My Skin Cancer Treatment
Please be advised: Some photos may be disturbing.
From the start, I’ve always been an outdoors person my whole life. I walked to school as a kid, played year round sports, construction, boating, beaching, detailing and the list goes on. It’s always been difficult to avoid the sun. Around 2011 I noticed some small spots developing on my hands, arms and head. I thought nothing of it at the time as I had a thriving mobile detailing business with large accounts and loved being in demand. My young body was a machine at the time and I was enjoying the learning curves of running my company & team.
In 2012, a client of mine recommended me to a friend of his who just so happen to be a dermatologist. I remember she had an Acura MDX that we detailed at her office. As we were talking, she noticed a few of the spots and asked me to come in sometime. So I had my first trip to the dermatologist shortly after. She froze a few pre-cancers and offered me some advice, free of charge. That advice was to stop working outdoors and avoid the sun as much as possible, and I agreed with her… “She was very genuine & my body was feeling it”. The Florida sun is brutal most of the year and my thoughts started to head into the direction of air conditioning & Ferrari’s might be better business model. So I took my business indoors with a few exceptions here and there.
About 4 years later, I was at a very good friend’s house when he noticed a spot on the left side of my neck. At the time it was fairly small but still large enough too protruded out and be seen. He gave some information about a good dermatologist nearby and said it’s nothing to be concerned about, “go check it out.” So my wife and I made the appointment. The tiny spot had been causing me pain for a while now. It felt like a consistent pinch on the neck and when the sun was on it, it stung like hell. On that first appointment they did a biopsy and asked that I come back in a few days to get the results. When I came back they had told me it was considered a cancer related issue (Squamous Cell) but a simple MOHS surgery procedure will be enough to take care of it.
I ended up having a total of 4 MOHS surgery’s in the course of a year. All in the same general vicinity on the left side of my neck, behind the ear. I was getting very discouraged at this point and was wondering if these people even gave a crap about resolving my issue. Every time I left the dermatologist, I had 10 stitches in my neck from them cutting out the affected area. After my fourth MOHS procedure, just after the stitches were removed, (Feb. 20th in the picture below) the growth on my neck started to blow up at an extremely accelerated rate, more than before. And “Boy did it hurt.”
My dermatologist called me in and said to me it was imperative that I get into a cancer treatment facility immediately. This was absolutely devastating as my whole view on the year and everything I had planned was now being disturbed. (At least for a while) This terrible feeling lasted for a little over a month until I got a phone call from UFHealth Cancer Treatment in Orlando, saying that they would see me for consultation. I was in Ft. Lauderdale at the time helping a friend out with his F430 & DB9 when I received the call. Needless to say, I raced back home to Central Florida.
April 4th 2016 (in the picture below) was the start of a long ordeal. I had several meetings with my surgeon, oncologist, radiologist, nutritionist, therapist, dentist, plastic surgeon and many others. I collected a lot of information in that short amount of time and the realization of where I’ll be spending the next several months, even years started to become reality. I was scheduled for surgery on April 26th 2016 (in the picture below)
The amazing doctors at UFHealth Cancer Treatment Center in Orlando, are above fantastic. They wasted no time with getting me in and giving me the rundown of what was about to happen for the next several months of my life and also for the rest of my life. The collaboration and team-work was impressive to observe to be honest.
(The photo with no date was taken well after my surgery. I was halfway through my radiation treatments in that photo)
(Above) 5am on April 26th 2016 – The morning of my surgery. This is what aggressive Stage 3 Squamous Cell Carcinoma, skin cancer could potentially look like. At age 36, I have the skin of a 60 year old, so I’m told.
There’s a few variations of squamous cell carcinoma cancer but one of the most common in skin cancer, related usually with age, fair skin and sun exposure. If squamous cell carcinoma gets into your lymph-nodes it will travel to other areas of the body and/or could potentially enter your lungs, leaving no cure. However, most all cases end well from everything I’ve researched and been told.
They went in and removed a large section from the left side of my neck including the sterncleidomastoid muscle, 18 lymph-nodes, nerves and other things along with all my rear teeth. They did a massive skin graft, taking a large portion of tissue from my left thigh to substitute as the new skin on my neck…. in brief.
When I woke up from the surgery I asked my wife if my ear was still there. She was hovering over me taking pictures and cleaning my mouth. She said “Yes, It’s still there.” Thank goodness, I thought. I was really fearful they were going to take my ear as it was a possibility and something I had to stomach in the consultations. Then I took notice of my leg. Oh my, what happened…? Skin grafts are no joke due to how deep they have to go. With my neck, they removed all sense of feeling in that area and that will be for forever, I’ll never get it back. My leg was in some pain that I was not ready for, to be honest. On top of that, my back was hurting tremendously. (Being a never quite labor most of my life, the best thing to do for your back was to always stay moving) I was planted in that bed and my back was killing me more than all. The doctor would come in and say, “you have to get up” I told them I couldn’t move, my back is killing me and to please stop giving me the morphine. They sent two nurses in and rolled me from side to side for a few minutes until it finally loosened up. The sleep that I got through the surgery and after was probably the best and longest I had slept in years, but again, was not the best for my back.
It was probably around 24 hours before I made it to my feet. (Longer than what the doctors and nurses wanted) Once awake and on my feet I was to stay exercising as much as possible over the next few days. Taking laps around the area and working with the physical therapist. My leg was dripping blood everywhere I went. They always had someone behind me wiping up the mess.
My good friend Corey, even took some time to come up and helped me do a lap. Every nurse was fantastic, my wife & kids, mother and brother were all there to help me get going. I was checked into my room there for 5 days so they could continue monitoring me and doing what they do best. The physical therapist would come daily to make sure I would be safe enough to leave. She definitely pushed me to my limits.
By day two or three? Of being out of bed and moving around they sent in one of my plastic surgeons to re-bandage my leg. I was very much looking forward to seeing what happened and why am I feeling all this pain. Everybody left the room at this point. I couldn’t blame them, I didn’t really want to see either.
So basically, what they do/did in the surgery was remove the large tissue to be relocated and then they shave a very thin layer of skin to cover up the hole left behind. In my case the “first” thin layer they tried to shave didn’t take (inner thigh) so they had to go to the other side to get it. (Outer thigh) this is why you will see 3 bandaged areas. Just about all of my left thigh, except the back side was effected.
I was really shocked to see my leg finally. Okay, that explains why it hurts so much. I also gained a new found appreciation for some of the ladies and gentlemen that care for patients on a daily basis with such large wounds. Definitely a job I admire but would not like to have. One of my plastic surgeons (below) who changed my bandage for the first time. My leg will never be the same again, major impacts to the body such as this will take some time to get used to. Physically and Mentally. Till this day, the leg and nerve damage is still an issue.
After my 5 day stay at the hospital:
I was ready to go home and be in the comfort of my own home. I had at home nurse, her name was Rose, who would come to the house twice to help me with all the bandages. Rose, was an amazing spirit and someone I’ll never forget. She was in her 60’s and shared stories of her life. I won’t go into great detail, but her family was immigrants to the US (struggle) and over the years she lost both her parents to cancer and she herself also waged the battle with breast cancer. She was so amazing to have in my home at the time because of her amazing faith and the comfort she gave me before my treatments started. Angels are real and Rose, is defiantly one of them.
I have 6 weeks now to heal and prepare before the radiation treatments begin.
At this point of being home and counting my blessing, everything started to feel okay. It was an amazing feeling the sense of comfort in my house and with my family. Compared to the stress of the unknowing or the anticipation that was taking place beforehand, it was all gone now. For me, the next few weeks were very beautiful. My life was taking turn of unexpected moments of time. Our home felt protected, and the love was at an all-time high, emotions were true and everyone in our home shared this feeling. It was truly amazing, considering being bed ridden. Blessed is all I can really say.
I had to go to the hospital for visits several times per week still for checkup and preparations for the next steps about to occur. I was supposed to stay on my walker for at least 4 weeks, I chucked the walker after 2 weeks from the time I woke up from surgery. I’ve always pushed my body to the limits and with kids, I wanted to show them how I will always stay strong for them and how to overcome the odds, putting mind over matter. I just had to be careful and slow getting around. The amount of medical supplies I was going through with my leg bandages was absolutely jaw-dropping. I was literally spending more money on medical supplies than I ever was with my weekly detailing supply purchases. I thought I spent a lot of money per vehicle detail… Medical supplies are on a whole other level. This was also another reason for the pushing hard and getting my leg back on track.
Corey, had a detail gathering scheduled that I was originally looking forward to prior to all this. I asked my doctors if it would be okay if I went that weekend. (4-5 weeks after the surgery) I knew it was going to be my last chance to enjoy anything detailing related for a while and really wanted to go hang out with everybody. They said it was okay and to just be careful. It was judged based on the look in my eyes. I jumped on a plane with Corey and Chris Kelley, as we shot off to Oakes Detail in PA with the rest of the Cquartz Finest Group from around the nation. I enjoyed some wet-sanding with Jason Killmer, and all the amazing conversations with this great group of guys! It meant a lot to me just to be there. I popped a staple or two along the way in my leg but my neck staples stayed fine. Going through the metal detectors at the airport was a lot of fun…. Corey, was ready to beat some ass if they touched me or patted me down through security. I was definitely beeping going through with the amount of staples I had in me. It was great! I love Corey, He’s yelling “don’t you touch him.” I love all these guys. Amazing contributors and business owners to Professional Car Care…. And my well being.
Back to reality:
It was short weekend with the guys but was a great mind escape. After that weekend I was back and they were fitting me with my mask and getting me set up for the radiation machine. I received a tattoo on my chest on this day also. The tattoo that most cancer patients are aware of will serve as an indicator for lining you up in the exact same position for every treatment. The tattoo is also a history provider. If by any chance something else medically happens in life, the tattoo will be able to provide that history of the targeted area.
Getting fitted for the mask was really interesting in the beginning. I felt like Wolverine for a moment. It was cool. That mask in a few weeks will be the last thing you ever want to see, feel, or hear about ever again. I thought it was cool in the beginning but by the end, I hated it. I have it in my closet currently. They give it to you at the end of the treatments. My stomach hurts when I see it now. I want to throw it away… but we keep it because. Who knows, might need it one day for reference.
This is where things start to get serious: At the same time the blessing continue:
When I first started on this path, I thought it was going to be easier than what it was. I figured I was going to do what I had to do and get back to where I left off, detailing etc. I had my treatments scheduled at 9-10am every morning as this was the best time for me. I could wake up, head to the treatment center and be back home by the early afternoon every day. Every visit ended up taking on average, around 4 hours daily. From getting there, waiting, going through it and getting back. I valued my time there though and the people I was with.
It’s literally a job when going through this. You have to focus every bit of your time & effort into accomplishing the day. Treatments take about 15-20 minutes. Head and body strapped down in the exact same position every day and in the machine you go. The first week or two is not a big deal, it’s still physically easy at that point… None of the effects start in immediately, it takes a week or two. After that, it hits like a ton of bricks. I prepared myself before the treatments started by drinking a few cases of Ensure. I gained an additional 30+ pounds over my average weight to prepare for the weight loss to come. I didn’t want the feeding tube put in and luckily, I made it through without having it done. Another week or two and I probably would have been forced to do it as I stopped eating by the time I got to the fourth week. Radiation is giving to you in doses based off of a grey scale. (I don’t know much about that) My dose was a consistent 60 something on that scale, whatever that is. It was a top level (highest) dose for head and neck treatments from what I was told. The one good thing I had going for me was the fact that they removed all feeling from my neck and I had a much fattier piece of skin as the target. I felt that it acted as a shield to some degree. “A blessing, I thought.” The whole area was getting tight & burned, inside and out. I used a prescription lotion to keep the skin & area hydrated. The lotion has a terrible smell, I’ll never forget it. I lost all sense of taste after the second week of treatments, everything that I loved to eat or drink started to taste awful, even my coffee and I love my coffee. It’s always been my favorite part of the day but was out of my life during this time. We began to try different things every day and I found that for me, spicy taco meat was the one consistent food that was bearable. It didn’t taste good, but at least it was something. Milkshakes and things like that lost the appeal as well. Before the treatments ended, I didn’t want to eat at all anymore and I was grateful I put on the extra pounds beforehand. I was mostly on a liquid diet anyways since they took all my rear teeth out and had stitches in my mouth. They took my rear teeth out because the targeted area of radiation was going to destroy them anyways. So they do it as a precaution. If they don’t, the bones will become brittle and you would lose them regardless, probably in a more painful way. I’ll never be able to get dentures or replacements due to the bone and jaw structure being permanently weakened. I have a prescription fluoride treatment with mouth guard that I have to do daily for the rest of my life as my dentist suggest. I slip from time to time, to be honest. I need to do it more often as of now. Below is a few photos from the radiation process. The skin graft was large and bulky at the start but was taken into consideration as the radiation will shrink the skin down… some. I tried to keep the beard thing going for as long I could but once the hair started coming out with zero effort, it was time for it to go.
So let me get started with some of the emotional blessings I gained from all of this. It was a true honor to spend a few months at the treatment center. I made loads of new friends that have impacted my life, from doctors to patients and everyone in-between. This unfortunate circumstance has been one of the largest blessings of my life. I never felt bad for myself along the course. I had way too many other people on my mind and in my thoughts and prayers. Young kids, mothers, fathers, brothers and so on… Along with all the friends, family and great companies that donated to my cause. Everyone there was dealing with something and this was the strength that inspired me. As far as adults were concerned, I was one of the youngest adult there. I saw many people who looked as though they’ve giving up on the fight and that troubled me deep. I know skin cancer is minor in the spectrum of cancer as a whole and my heart went out to the ones who have been dealing with this for a lifetime or had more pain as symptoms, lost loved ones etc. At this point I considered myself fortunate and lucky that this is only for a brief moment in my life. An unforgettable experience I would wish on nobody, yet at the same time, something you would love to share with everyone. As I sit here writing this now, I have to keep much of this in short. Some emotional stuff is for that heart and that is where it will stay. Those in my life and in my industry, my friends… You all know who you are and I it would’ve been very difficult to do this without you & your help. I love all of you! I could never repay you… and all I could say is, “Thank You!” Thank you for being in my life!
Part Two, coming soon with the follow up of my life changing career and reconstructive surgery to date.
Thank you for taking part in my journey. Check back soon.