My Basal Cell Carcinoma

I never thought I’d get cancer from the sun. I don’t sun-bathe. I try to wear a hat whenever I’m outside for long periods (a necessity for bald guys like me). So I was a little surprised to end up with a form of UV-induced carcinoma on my neck below the ear. Not terribly surprised, as I spend a fair amount of time outdoors while running, but this disease—the most common form of cancer in the U.S.—usually afflicts only those who are over age fifty.

At first I thought that I had nicked myself trimming my beard, but then the spot on my neck would bleed for no reason. My brother-in-law had seen similar stuff in medical textbooks, and his prompting got me to schedule an appointment with the doctor.

If you’re going to choose a form of cancer, basal cell carcinoma is the one to get. It’s not likely to metastasize, which means that unlike its evil cousin, melanoma, it doesn’t travel to other organs. However, no one should take it lightly. Like the spreading roots of a tree, basal cell carcinoma can work its way throughout the basal skin cells much farther than the visible spots extend. Let it go too long and you could lose chunks of your ear or nose; a Google image search reveals horrifying pictures in which it’s consumed large portions of someone’s face.

The first time around my dermatologist was too conservative with his knife, so I had to return for another excision after I healed from the first. The second time he brought to his office two lab technicians, complete with white coats, to test the samples immediately. He cut out more, cauterized the wound, and told me to come back in an hour. I hopped on the T for a quick trip to the store, and back again, tests showed there was more to cut out. Finally, with a 4 cm diameter crater in my neck (see the fourth photo below), the cancer was gone.

Because the wound was too large for stitches, my dermatologist sent me to a plastic surgeon, which still makes me feel like I should be hip and from California. Actually, I learned from the surgeon while he was at work on my neck that the “plastic” in “plastic surgery” refers to the malleable nature of his subject, not the sometimes artificial means plastic surgeons use. He also told me and the nurse a funny story about the time he was assigned to Michael Jackson. And he complained that that particular hospital distributes cheap scalpels, as he broke one after another on my skin. Being privy to such conversations is one of the benefits of local anesthetic.

Strangely, the recovery was almost painless. The first, small excision actually hurt more, and the dermatologist and plastic surgeon told me to expect pain, prescribing painkillers that I (fortunately) didn’t waste the money on. For some reason though it seemed to wear me out: for a couple of weeks I was very lethargic.

So, lessons learned (I hope): get strange spots checked out early, and use sun screen even where you don’t think you need it. But when I think about possible skin cancer scenarios, I thank God for what he spared me from.

Warning: the following photos may make you say “eww, gross.” I’ve pixelated the thumbnails to spare the gentle reader, but click the thumbnail to see the gory details at your own risk.

Basal Cell Carcinoma Basal Cell Carcinoma—after the biopsy Basal Cell Carcinoma—after the first excision Basal Cell Carcinoma–after the third excision Basal Cell Carcinoma–plastic surgery after final excision


  1. Sorry to hear about that. I hope you have a full recovery and that it won’t recur. God bless!

  2. Skin cancer is an ever increasinf frightening disease. Get your skin checked -that’s the bottom line
    Barry Lycka
    Canadian Skin Cancer Foundation

  3. I´m so sorry. But I hope you get better an I think of you.

  4. Nicely written, son. I can congratulate myself that I was a true prophet when I said at Christmas, “The doctor’s going to have to cut deeper than you think.” As it turned out, the doctor had to cut deeper than he thought.

    I can’t remember if I told you that the last time I visited my dermatologist, she wanted to see between my toes–and it’s been a rare ray of sunlight that’s penetrated to that part of my body.

  5. Sorry to hear about your experience with cancer. Seems like an odd location to get it though!? Luckily with the beard, I think you’ll be able to hide it easily. =) I went through chemo for non-Hodgkins Lymphoma and at least I got plenty of compliments that I would still look handsome as a ‘bald old man’ when I got older (with a wink to my father who has some hair loss).

    Well, you’ll bounce back from it and it’s good to know that it’s taken care of. You have a long and successful life ahead of you and your health is the most important thing.

    Thanks for maintaining wp-backup btw! =)

  6. I wish you a nice recovery

  7. :( Get well soon!

  8. Hi bud,

    I am so glad that it was caught early. You have my prayers and wishes for a full recovery. Keep us updated!

    Thanks for all of the help you given me on the BN sites. It is most appreciated.

    Take care,


  9. Glad you caught it early. Sorry to have bothered you with a question about bookshops while you had this going on.

    If you have the time and feel up to it, I’d love to grab lunch with you or dinner with you and your family when I’m up your way in a couple weeks.

  10. Thanks for sharing, and for not sparing the details.

    It’s easy enough to slip into denial (or at least procrastination) when blemishes like that show up.

    Kudos on facing the man with the knife.

    I’ll be sure to pray for your continued recovery.

  11. Thanks for posting, Austin.
    Looks nice.

    - – How is the world do you break a scalpel on skin?? I do a fair amount of oculoplastics and I’ve never heard of that. You must have really tough skin!

  12. I like happy-end stories, and your is one of them. I really wish you a full recovery.

    I’ll like to share your story with our visitors too, so please contact me (the email on this form) or write me at contact page. We are looking to write an article to make people aware the importance of using sun screens, so your help is welcomed.

Post a Comment

Your email is never shared. Required fields are marked *


One Trackback