When I started my blog, it was more about finding an outlet to serve my creativity but never about my little fight with skin cancer and so this post a little different from what I usually write. No fancy tutorial. No pretty smiling faces at just the perfect angle. Lot’s of vulnerability and lot’s of honesty. I’m always honest, what diva doesn’t like to voice her opinion and speak her mind. But honest in the sense that if any one finds themselves in this same exact situation, they would be able to relate or find hope..? And sure… one could say I might be a little over dramatic and that’s totally fine – remember: my blog is called Riva La Diva not Riva La Calm. But it’s how I felt, it’s how I feel and this is my story…
I’m from Las Vegas, Nevada. I grew up in the sun. I was a young child in the 80s and a teen in the 90s. I spent many weekends over the summer at the lake. I spent many weeks playing in the pool. Sometimes ALL DAY LONG. I played sports outside. I swam on a swim team that practiced indoors but traveled to the beautiful sunny California for swim meets that lasted all day long in the sun. I burned a lot as a kid but also tanned really quickly after. Sometimes, those first day sunburns turned into a beautiful tan the next day. I’m also Hispanic. Skin Cancer was not on my radar. It only happened to the whitest of white people, old people, or people with a family history, right?
After I got married, started a family and wised up a little, I wore sunscreen a lot. If I was going to be outside I was wearing the stuff. We were living just outside of Los Angeles when I spotted this strange pot hole looking scar in my nose from an old zit I had in the fall of 2014 – maybe November? It was January of 2015, why was it still there? Was the air super dry that winter? Were the skin care products I was using at the time too harsh and not letting it heal? I couldn’t figure out what the heck was going on. Maybe it was skin cancer…? Maybe not. Maybe it was my paranoia getting the best out of me. So I found a scar ointment to help heal this pothole thing in my nose.
Months passed. The pot hole seemed to somewhat patched up… I guess… maybe..? The hole was gone, but, oh gosh, the scar was THERE. Around this same time, my husband had a job offer to work for Microsoft. My focus was now on moving away from a city and home that I loved to Seattle, Washington. I joked often with my SoCal friends and family that being cold, pale, and consistently wet will be my new reality. In a way, I was right. I have been there for 2 years now, I am still always cold, mostly wet, and generally pale. But you know what I noticed? There was also a big pay off for living in the Pacific Northwest – everyone is beautiful. Their skin is practically ageless. No sun spots or fine lines for women my age. I had skin envy for my 50 year old women friends! Everyone had beautiful skin which made me focus on my skin once again after I settled in to my new area. I invested in a new exfoliator that received great reviews and upped my skin regimen. To be honest, my skin looked a little leathery, I had never noticed it until I moved north. When I started exfoliating my skin in the mornings, something strange happened…. this super tiny little pore on the edge of my little, old pot hole scar started to bleed. Was I exfoliating too hard? It was weird. Back to my ointment. But after it healed, rubbing my nose or washing my face with a hand towel would also make it bleed a little. Also weird. Another thought entered my mind…. is it getting bigger? Were the tiny bleeding pore holes making the scar bigger? What the heck is going on?
To be honest, I was kinda afraid to get it checked out. Cancer scares the crap out of me. I had a young friend die of cancer (not skin cancer) a few years previously… it rocked my mental world; for a while I thought every bruise and bump was cancer. The anxiety I was experiencing with my friend passing away, selling a home, moving, making new friends and now settling into a new environment was throwing me off. It was March of 2016 when I decided to finally get it checked out. I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day and not to go full religion on you, but that specific month at church seemed, to me, to be all about personal trials. I teach the young women (14-15) in my church and it was like all the assigned lessons were about trials, as well. One Sunday, I remember a missionary standing up and giving a talk about his brother… he shared an experience where the younger brother could not use his legs for someone reason and it was very painful during his treatment. When the brother mentioned this to his nurse, she responded “I know it hurts and it’s very hard, but it’s not too hard”. I’m not sure why that resonated with me that specific Sunday but it did and it still does. I thought about those words often the next day, I remember driving home from my kid’s school, looking in the rear view mirror, and this very calm thought entered my mind, “go get your nosed checked out”. I think if I didn’t receive that very firm and yet calm prompting, free of paranoia, I would have never made the appointment. Needless to say, I called my doctor as soon as I got home. That week, my family doctor referred me to a dermatologist who took a biopsy out of my nose that same day. And a week later the test results arrived…
I had Basal Cell Carcinoma on my nose.
When I had my biopsy, I was super freaked. The nurse I had was named, Stephanie. I love Stephanie. I remember her looking me in the eyes and said, “your doctor is one of the best in the valley. He will get this out.” There was peace in that bold statement. So, I made the soonest available appointment to have that thing removed with MOHs treatment. It would be 2 weeks later and the day after Easter when I went in. They kinda prepare you for the worst… prepare to be there all day for your appointment…. Have someone there with you… You will be exhausted afterwards… You might need a skin graft…. yada, yada, yada. I showed up bright and early Monday morning with my husband, I had my brother who also lives in Washington watch my 4 kiddos, and I was scared and calm all at the same time. It was weird.
Now, if you ever get skin cancer make sure they do MOHs. It’s awesome because they can take very little skin away until they get all the cancer out – there is no guess work and they can remove it all. The part that sucks the most? You are awake for the whole thing! We didn’t know how deep it was or how wide it was and so the process starts with them marking a circle around this funny looking scar on my nose. Then they covered my face with a small sheet that had a hole for my nose to fit through. Numbed my nose in 2-4 different spots with a needle and started cutting skin away with this small knife looking thing (according to my husband). Then they remove the sheet, covered my nose with gauze and said, “Hold this here. We are going to get the removed skin tested to see if we got it all and will return in 30 minutes”.
My husband and I then tried to watch Friends. I love that show. It’s hilarious. It got me through my reluctant move to Seattle and it totally numbed the stress a little. The nurse (I lucked out and had Stephanie again) returns 30 minutes later with semi-good news… The margins were not clear. There was still cancer along the edges BUT it was not deep. They would not have to cut deeper than what they started with – hooray for that!!
And so the process begins again, numb, cut, test, repeat.
Each time Stephanie returned to my room with bad news and my heart sunk lower and lower. HOW MUCH nose would they continue to cut off my face. For years, I had never loved the shape of my nose and now I was wishing I gave it a little more love. When the nurse returned to my room on the fifth time, I didn’t want to hear the bad news. I closed my eyes, put my head back in my chair and said “just numb it already and let’s get this over with!” But this time was different! Stephanie says, “look at my face Riva, I am smiling, we got it all out!” Lot’s of happy tears at that moment!
The then next thing that had to happened was getting a skin graft. If you haven’t noticed yet, your skin around your nostril does not wrinkle very well, so they needed to get skin from a different location… that location was right in front of my ear. So they move me into a surgical room, still awake friends, prep both areas – the donor site and my nose, and the process of obtaining a skin graft begins! That was kiiinda not fun. They numb the area but unfortunately do not numb the sound. The sound of flesh cutting is not my favorite noise BUT thinking of the largest division problems helps to distract! I am crying, my husband is crying and I can hear my doctor telling me how lucky I was to not have my nostril removed because it came REALLY CLOSE. They cut the graft down to match the size of my new pot hole, shave the excess skin from underneath, soak the skin piece in some antibiotic and patched me up. The man should be a sewist, those stitches were small. Then they bandage you up, give you prescriptions to fill, directions for after surgery care and send you on your way.
When I left that day my biggest worry was: will there be a scar? YES.
What if the donor does not attach? To which my doctor replied, don’t touch it, do not bend over, do not lift and do not exercise. I have 4 kids, that’s hard not to do. Additionally, I could not exercise for TWO MONTHS. That was even harder. Exercising was my stress relief and so was junk food. They usually balance each other out and not it did not… needless to say, I am still burning away the 20 extra pounds I gained last year… gah!!!
Then they remove the bandages, apply lot’s of Vaseline to the site for scar prevention and then put a band-aid on top. Then my doctor proceeds to give new care instructions… “Don’t rub it. You can get it wet but the water has to gently run down. Gently pat to dry. Any questions?” My mind was blank… then they tell you to come back in 4 weeks. Questions didn’t come until after I saw my nose for the first time later than evening… The next day is always better.
I uncontrollably cried when I say my nose for the first time. My husband was watching a movie with his father at the theaters when I saw my nose and vainly cried on my mother in law’s shoulder – “I am a monster”. It kiiinda scared my kiddos. Then thoughts started to rush into my mind….
is this healing right?
it is supposed to look like this?
what’s that smell?
what’s all that white stuff?
oh crap, my baby just bumped into my nose, will the graft not attach?
I babied the CRAP out of my nose before my follow up appointment. Then I did something stupid… I googled “skin grafts”. I needed to figure out what was “normal” as far as healing. Images of half noses removed, ears cut off are burned into my brain. Since that was so scary, I ventured on to Pinterest. Sweet Pinterest. Nothing ugly ever appears on there. Just crafts, recipes, fashion, home decor, and pretty things show up there… right? NOPE. Skin grafts were kinda scary, too. I have a weak stomach for all things medical… the moment I saw a hip replacement surgery in high school was the minute that I discovered I never want to be a doctor. I was dying to find something helpful. That’s when a friend told me about the blog
Four weeks’s passed and I made it to my 4 week check up! The weird smell was coming from the healing skin on my nose. Then my doctor rubbed it all off which was so weird because I was so careful not to touch it and then he said continue the vaseline until it was completely healed and come back in 2 months! Then a few more times throughout the year…
Over a year has passed and I publicly tell my friends to wear sunscreen on Facebook ALL THE TIME. So let me tell you what I share with my friends….
- Wear sunscreen, if not for yourself then put it on your children. Slather the stuff all over them. EWG.com is a great place to find healthy sunscreen choices because not all suncreens are made equally – ZINC is your magic ingredient you want to use. It totally sucks to wear but they are coming up with some amazing zinc that’s a little more sheer, expect to spend more time blending it in.
- Skin Cancer does not discriminate. I had Basal Cell Carcinoma and that particular one loves alll skin colors, white, brown, yellow, green, orange, purple, blue, whatever, it loves everyone.
- Sun Rays bounce. Just because you are sitting in the shade or wearing a hat does not mean you are protected. THEY ARE RAYS. They bounce of the floor onto you your face.
- Clothing is also a great protector against harmful rays, if I am spending a lot of time outdoors, I will wear a long white shirt.
- You can get skin cancer on your eyes – wear UV protected sunglasses.
- ReAPPLY sunscreen. set a timer if you forget.
- Buy bottles of sunscreen and out it everywear.
For the rest of my life, no matter how many times my skin cancer comes back, I have a 50% chance of getting it again. I have to wear sunscreen everyday for the rest of my life, even if I do not leave my house and I have to wear gloves to protect my hands because my windows are not UV protected. Lame…
Here are so me things I wish I knew:
- It’s okay to worry about that cancer spot on your face. It’s not vain, YOU ARE NOT VAIN. Dang it, you have cancer slowing trying to kill you and it started ON YOUR FACE. Don’t you dare feel guilty about that, you already have enough on your plate.
- It’s going to heal. Not fast but it’s gets better with time, I promise.
- TRY every zinc-based sunscreen and find which one you love the best. I have my some favorites but not 100% committed to – I am always on the look out.
- You are not a failure of a human being because you got cancer.
- Makeup is a life saver, the skin care I am using is amazing, and the things they can do cosmetically at your dermatologist is AWESOME! If you look closely, there is small dent still in my nose. My doctor says they can put a little filler in there to fix it – hopefully with time, my doctor thinks it will resolve on it’s own.
- Surround yourself with good friends, family and loved ones – ignore the rest.
- People will say stupid stuff, I got a couple of “that’s what you get for living in California”… just ignore them. Sometimes, people are really stupid.
- YOU ARE NOT UGLY.
- Do not be ashamed – I’m not sure why I feel that way. But I did,
Hopefully, this will give some people reasons to take better care of their skin or children’s skin and for those experiencing the same thing, I hope this is a little helpful?