I look like I'm enjoying myself yes? On a sun bed soaking up the rays maybe? Nope. I'm actually undergoing a painful skin cancer removal treatment. That is cancer with a small 'c', not a big 'C'. I went to the dermatologist a couple of weeks ago because a mole on my belly had recently changed colour. A definite sign of melanoma. OMG I'm going to die! Even my GP said with a worried frown, "I think we should get this one checked out". Yep, I'm going to die. Of course we Googled pictures of melanomas and self diagnosed via teh interwebs as well. Now I was absolutely certain I was going to die.
Finally I got to see a dermatologist. Do you know how hard it is to get an appointment with skin cancer specialist? Don't their receptionists know that you're dying? I had to wait a week to get an appointment. I even made appointments at other clinics in case I could see someone sooner. Anyway Dr Bryan P is a jovial personable kind of guy. He puts you at ease right away. He made me strip and and went over my body with a fine toothed comb. Okay, not literally a fine toothed comb. I'm not that hairy. He um'd and ah'd and found four suspicious moles or lesions. I asked about the mole on my belly and he just said, "That? That is nothing. I don't think you're going to die today. Sorry".
He excised four suspicious spots with a scalpel and closed the wounds up with a laser. Not as painful as it sounds because these days they have magic local anaesthetic that works instantly. One prick and you don't feel a thing. Well, 4 pricks in my case. All the time Dr P kept up a running commentary interspersed with Hong Kong movie quotes and jokes. Michelle thought my burning flesh smelled like burnt pork. Cue long pork jokes. I was still worried about the discoloured mole on my belly though and Michelle said to Dr P that I had been stressing about it a lot. So the doc said okay if you insist and after a quick jab, a flick of the scalpel and the smell of burning flesh from the laser it was gone and bandaged up. The stress left my body like a nice long warm pee in the ocean.
A few days later Dr P phoned with the results of the five biopsies. One indeed was a cancer and it was the one he suspected and not the one I went to see him about in the first place. A red patch on my back was a basal cell carcinoma or BCC. A BCC is the most common non melanoma type of skin cancer. It is also the easiest to treat and the least dangerous. Shit, I had one removed 15 years ago. It left a nice 12 cm scar on chest though. I mentioned to the doc that I was familiar with BCCs and the scars they left. My scar being case in point. "Yes," he said, "they were butchers in the old days. We don't do that any more".
Nowadays the treatment involves putting some cream on the lesion, bandaging it up for a few hours and then shining a red light on it. The sting? It costs 600 bucks. Ouch. At least I don't have to go under the knife. The treatment is called Metvix PDT. Metvix is Methyl aminolevulinate and PDT stands for photodynamic therapy. I think the metvix cream works out to be $100 per gram. The consumer information pack suggests that during the treatment you may feel a slight stinging or burning sensation. Slight eh? Frack.
Fast forward to today for the first treatment of two, with the next and final being next week. The nurse said I can have a local anaesthetic if I want because some people find the treatment quite painful. Heh, I thought, a bit of cream and a bright light? How painful can it be? Answer, fucking painful. First they have to rough up the skin around the lesion with scalpel, which was nothing really, and apply the cream. I went back to work for few hours and then came back for the light. The nurse asked again if I wanted a local and of course I declined. I took of my shirt and put on the sexy blackened swimming goggles, because the light is supposed to be quite bright, and lay on my belly ready for the next 9 minutes of light treatment. At first it feels like someone is scratching you with rough scratchy finger nails. Okay, painful but not overly so. Then about 2 and half minutes in (shit! only 3 minutes! shit!) it feels like someone has taken a large magnifying glass and is trying to kill an ant on your back and the ant is trying to burrow into your skin. The pain eases a bit for a minute or two then slowly builds again and feels like a really bad prickly sunburn except someone is trying to stick needles into that one point on your back. Then it feels like a thousand little needle like jackhammers hammering away into the sunburn. Does getting a tattoo feel like this?
Then the 9 minutes were up and it was all a blur for a little while. A bandage was slapped on and treatment information brochure was thrust into my hand, I handed over my credit card and I was out of there. My back stings for the rest of the day.
Oh boy, I can't wait for next week.
I've just had the final treatment and was about a minute in when I thought the second the nurse offers a local I'm jumping on it. She did and I did. Aaah, blessed relief. I told her I'm only having an anaesthetic as scientific exercise... just to have something to compare against last week. The light has a lovely cooling fan blowing on my skin too. Didn't notice that last time. So, yes, no pain. The local wore off about half an hour later. Off the the chemist now for some codeine. Yes I am a big sook.