Tag Archives: health

Skin Cancer Update 

  

It has been awhile since I have made an update related to skin cancer. I have been focused on enjoying life since my most recent treatment ended and have placed all those not so pleasant months in the back of my mind. That strategy was working quite well for me until I went to the Dentist for my regular checkup a few weeks ago. She noticed a lesion on the left lateral portion of my tongue. Her immediate thought was something as benign as Migratory Glossitis but due to my history with skin cancer, she felt I should be seen by someone for an evaluation of the lesion. I had already set up my yearly physical with my general practitioner for the following week so when I went to see her she referred me to an ENT surgeon for evaluation the next day.

 

When most of us think about skin cancer we think of lesions that pop up on parts of the skin that have been exposed to UV rays. Cancerous lesions on the tongue or inside the mouth caused by UV exposure is not something we usually hear about. Alas, the ugly beast can spring up inside your mouth in the form of Squamous Cell Carcinoma or Melanoma and According to the American Cancer Society, it can indeed be caused by too much sun exposure over time. This does not mean you need to run around in the sunshine with your tongue sticking out of your mouth in order to get it. 

There are of course other risk factors that can be the cause of oral cancers such as smoking and excessive alcohol use, but in my case the risk factor would appear to be excessive UV exposure and the fact that I have a history of Basal Cell Carcinoma. Thus the concern and need for evaluation. 

 

Now I don’t know your particular level of pain tolerance but mine is pretty high. When I had both the biopsy and then Mohs surgery on my face I barely felt the needles that injected the local anesthetic right on the side of the bridge of my nose. Things were very different when it came to my tongue. Think for a second about the times you have bitten your tongue, your lip, or the inside of your cheeks and how much that hurt and continued to hurt for some time. Now multiply that pain by one hundred. The needle stick was not fun. Fortunately my tongue went instantly numb. 

I have this little anxiety thing about being unable to swallow. Going to the Dentist is difficult enough for me especially when there are suction tubes and a pair of hands and instruments all up inside the small space that leads to my airway. There I was sitting in a sterile room with drool spilling down the corner of my lip, a pair of gloved hands pulling on my tongue and holding it taught while poking and cutting and digging at the mystery spot. I could feel my intense need to swallow begin to rise and I could do nothing about it. 

Add to that most uncomfortable mix the warm rush of blood and a wad of gauze stuffed in my mouth to stop the bleeding and well, you can probably imagine how I felt. Then There was the tug and pull of the suture needle that went around the wound and up through the center of my tongue. Not once, but four times. Yes, I felt a bit squeamish.

  

The anesthetic wore off two hours after the surgery. That is when I was reminded how much we rely on this funky looking mass of muscle for a variety of things. It was extremely painful to swallow, to talk, to eat, to drink, to sneeze, to cough, to blow my nose. My tongue was swollen and angry and it let me know.

For the first three days I could only handle a liquid diet. Protein shakes and water became my friend. The dissolving stitches worked their way loose within a few hours and I became brave enough to cut the long loose ends off by myself before they made their way down my throat. Did I mention how ugly my tongue looked? Ghastly ugly indeed. I have photos but I will spare you.

The biopsy results came back within 24 hours and fortunately it is a benign epitheleal tumor in the squamous layer. Yay! We now keep an eye on it over time just to make sure it doesn’t grow back into something malignant.

Beyond this little inconvenient interim reminder that I will most likely face additional skin cancers in my lifetime, my full body skin recheck appointment is not until mid-August with my Dermatologist. So after this painful biopsy spot decides to heal completely (it has been one week now and it still hurts to eat, to talk, to swallow) I will be back to living and enjoying life mindfully. 

Did I mention that in the midst of all this fun I came down with a Streptococcus infection and am now on a regiment of antibiotics? The challenges never cease, but there is still a whole lot of beauty in this world to balance out the little patches of ugly :).

**A photo of a Sunflower because it is prettier than the thought of my tongue :).**

  

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Zen Moment 3 – Connecting With the Gifts That Nature Gives Us

  

** Raccoon wading through the wetlands, Yolo Wildlife Area, Davis, CA. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2015. All rights reserved. **

“When you touch one thing with deep awareness, you touch everything.” – Lao Tzu

I am constantly surprised by nature’s little gifts. A few days ago I went on a walk at the Yolo Wildlife Area and chose to head up the gravel road I have walked dozens of times. There are wetlands that hug each side of this road and it provides a great view of a wide variety of waterfowl and shorebirds.

It was a typical Spring morning where I spotted and photographed Egrets, Blue Heron, American Coot, Mallards, Cinnamon Teal, Northern Shovelers, Ibis, Stilts, and Avocets. I walked and stopped every now and then to capture another photo and marveled at the chorus of birdsong and the beauty of this oasis so close to the city where I live. I felt grounded and thankful that I was able to begin my day in such a wonderful way. 

While lost in the moment, I caught a sudden movement out of the corner of my eye. I turned towards a tall Thistle plant on the edge of the water and was amazed to see a Raccoon slip into the water and begin to wade towards a small island of reeds. In all my trips out there I have never come across a Raccoon, especially not in daylight since they are nocturnal creatures by nature. 

I stood there amazed at the scene as it unfolded before me. The Raccoon was equally amazed to see me standing there and for a moment we held a silent vigil as our eyes locked on to the other. I raised my camera slowly and took a few photographs and video of this amazing creature and tried to reassure it through my relaxed demeanor that I meant it no harm.

My original intent that morning was to get some exercise in with a nice brisk walk, alas, the Universe had a different plan for me. This unexpected gift found me standing there for a good hour just watching and waiting as the Raccoon waded from island to island and searched the reeds for Crawdads to eat. Every time it would finish its search it would peek out at me from between the reeds then enter the water and make its way towards the next island.

The entire time I stood there watching I felt a smile spread wide across my face. There was nothing else but me, the Raccoon, a Hallelujah chorus of birdsong, and my giant smile. Any stress I felt at the start of that morning was dissipated. It was exactly how nature intended it to be. The two of us, lost in the moment of our surprising communion as we danced our pas de deux to the music of this magical Universe.

** Click to purchase Zen in the Garden: Finding Peace and Healing Through Nature on Amazon. **


A Deep Peaceful Slumber



A dear friend of mine who I have known for close to twenty years is entering her fourth week of a coma following a serious auto accident. She was the passenger in a car when the driver fell asleep. Apparently the car hit a guardrail and careened off the highway, then slammed into a concrete drainage ditch nose first.  Julie’s head was slammed so hard against the door frame that it knocked her unconscious. 

Long before I knew her, when she was in high school, she was in another tragic accident. A car she was riding in with several other high school friends overturned on the Petaluma bridge. It threw several of them from the car. From what I remember at least one of them died. Julie suffered major injuries including a broken neck, back and head. Her survival from that harrowing experience at such a young age changed her, I am certain.

The one thing I know and admire about Julie is her strength and determination. She has always been so full of life, a ball of eminating energy, a true force to be reckoned with. Her laugh is immediately recognizable and can move a room filled with somber, angry people to break out into laughter at a moment’s notice. Physically, Julie is a sleek powerhouse. A bodybuilder and fitness trainer, she has continued to work hard into her 40’s to maintain her health and her strength. She is truly an inspiration.

Like a lot of us, Julie has struggled with her own share of ugly demons in this life but has continued to face them in order to be there for her beautiful daughter whom she loves dearly. I am so proud of her for fighting the battles she has faced. I know in my heart they have not been easy battles. As her friend there have been many days I wished I could have been there for her when life became so difficult. Even though I wasn’t there for her in person, I know she understands in the quiet spaces of her heart I was always there for her in thought and in prayer.

As she lays there in her hospital bed in her deep, peaceful slumber, I often wonder if her spirit is aware. Can she see and hear her family who love her so dearly as they keep a vigil at her side? Does she reach out to touch them ever so lightly on their cheeks from some unseen distance in an effort to comfort and bring them peace while they wait? Is she strolling through a peaceful valley picking a boquet of flowers to give to her mother and daughter when she returns? Can she see her life play back in a slow motion review and finally understand now what an amazing human being she truly is?

Wherever you are right now my friend, whatever you can see or hear or feel, I hope it is nothing less than peaceful. You deserve peace. You deserve rest. You deserve to understand the arms of those who embrace you with their love are not going to leave you. They are there for you and are waiting for you to open those beautiful blue eyes so you can meet the true gaze of their naked, loving souls.


Respite in Yosemite

El Capitan. Yosemite National Park. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

El Capitan. Yosemite National Park. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

Last week I was “kidnapped” by my lovely partner and held hostage in a Yurt for three days right outside the entrance to Yosemite National Park. It was a much-needed respite in nature as my surgery dates approach.

The Yurt. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

The Yurt. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

I grew up near Yosemite on the Eastern side of the Sierras so I have been there many times. I never get tired of the beauty and majesty that this park bestows. I am always in awe and am often brought to tears by its magnificence.

A very dry Mirror Lake. Yosemite National Park. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

A very dry Mirror Lake. Yosemite National Park. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

Our days were spent hiking and taking photos. I felt completely energized and renewed while there and wanted to continue hiking and climbing even when I was at my most depleted state due to the higher elevation and lack of oxygen.

It was a wonderful escape from reality as well as an opportunity to reflect on the beauty in life.

The view of Half Dome and Yosemite Valley from on top of Glacier Point. Yosemite National Park. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

The view of Half Dome and Yosemite Valley from on top of Glacier Point. Yosemite National Park. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

This morning I am feeling tense again so I decided to look through my photos in order to go back to my “happy place” and ground myself a bit. That is a big part of photography for me. The ability to relive those moments captured in perpetuity. When I view them I can feel the wind on my face, the smell of the pines, the warmth of the sun (protected by SPF 50 of course), and am embraced once again by a feeling of reverence and an overwhelming silence.

"The Fallen." - Jeffrey Pine on top of Sentinel Dome with a view of El Capitan and Cathedral Spires in the background. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

“The Fallen.” – Jeffrey Pine on top of Sentinel Dome with a view of El Capitan and Cathedral Spires in the background. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

Tomorrow it all begins with my back surgery followed 10 days later with the Mohs surgery on my face. I expect tomorrow to be pretty straight forward with an excision and stitches followed by the waiting game for the pathology report. The Mohs surgery on the 8th is a different story. Too many unknowns for my taste. But I will try to stay focused on the beauty of nature and look forward to more trips to Yosemite in the future.

A Mule Deer in the forest. Yosemite National Park. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

A Mule Deer in the forest. Yosemite National Park. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

The majestic face of El Capitan. Yosemite National Park. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

The majestic face of El Capitan. Yosemite National Park. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

Bridge over the Tuolumne River. Yosemite National Park. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

Bridge over the Tuolumne River. Yosemite National Park. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

Granite and trees near lower Yosemite Falls. Yosemite National Park. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

Granite and trees near lower Yosemite Falls. Yosemite National Park. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.


A multitude of rock cairns below Half Dome near Mirror Lake. Yosemite National Park. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

A multitude of rock cairns below Half Dome near Mirror Lake. Yosemite National Park. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

Sentinel Dome from below. Yosemite National Park. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

Sentinel Dome from below. Yosemite National Park. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

Hiking down from the top of Sentinel Dome with Half Dome as the backdrop. Yosemite National Park. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

Hiking down from the top of Sentinel Dome with Half Dome as the backdrop. Yosemite National Park. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

Yep, that's a selfie on top of Sentinel Dome. Yosemite National Park.

Yep, that’s a selfie on top of Sentinel Dome. Yosemite National Park.


Finding My Center

"Qi" - ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

“Qi” – ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

This past week I have been embroiled in a feeble attempt to find my center. There are moments when I feel like a derailed train that continues to move forward without a clear vision of my destination. There have been a whole lot of unknowns that surround my day-to-day. I float somewhere in this middle ground that follows diagnosis but comes before surgery and treatment.

I don’t do well with unknowns. What I do know is the cancer is still growing while I wait to have it removed from my body.

So, I spend an inordinate amount of time doing research on anything related to skin cancer, Mohs surgery and Efudex treatment. I have always been the curious sort with a need to know, oft-times to my own detriment. But I would much rather be educated than blind to the facts and possibilities before me. I suppose it provides me with some semblance of control in the midst of feeling out of control over the current circumstances during my body’s rebellion against the sun.

"Gazania 2" - ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

“Gazania 2” – ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

When you stop and read the statistics on skin cancer it is a bit astounding. One in five people will have some form of skin cancer in their life time. One in five. Yet we continue to have this sordid love affair with tanning booths and the sun.

Skin cancer is not just a simple trip to the Dermatologist to have a couple of bad cells scraped off or frozen away. It can be that for a few, but it also has the potential to be extremely disfiguring. And it can kill you.

We have been taught to shrug our shoulders and say “at least it’s just skin cancer.” In my mind this is nothing more than a statement of denial since we tend to place bronzed skin and vanity on a pedestal far above common sense. Skin cancer of any type can metastasize and spread to the organs if left untreated. I challenge anyone who thinks that skin cancer is “no big deal” to Google it and read the blogs and stories of people who have or are now going through it. It’s not pretty.

Black Beauty

Although I do feel lucky to so far avoided the diagnosis of the creeping black spider that is Melanoma, this in no way diminishes for me the seriousness of my own diagnosis. The fact I have any type of skin cancer at all increases the probability that I will have more in the future. All those days in my past spent carelessly soaking up the sun for the sake of vanity altered my DNA and have finally culminated in something not so pretty.

"Gazania 3" - ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

“Gazania 3” – ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

On Monday I meet with the Opthamologist/Oculoplastics surgeon for the pre-op appointment prior to the Mohs surgery on my face. Since this lesion is close to my eye and my eyelid it is considered high risk. I will need reconstruction surgery and most likely a skin graft following the removal of the cancer by the Mohs surgeon. I should know shortly after this appointment the date of my first surgery.

So, for now as I continue to ride the roller-coaster of stress and emotion and fumble for my center, I take trips out into the garden and attempt to focus on the beauty I see through my lens. When I do this I feel my whole body exhale. I feel my feet grounded on the soil below me. I begin to find my center. I forget, if only for a moment, about the ugly and garner hope for a future filled with the magnificence of the small things we are often too blind to see in this life.

"Emanating" - ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

“Emanating” – ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

You can now purchase any of the photographs from my “Zen in the Garden” series on my Etsy shop here.