By Rebecca Drew
THIS MUM-of-two is sharing her horrifying skin cancer ordeal to deter others from using tanning beds after using them for almost a DECADE and surgery to remove it left her with a HOLE in her face and crippling headaches that feel like she’s being ‘STRUCK BY LIGHTNING’.
As a young adult, stay at home mum, Carrie Doles (34) from Chicago, Illinois, USA, was obsessed with being tanned and started using tanning beds at just 18, even using them every day for four-years whilst at university.
As well as this, Carrie never wore sun cream and would lie out in the sun whenever she could only occasionally replenishing her skin with moisturiser afterwards. As she was so young, she didn’t feel the need to care for her skin and thought it would care for itself.
In 2010, Carrie noticed a small pencil sized scab that appeared on her left temple which would fall off only to reappear again. This continued for six months before she went to a dermatologist who said it was skin cancer just two-weeks before her wedding to husband, Chris. Not wanting to scar her skin for the big day, Carrie’s doctor postponed her biopsy for two-weeks until after her wedding and another week later confirmed that she had basal cell skin cancer at just 26-years-old.
Carrie thought that this non-melanoma skin cancer was the ‘good kind’ so wasn’t too worried but she had a shock when the day of her surgery came around and she was the youngest person in the waiting room with the other patients being in their seventies.
Doctors had to carry out the removal procedure to cut out the cancer a total of six times as it wasn’t clear where the affected and healthy cells were. This left her with a gaping hole at the side of her face which was stitched up by a plastic surgeon the next day. Then in 2014, Carrie’s cancer came back for a second time in the same place but was removed by a head, neck and throat specialist at a cancer treatment centre.
Surgery left Carrie with paralysis on the left side of her face that she still suffers with today and her left eye is constantly watering.
“Laying out in the sun, not wearing sunscreen and tanning beds were definitely a contributing factor to my skin cancer,” said Carrie.
“In college I would go tanning every day. I didn’t know what skin care was then, I was young and felt I didn’t need to take care of my skin at such a young age. My skin was lucky if I put SPF 15 on it or any type of moisturiser.
“I started using tanning beds at the age of eighteen and continued until my facial cancer diagnosis in 2010.
“In 2010 I had noticed a pencil eraser size scab that came out of nowhere on my left temple. I knew I hadn’t cut myself so I was confused. The scab would fall off and then form again.
“This went on for a good six months. I eventually went to my dermatologist two weeks before my wedding day to get it checked out.
“Then after my wedding I went back in to biopsy it. They took a sample of it out, left me with two stitches and then called me within the next week to say it was confirmed, basal cell skin cancer.
“It scared me to have been diagnosed with a skin cancer at such a young age but I was always under the assumption that basal cell was the ‘good kind of cancer’ and it would be no big deal. But not so much.”
Basal cell carcinoma is a type of non-melanoma skin cancer. It normally appears as a small, shiny pink or pearly-white lump with a translucent or waxy appearance but can also look like a red, scaly patch which sometimes has brown or black pigments in it.
The lump usually gets bigger and may become crusty, bleed or develop into a painless ulcer.
Carrie went into detail about the procedure to remove the cancer from her face and discussed the repercussions of this that she still deals with today.
“They numbed me up and started to cut. It was a crazy feeling. I didn’t feel them cutting but I heard it. So, first round done, they gauzed me up, I was sent to the waiting room and then they went to look at the sample under the microscope,” she explained.
“I sat in the office waiting area for about thirty minutes or so. I was the youngest one in that whole office. Most patients were over the age of seventy. Then they called me back in and said the margins were not clear (the edges still had cancer cells in it) so they would need to cut more out and repeat this procedure until there were no more cancer cells seen under the microscope.
“They did this procedure a total of six times. Until finally no more cancer cells were found but now I was left with a huge hole in my face that was not going to be able to stitch up so easily.
“The plastic surgeon was in surgery all day, so I had to wait to meet with him when he was all done. This was finally at 7pm in the evening. So, the whole afternoon I had to walk around with my face all gauzed up with a huge hole in my head, and the numbness was eventually wearing off.
“We finally met with the surgeon and he explained to me that we had to test my nerve reaction and then schedule a surgery first thing in the morning. He hooked me up to a nerve stimulator and sent electrical pulses through my face to see if they had cut any nerves. No function.
“So, I had to go home that night, clean and care for my open wound on my own. I couldn’t eat anything because of surgery in the morning and I couldn’t take any pain pills.
“Surgery finally came. He was able to reattach my nerves but in order to close up the hole and have my face look even, he had to do a mini face lift and a mini brow lift.
“Surgery went great and I healed up nicely. He said the nerves will take some time to come back, but we would revisit it in about six months and go from there.
“Fast forward to the six-month mark and still no nerve activity. I had left side facial paralysis of my left brow and upwards.
“My left eye would constantly tear up, and I had no eyebrow movement. So, we went in for another surgery to do a scar revision and try and fix the nerves. So, second surgery was a success and was told this time it could take a year or so for the nerves to come back.
“I still have slight paralysis on my left side. The scar area is super tender. I can’t have any pressure put on it or have anyone touch it. My eye still waters constantly.
“Every now and then I get bad headaches. It feels like I am being struck by lightning in that area. I still cannot raise my left eyebrow.”
Carrie now takes her skin care routine very seriously and goes into schools to tell her story and discourage other young people from worshipping the sun and tanning beds like she did.
“I always wear an SPF of thirty all day every day before I put my makeup on and even in the winter,” she said.
“I don’t lay out in the sun anymore and if I am out, I wear a large brimmed hat and seek shade as much as possible. I also use intense moisturiser on a daily and nightly basis.
“Tanning whether outside or in a tanning bed is so bad for you and your skin. Not only will you get wrinkles but your risk of developing skin cancer is increased.
“Stop tanning. Your skin will thank you when you are older.”
For more information see www.instagram.com/carriem039