“That which we call a nose,
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

Or “sweetly,” depending which way the wind blows.

Apologies for mixing poets, metaphors and verb forms, but that’s just the kind of summer it’s been. It’s a time of mourning with lots of loss, sickness, life changes, and now my nose. It’s no longer the nose I was born with, thanks to heredity and youthful stupidity on sunny beaches years ago.

My nose has been called many things over the years. Ski slope. Kitty. Pug. But I always loved it, small and turned up as it was. When I was four years old, we were in Philadelphia getting off a city bus to see a tourist site. A woman stopped my mother and said, “If I had that little nose, I would hold it up in the air as high as I could.” To her, it was the perfect nose and deserved to be worn proudly.

With biopsies and band-aids leading up to the surgery, my secret sorrow has been on display for several weeks. But on Monday at the surgical center, grief took center stage. When the doctor began the numbing shots, I let out a wail and commenced braying like a stuck donkey while hyperventilating my way through sheer mortification. How perfect to be in the first treatment room, kitty corner to the front desk and adjacent to the waiting area. Do you apologize? Laugh it off? Keep crying? I tried a combo approach.

But wow did those shots hurt, way worse than the ones for the biopsies. My second round of weeping began after the tissue analysis. The good news was, the first two Mohs samples had removed all the cancerous cells. The bad news was, as I looked down at the diagram she drew of the recommended reconstruction, I could see the two bloody pits where nose used to be! Eeesh.

I was on board with the reconstruction plan, but then again — how could I not be? Who am I to argue with the woman who holds my hope for a complete, healthy nose in her talented grasp? Since my teeth were aching and we definitely didn’t want me braying again, it was time for more shots.

Incisions were made, tissue tugged and placed, and two rows of stitches completed for each closure. The first round of each suturing made a clicking sound; the second was good old-fashioned needle and thread. Somewhere along the way I asked if they could please just hit me on the head and knock me out, but that wasn’t an option.

As the final step in each phase, the smell of cap guns filled the air as the surgeon cauterized “for a better cosmetic result.” She was aghast at my comment but I thought everyone of a certain age had owned a cap gun as a kid. The technician agreed with me: caps, which definitely beats thinking about what we were actually smelling!

By the time I was waxing poetic about the complete Laura Ingalls Wilder series to keep myself distracted, the surgeon began sawing off my ear. Not really, but it sure sounded like it. As she cut the graft to fill in the left side of my nose, her assistant cranked up the best hits of the 1930s and ’40s. (Note: cardiology and skin cancer offices cater to a similar demographic.)

What an ordeal — for us all! I feel so fortunate the philosophy of the Skin Cancer Surgery Center is very caring, hands on, and patient centered. (But I really do wish they had knocked me out; actually, they probably wish they had too.)

I talk a lot about post traumatic stress disorder in SCAD patients, and do believe it plays a role in our recovery and future health care experiences. It was so comforting that the surgeon took time to hear my feelings about earlier scars from open heart surgery. Her reassurance that she will do whatever it takes to heal my nose successfully is heartening. At 48, I plan to have several decades left to wear my nose proudly through life.

I just hope I don’t sneeze for another year or two.

For more on the various forms of skin cancer, symptoms, and treatment, check out: Skin Cancer