Thursday, January 14, 2016

"The Skin Game"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
For the past 40 years, which is how long I have been in journalism, I have had a nose for news. So I guess it was not surprising that the news I received recently involved my nose.

Who knows what news you will receive about your nose until you go to the dermatologist, which is what I did and was told I had skin cancer on you guessed it my ear.

No, actually, it was on my nose, which is my most prominent feature with the notable exception of my mouth, a cavelike aperture made even larger because it frequently contains my size 11 foot.

But back to my nose, which is nothing to sneeze at.

“I think I know what this is,” said my dermatologist, Dr. Adam Korzenko, who has a practice in Port Jefferson Station, New York.

“Yes,” I replied helpfully, “it’s my nose. Believe it or not, it was this size when I was born. I couldn’t lift my head until I was 3 years old.”

“No,” the good doctor told his patient patiently, “I mean this little red spot.”

“In my case,” I countered, “the red spot isn’t so little. If I stood on a street corner, cars might actually stop.”

“I am going to do a biopsy,” Dr. Korzenko said, “but I am 99 percent sure this is a basal cell carcinoma. It’s not life-threatening, but you should have it removed.”

“My nose?” I exclaimed. “That would involve dynamite and jackhammers. You’d have to hire a construction crew.”

“You can keep your nose,” Dr. Korzenko said reassuringly.

“Good,” I responded, “because nobody else would want it. But I have to ask a question: How could I have skin cancer? I am not a sun worshipper. And if I go out on a sunny day, I always slather myself with sunscreen.”

“This probably goes back to when you were a kid,” Dr. Korzenko said. “It’s very common. I see 800 cases a year. And it’s really nothing to worry about. But you should have it taken care of.”

The skin, Dr. Korzenko said, is the body’s largest organ (sorry, guys), which is why it is important to have it checked regularly.

A few days later, the biopsy came back positive.

“Are you positive?” I asked the nice person who called with the news.

“Yes,” she said. “We’ll book you with a surgeon.”

Not long afterward, I went to East Setauket, New York, and sat in the office of Dr. Evan Jones, who was ready to do a Mohs procedure.

“Mohs?” I inquired. “Please tell me Larry and Curly won’t be assisting.”

“They’re on vacation,” said Dr. Jones, adding that he would numb my nose with a local anesthetic.

“I don’t care where it comes from,” I said. “You could even use something imported, like beer. I could go for one.”

“Then,” he explained, “I’ll take off a thin layer and run a test on it. If I need to take off another layer, I will until there are no more cancer cells.”

The procedure lasted about an hour, most of it spent waiting for the results to come back. Dr. Jones took off one layer and a tiny bit more before saying, “OK, you’re all done.”

The next day, I went to see Dr. Gregory Diehl, a plastic surgeon in Port Jefferson Station.

“I don’t want to end up with a third nostril,” I told him.

“You can breathe easy with two nostrils,” he said.

“Maybe you can use spackle,” I suggested. “Of course, then you’d have to throw in the trowel.”

“I have a better way,” said Dr. Diehl, who explained how he would take skin from the upper right side of my nose and use it to seamlessly cover the cancerous area that was removed during the Mohs procedure.

It was ingenious. And artistic. And swell, even though my nose didn’t swell any more than it did before.

Now I am cancer-free, on the mend and looking as lovely as ever. And I owe it to Drs. Korzenko, Jones and Diehl, all of whom are credits to their profession and good guys to boot.

I may not be a doctor myself, but I am going to give everyone a prescription: Go to the dermatologist regularly and wear sunscreen.

The nose knows.

Copyright 2016 by Jerry Zezima

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