgery. I was freaking out. She was extremely rude and unprofessional. It was an bad experience. I ended up going to a medical clinic that is open on the weekends. At this point not much could be done. That Monday I went to my doctor in Memphis. The wound had been open too long to be put back together. The site was burned to speed up the healing process and steri-strips were removed from my other site, it too was also burned. I was to stay off my legs for another 7 days. The other site began to open more. I have gone back 3 times to have the sites burned to help the healing. One spot is completely filled in and one is slightly open. I go back in two days for another check-up.
I will say some of the many things that have helped me cope with this is my family, God, friends, art, music, and CrossFit. I can honestly say without these I do not know if I would have made it. I am so thankful to be surrounded by people who love me. Skin cancer is just one of my battles I have had in life. But because of my strong faith, loving parents, and friends this journey became a lot more bearable.