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The Good, The Bad… and the (Temporarily) Ugly

It’s the day after my surgery to remove those pesky cells from my face, which from here on out shall be referred to as “BCCs” because we’re not huge fans of that other C word. Though the process went about as expected and is one I’m finding is a story shared by far too many people, there were a few twists and turns, as I’ll detail below…

The Good

  • The best of the good news is that my surgeon believes he removed all of those BCCs, which means I should be part of that 99% for whom Moh’s surgery “cures” the problem… at least for this particular occurrence (more on that in the next section).
  • Masquerade party anyone? Thanks to my friend Laura, I'm all set...

    Masquerade party anyone? Thanks to my friend Laura, I’m all set…

    Dr. Jared Lund and the rest of the crew at the Billings Clinic Dermatology Center were extremely friendly, funny and supportive, which made the day as close to enjoyable as is humanly possible. So to them, a huge THANK YOU 🙂

  • The entire process only took about three hours, a far cry from what it could have been, especially considering they had a patient the day before that didn’t get finished until after 11 pm.
  • The worst of the damage was on the side of the spot opposite my eye … a HUGE relief.
  • I am continually reminded that I have a supportive hubby and family and some very good friends. From chauffeuring and coddling to encouraging messages to special deliveries to custom cover-ups to a day-long play date for my girls, I couldn’t ask for a better network and for that I am extremely grateful. THANK YOU … you know who you are 🙂
  • I am fortunate to be dealing with this during a time when I have great health insurance, a flexible employer and the option to take a few days to lie low and simply relax.

The Bad

  • Nearly the first words out of the surgeon’s mouth were “that’s a big tumor” and his belief that I’d had it for at least a year, when we had previously guessed just six months or so. That resulted in a deeper wound than I had initially hoped for, as well as the necessity for a skin graft to help reconstruct the area, which means I now have two areas in need of healing… the original site as well as the spot behind my ear from which the “donor skin” was taken.
  • I now have a lovely bandage on the side of my nose that I have to somehow keep dry for a week (ie. no showers and challenging hair washing) and which interferes with my vision a bit, not to mention tends to poke me in the eye if I don’t keep the edge taped down. I can live with it… but I will be very, very happy to have it gone in a week when I get all those stitches removed.
  • Dr. Lund told me that I am very young to be dealing with this already, with most people “lucky” enough to avoid it until their 60s or later. As a result, he said he is fairly certain I’ll be back at some point with another BCC… hopefully not in the same spot but another occurrence, nonetheless. This also means I am at a higher risk for those other, far more serious, types of skin cancer. As a result, I have to be hyper-vigilant about protecting myself… daily moisturizer containing sunscreen plus regular sunscreen if I’m going to be in the sun for more than a few minutes, as well as a big hat to avoid direct sun. (Ugh… I HATE wearing hats.) Probably good advice for all of us…

… and the (Temporarily) Ugly

  • Though hopefully better and less scarring in the long run, the healing process for the graft is not going to be a pretty one and it won’t be fast, likely taking several months at a minimum. Fun stuff like “pincushioning” and bumps and bruising and “tissue resembling a dried up piece of pepperoni on your face” were described in the “what to expect” discussion… just what a girl wants to hear when talking about her  appearance, ya know?
  • Let’s just say me+extended non-showering+ban on makeup for a time is not exactly my preferred mode of presentation to the world.

I wish my story were unique, not because I want to be special but because the fact that it is not means there are many others who have to deal with the same thing.

The doctors tell me this is a direct result of UV damage combined with the fair skin I inherited, so I guess the moral of the story is this… use your sunscreen and stay out of those tanning beds, especially if you have fair skin like me. The advice seems simple enough but apparently it’s not or it wouldn’t be such a common affliction. Even more frustrating is this… I’ve avoided the sun for years and my stint in the tanning beds lasted only about a month in high school, and still, I am one of the youngest patients my surgeon has seen with this problem. Go figure.

Guess it’s time to start shopping for a hat…

A Challenge of a Different Sort

I’m happy to report I survived my day of advanced driver’s training and even managed to develop a little more confidence behind the wheel along the way. However, in a somewhat unexpected turn of events, I have another stomach-churning challenge to face this summer… this time one I did not choose.

The “nice” way of saying it is that I have a spot near the corner of my eye that has tested positive for basal cell carcinoma.

The not-so-nice, far more intimidating way of saying it is that I’ve been diagnosed with a form of skin cancer.

glassesThe good news, I’m told, is that this is a form of cancer so common they don’t even track stats on how many people have it. (I’m not sure why that’s “good” news… I guess I’m supposed to feel strength in numbers or something along those lines.) More reassuring is the fact the cure rate is particularly high, especially if caught early, which we believe is the case with mine.

However, the nerve-wracking part is that because of the location of my inflicted area (the spot is right next to the top of my nose less than a quarter inch from the corner of my left eye), I will be undergoing removal by a Moh’s surgeon in a process that could take just a few hours or all day, depending upon what they find as they go along.

Sounds simple enough … it’s an outpatient procedure in which the surgeon numbs up the area, removes a layer of cells, does some testing and scrutinizing under a microscope, and then determines if they got it all. If they did, congrats… they’re done. If not, it’s back under the knife for another layer. This process repeats for as long as necessary until they are sure they’ve gotten every last little cancerous bit. Once that point is reached, they either let the area heal on its own (the hope) or go forward with some sort of reconstructive work.

The stomach-churning, I’m-trying-not-to-think-about-it-too-much part is what happens if the nasty cells are lodged closer to my eye area than they first appear.

We’re just not going to go there right now. (And hopefully the surgeon won’t have to either!)

In the meantime, I’m armed with a pair of what I’m calling “vanity glasses” to help me survive the first few weeks post-op. (Stare at the glasses all you want… just don’t stare at the hole in my face.) And I’ve been jokingly promised a bedazzled eye patch from my walking buddy who has been nice enough not to complain about my frequent updates and nervous chatter during our daily breaks the last few weeks. (REALLY hoping I don’t need that eye patch… at least not for long!)

My surgery is scheduled for this Thursday starting at 9:30 a.m. in Billings. For the second time in less than a month… (please) wish me luck!

The Hardest Part About Giving Up Wheat, Sugar & Other Frankenfoods

It’s now been four months since I gave up processed carbohydrates, aspartame and flour. Since that time, I’ve actually decreased my workout levels a tad, trading my usual three days of running, two days of walking and four 15-minute weight training sessions each week for a little less stringent schedule of “most” days walking and two days of weights.

Danica2

Those 30ish pounds look a whole lot better on Danica than they did on me!

Interestingly, in that time I’ve also dropped two jeans sizes and about 13 pounds, bringing my total weight lost since beginning my walk-run program in April 2011 to about 32 pounds … more than the full weight of my almost 4-year-old daughter.

Those changes alone would be enough to convince me to continue this “new” way of eating… but an even stronger case is made by the improvements in the way I feel, not to mention what I’ve learned about how processed foods, wheat and artificial sweeteners really do to our bodies, thanks to all of the reading I’ve done during that time.

That doesn’t mean that foregoing my favorite carb-filled breakfast foods, sandwich-based lunches or sugary desserts << every.single.day.>> is easy. Sometimes it really is not. But not for the reasons you might think…

But I LOVE bread!

In the past, when I’d run into someone who shared the story of why they gave up bread … usually not because they wanted to but instead the result of an intolerance to gluten … I found it nearly impossible to imagine what it would be like to live that way. Give up bread? No more pasta? No way… I could “never” do that, I’d think. I love(d) bread too much and just knew the cravings would eventually get the best of me. I couldn’t imagine feeling okay about passing up so many favorite foods.

But cravings have not really been an issue. I’ve found what they say to be true… when you allow yourself to eat healthy fats and quit worrying about restricting calories, you really don’t get that hungry and the cravings just kind of disappear for the most part.

I also had a hard time imagining what I would eat if I didn’t have my usual fare to turn to. As it turns out, the power of habit works both ways and once I figured out some new healthier options, it didn’t take long for me to fall into my usual (now reformed) repetitive eating patterns.

Not eating the “Frankenfood” is not the hard part. It’s living in a world that so heavily revolves around that type of food that is more of a challenge. After all, I live in Montana … land of the “amber waves of grain.”

Apparently it’s sugar that makes the world go round…

Everywhere you turn … television, restaurants, coffee shops, grocery stores, movie theatres (popcorn anyone?), social functions, bars, conventions, sporting events, vending machines, county fairs, ski lodges, gas stations, concession stands, even school cafeterias (including the more progressive “healthier” ones) … the environment and offerings are heavily, heavily dominated by “foods” containing processed carbohydrates, artificial sweeteners, sugar and/or wheat in one form or another, even when the target customer is a health-conscious mom, outdoors fanatic or athlete. (Don’t believe me? Give it up for just a week and you’ll become hyper-sensitive to its presence.)

The food itself is a big factor, but even bigger are the continual messages we hear related to what we eat. If it’s not a commercial pushing low-fat this or multi-grain that, all in the name of “healthy” eating, it’s a reminder of how good these particular foods make you feel, at least in the short-term.

Also difficult, especially for someone like me who prefers not to rock the boat, attract attention to myself or be the difficult, hard-to-please one in the group (despite what my husband would tell you), is having to step up and request a substitution at that convention dinner or ask the family to make an additional stop on the way to the $5 pizza joint in order to have a healthier (and inevitably more expensive) option.

But perhaps most harmful … and most aggravating to me … are the messages we continually hear from supposed “experts” who, from what I’ve read and come to strongly believe, are the ones largely responsible for leading us all to this unhealthy lifestyle in the first place.

The science showing the connection between low-fat eating combined with sugar overload (including natural sugars we’ve been told are better choices and “whole grains” which eventually become sugar, albeit a bit more slowly) and a whole range of diseases (obesity, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, all kinds of immune system diseases … the list goes on and on and ON …) has been around for DECADES, yet we are still given advice that flies directly in the face of that science… and that advice is coming from our doctors, our government and other professionals we generally trust to have our best interests at heart.

It’s disconcerting to find out just how much influence the producers of those products have on the advice disseminated through the health industry, oftentimes by doctors, nutritionists and others I believe aren’t even aware they are being fed … and then promote … inaccurate or incomplete information.

The hardest part is not avoiding the Frankenfood or passing on the bread basket or choosing iced tea over Diet Coke or being “that customer” in the mostly carb-based food establishment. The hardest part is having to continually remind yourself … despite all of these messages you hear, the mainstream low-fat/low-cal/high carb “health” reports on your favorite morning news show, and the fact that everyone around you is doing something different than you are … that what you are doing really is in your best, most healthy, interest.

I am hopeful that the field of “experts” on board with this new (if you can call the way our ancestors ate “new”) definition of “healthy” eating will continue to grow and that someday I and others who believe in their message will become the norm instead of the exception.

It sure would make a healthy lifestyle a lot easier to pursue.

 

Curious why wheat (including the “healthy whole grain” variety) may be far less healthy then you’ve been led to believe? Read Dr. William Davis’s book Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health.

Too Hot to Trot

I “ran” in my third road race last weekend. I say “ran” because I spent more time walking than running in this one, thanks to unseasonably high temperatures and my apparent inability to tolerate them.

icebreaker2012

The race was the Ice Breaker Road Race held in Great Falls, Montana, which offers 1-mile, 3-mile and 5-mile options. Having done the 3-mile race one other time about 10 years ago, I was looking forward to participating again, and when registration opened up in early March, I took the leap and decided to give the 5-mile race a try. A nice challenge, I thought… only it turned out to be a bit more of a challenge than I had anticipated.

There’s a reason this is called the “Ice Breaker.” It’s more common for our Montana weather to be miserably cold and/or wet this time of year than blazing hot. I believe the average temperature for the race is somewhere in the 40s. Personally, I prefer the cold and wet because I just don’t seem to handle heat very well. For one, I have very fair skin and burn quite easily. Probably related, it doesn’t take long in the direct sun for me to start feeling the effects, which can range from general discomfort to headaches, lightheadedness, queasiness… you name it. This distaste for heat is one of the reasons my normal routine is to rise and run very early in the morning, which lately has meant a very comfortable 35- to 45-degree experience. It’s also the reason I managed to put my foot in my mouth on one memorable morning at the gym. (Let’s just say I think twice now before commenting on one particular dude’s preference to run with a sweatshirt on. ;) )

Gorgeous as the day was, the mid-70s temperatures for Sunday’s race made it really tough for me. With less than a mile under my feet, my legs were already starting to feel weak. That gal dodging into every little shady corner she could find? Yep… that was me. The event became a mental endurance contest, with the water station at each mile marker serving as my lure to keep going. Many times, I seriously contemplated just slipping off to the side and calling it good. The thought of a “DNF” next to my name kept that from happening though… and I somehow I managed to finish in just under an hour, several minutes slower than my typical running pace but not quite slow enough to qualify as one of my weekly “walks.”

Though immensely relieved to have crossed the finish line, the rest of day didn’t fare much better. I ended up battling nausea for a good part of the afternoon and evening, despite a nice lunch with the friend I attended with and a quick trip through a favorite thrift store. Even now, four days later, I’m not feeling all that great. Most likely just a coincidence, I managed to contract a nasty head cold early in the week, which has led me to skip any running workouts I might have done this week, instead just walking and resting more than usual.

The whole experience has been a little disappointing… instead of the usual “high” from accomplishing a goal, at the moment I’m feeling a little defeated and not particularly motivated to get out for a run. I’m guessing this is largely a result of this dang head cold and I’m hoping I feel more enthused after it (finally) clears. In the meantime, though, I’d like to figure out a better way to deal with the heat+running combination. If I continue participating in road races, which I would like to do, I would like to have a little more control of the situation and a better chance of a positive outcome.

If you can relate or have suggestions for me, I’d love to hear them!