Wednesday, January 2, 2019

On Noses

If the eyes are windows to the soul, what is the nose?

The first facial feature I remember having exemplary qualities was my grandfather’s nose. A Roman nose, the family called it, meaning large. It resembled the Meerschaum pipe that was prominent among the collection of pipes on his desk.

My mother’s family was well enough endowed throughout in that department, but always in balance with the other facial features, I thought. Strong features. Or at least vivid ones.

Nose and all, my mother was a beauty. She had beautiful skin, virtually unwrinkled, without any tinkering beyond cold cream. When she played golf with my dad, she wore heavy paste makeup as a sunblock (before chemical sunblocks were invented). The brow band of every golf hat she owned carried the brown residue, undaunted by detergent or dry cleaner.

I detested hats, of course, and when I was about fifteen, I received the first of several severe sunburns on my nose. These were the years, in fact, when girls marinated in the sun, basting with baby oil. I never lasted very long at that endeavor, fortunately. A headache would compel my retreat. 

I did, however, enjoy sports.

My late half-brother, a dermatologist, told me that I should never let a sunburn of that kind happen again, or I’d have trouble later. And I have made great efforts to follow his advice, more or less successfully.

Imagine my surprise, however, when I was told recently that I might have a skin cancer on my nose.

The dermatologist who said this had seen me several times over the past three years for the occasional precancerous spot, a keratosis. Never before had he paid any attention to the tip of my nose.

Biopsy, however, confirmed the diagnosis. Basal cell carcinoma, infiltrative, which meant that, although BCC’s were usually slow-growing, this variety was different. Indeed, much of the offending lesion might remain hidden below the surface.

Hmmm. I did not receive the news with grace.

That’s why I’ve spent the holiday season recovering from Mohs surgery, performed in early December. Mohs is a procedure where they scrape and test until they can detect no more cancer cells. Hale’s procedure on his ear last June took seven hours. Mine took six. The lesion was indeed larger, and deeper, than anyone expected, but the surgeon was able to close it with stitches.

I will have a scar.

But I’ve been spared the complicated reconstructions that some skin cancers require, the kind that leave you looking like a Klingon for a few weeks with several scars. And the cancer is gone. For good, we hope.

So if you see me around looking a little different, with a fatter, redder nose than usual, this is why.

The caution I would add is that, if you’re over fifty, any red  bump on the face that behaves at all differently from a zit should be seen by a dermatologist. In the early stages, removal is easy. Even Mohs surgery on a shallow one is easy.

Get it seen to pronto.

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