As a general rule, this column tries to be about local history that others might have shared or had questions about. This week I want to share some recent medical information in the hope that my current experiences may give hope or help to others. Like others who have spent a good bit of time outdoors over the years, I was told long ago that I had developed “farmer’s skin”, and from time to time the doctors or nurse practitioners at the local clinic would see a spot that needed to be sprayed. Sometimes that spot would disappear and never be seen again. Many readers will have had a similar treatment and know that the spots are not contagious but are a curable and generally not fatal form of cancer.
Then, in what must have been 2007, Dr. Peterson came to Langdon and sent pieces of these spots off for testing. I got a call that one or two were basal cell and should be removed by Mohs surgery. If you have not had that experience, the early stages are pretty routine. We were sent to a place on the southeast side of Grand Forks where a visiting doctor from California came in to do the surgery. In the waiting room I noticed people I recognized and one of them told me “Thursday is Langdon day”, and before long, we were laughing and bonding in our shared experience. Mohs surgery takes a layer of tissue from the area, tests it for cancer, and when the sample comes back clear - they stitch you up, give you wound care instructions, and invite you to return at a specified time. Looking around I realized I was the youngest in the room that day, but this type of lesion can occur at any age. Mohs surgery was not the end of the line by any means. We came home, sometimes had stitches taken out at the clinic here, and life went on. In fact, most were not hospitalized, and the curable kinds of skin cancer were rarely mentioned when the local group was fundraising.
Whenever there was a troublesome spot, people in this group would be referred to additional Mohs surgeons who came to Grand Forks from places like New Orleans, Michigan, and elsewhere. The current surgeon (most have names I cannot spell!) was new and appeared very young in December of 2019- possibly because I was aging. My next appointment to be checked was for spring of 2020, but lockdown and virus were added to our vocabularies so it was May of this year before I had both a ride and an appointment. A cute new dermatologist found a spot that needed a biopsy, and almost the next day the report came with a date for the next Mohs surgery. The reports were not encouraging, and the plastic surgeon was the next visit and again another more difficult procedure. While all of this has been same day surgery, this one included anesthesia which does not wear off as well as the freezing done formerly. In the minutes after I was in the lavender gown and headed to the operating room, I was asked to sign a consent form, but the details did not soak in clearly. My cousin who went down with me had a long day while they formed a different nose using spare parts from one of my ears.
This was followed by days of large bandages which set your glasses awry (you see double or not at all), learning to replace the gauze without getting any water on the nose area, and adjusting to people food and in some cases pain. I was spared needing the pain pills, but they do provide them in case you need them. As this is written, the stitches are out or are the dissolving kind that will melt away. I can drive and see the keys on the computer and am looking forward to washing my hair and wearing normal clothes comfortably.
Why write about an experience readers may never have to face? Because actually this is one of the most prevalent types of curable cancer that is seen in our part of the nation. Discovering it early increases your chances of recovery and prevents spreading. More serious or damaging are related cancers like squamous or melanoma which have totally different treatments. Can you prevent having even troublesome lesions? I am told yes, if you begin with good skin health as a child. Sun block helps some people, wearing a hat helps others, and good nutrition is always a plus. If I had been younger they would have told me to avoid tanning beds. As it happened, I had some bad experiences as a child and teen when working too long in hot fields and gardens so had very painful sunburns. Learning to minimize this can save you trips to dermatologists and surgeons.
Your stories are important. One of the most frequent questions I am asked is where we find the stories for this column, and the answer has to be everywhere. Quite a few people send me their real life stories, and I try to spread them out to reach local and former residents who enjoy them. Mostly I deal with factual stories we can prove through local records. If your stories are fiction, there are several private publishing groups in the state. Sometimes these can be located at colleges or universities.
The State Library in Bismarck has been digitalizing jubilee and centennial books, and they are now online for people to research from their home computers. This is a way to find your own family stories or pictures in case the book digitalized was sold out before you had a chance to purchase a copy. However, there are laws which allow you to read but not republish the work of others so it is best to follow the guidelines available on the digital horizons website. I had the exact information on this and have mislaid it, but check with either the local or the state library for assistance if needed.