Sunday, July 30, 2017

Red Lobster Comes to Cuenca


No, not the restaurant chain, silly. I'm talking about me.

This recent exchange says it all:

Friend: "Damn, dude, that's the worst sunburn I've ever seen."

Me: "That's because you're looking at every sunburn I've ever had all at the same time."

Last night marked three weeks into my treatment for sun damage. I applied the fluorouracil ointment for the 21st time and once again it felt like I had set my face ablaze. I got into bed and said to Cynthia, "I don't know if I can keep doing this." When water from the shower striking my face this morning made me wince in pain I decided it was time to pull the plug.

The maximum recommended length of time for this treatment is 30 days, so anybody who knows me also knows that was my goal. As one of my readers said in an email, "You go big or go home." In spite of the pain I could have continued but I'm ready to start healing and get on with my life. I'm sure what I've gone through will go a long ways toward removing most if not all of the pre-cancerous skin growth.

Beyond the obvious shock of how extensive my sun damage turned out to be came some smaller surprises along the way. I was concerned that I wasn't going to be able to shave. And between my head and face I've got a lot of real estate to maintain.

You've never seen me with hair and a beard, and you never will for a very good reason. Both look terrible. So the thought of having this surface-of-Mars face and cranium covered with a scraggly coat of gray fur was more than I--and Cynthia--could bear. Fortunately, as long as I take my time, shaving hasn't been an issue.

A real surprise has been some unexpected spots where sun damage has revealed itself to be lurking. Like in the nooks, crannies, and creases of my ears of all places. Thinking back that's probably not an area where I always diligently strived for 100% sunscreen coverage. A couple of open, bleeding wounds tells me that was a bad idea. Ugh.

And it's a complete mystery why the skin on my face right next to my nose is freaking out. No way I missed putting sunscreen there.

So as we say goodbye to my active treatment phase, here's my full face photo from the previous post followed by ones taken today:

Anybody blame me for stopping? Good. I'm not sure what to expect next so I'll update you in a few days. Thanks so much for the many emails and Facebook messages, my friends.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

To Hell and Back


"What in the world happened to your face?!?!"

I've been getting that a lot recently. And will continue to for the next several weeks.

Was I in an accident? A fight?

Based on the way I look those are both reasonable guesses. But, no, my current monstrous appearance is of my own doing.

Let's back up. I've diligently taken care of my skin for the past 30+ years--cleansing, moisturizing, applying sunscreen. Even occasional facials and microdermabrasion treatments. Since we moved to the land of intense equatorial sun I've been extra careful to never leave the house without first applying SPF 50.

Ah, but in my younger days it was quite a different story. I can remember those sunburns at the beach that were too painful to touch. The baby oil and iodine summers at the pool going for the darkest tan line possible. In college I once made a reflecting contraption out of cardboard and aluminum foil to intensify those rays to the absolute max. Geez----.

And of course, for almost four decades now I've had this shaved head. No matter how careful I am, without a hat on out in the sun that thin skin stretched across my skull is like frying bacon.

Over the years I've spent a lot of time in dermatologists' offices for checkups and maintenance. There have been countless freezings of troublesome spots with liquid nitrogen and three instances when basal cell carcinomas had to be surgically removed. Last spring my doctor recommended that I apply fluorouracil for a week to treat a few scaly areas on my scalp. I followed his instructions and the ointment worked.

Fluorouracil is a topical cream or gel used to treat pre-cancerous and cancerous skin growths. It works by killing fast-growing cells such as the abnormal ones in actinic keratoses and basal cell carcinoma. These cells are drawn to the skin's surface and eliminated from the body.

I recently noticed more of these spots had appeared and decided to repeat the treatment. But before doing so I this time did some Internet research and learned that instead of only a week, the recommended period of application was a month.

OK, then, a month it is. You've seen plenty of photos of me over the years. Overall I felt like my skin looks pretty darned good, so I decided while I was putting the ointment on my scalp I'd go ahead and take care of what little sun damage there might be on my forehead as well.

The first week of treatment nothing happened. Then, oh, my------. To say I was shocked with what happened next would be the understatement of the century. Are you ready for this? Here's the "minor" sun damage on my forehead today, 2 1/2 weeks into the regimen:

OMG, right? As soon as I saw what was happening I decided to extend the fluorouracil application to the lower half of my face as well. Here's what it looks like, a week behind the scalp and forehead:

Put those images together and here's my current frightful appearance:

However shocked you are viewing these images, I am even more so. Outwardly my skin looked so good I had no inkling of the damage that lurked below. Let me answer some of the questions I'm sure you have:

How long will the treatment last? For 30 days. So I'm on Day 17 on the top half and Day 10 on the bottom.

Does it hurt? Once the gel starts working it hurts like hell. Washing my face is painful. Putting on the ointment each night burns like I'm being hit with acid. I've sometimes been on the verge of tears and felt like stopping the treatment almost daily but continue because it's obvious the problem must be dealt with. Thankfully Cynthia remembered we have a container of Aquaphor that has honestly been my salvation. It soothes the inflammation and provides healing moisture to the dry, flaking skin. It feels like every sunburn I've had in my entire life is slowly emerging. Payback for all those foolish choices so long ago.

When will you look normal again? You will look normal again, won't you? Once I quit applying the fluorouracil I expect to look even worse for maybe the two following weeks. Then rejuvenation is supposed to happen rapidly and I'll end up with totally healthy skin for the first time since I was a child. Unfortunately the wrinkles stay----.

Are you glad you did it? Ask me when it's over. Seriously, I sure am. Yes, it's painful and, yes, I look horrible right now but I'm pleased to be doing something proactive that will ward off future potential problems. I've been in semi-seclusion during this ordeal but decided to "go public" and write this post to encourage you to be mindful of your own health. Skin cancer that turns into melanoma can kill you, folks. It's not something to fool around with.

I'll continue to post more pics of my progress as this journey evolves. Thanks in advance for your support, encouragement, and comments.

Monday, July 10, 2017

A Love Story

Two kids fell in love in the summer of 1967. From the start their romance was improbable and unconventional. He was a college freshman; she was a freshman in high school. No one except them gave the relationship much of a chance.

While classmates talked of sock hops and football games, they spent hours planning their future and spoke of growing old together. They patiently waited four years for their June graduations, exchanged vows a month later, and have been joyously married ever since.

Those two kids are Cynthia and me. Today is our 46th wedding anniversary and the amazing celebration of 50 years as a couple. We've grown up together, and now we indeed do have the privilege of growing old together.

Cynthia, my darling, I love you more deeply than words can express. We have an eternal, unbreakable bond that few could understand and even fewer will experience. Your presence has been my life's greatest treasure, and I only wish that time could grant me the honor of spending another fifty years by your side.

Happy Anniversary, sweetheart. May we have many, many more.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

This Is Retirement??

We were catching up with local friends last night over dinner and they asked, "So what's been going on with you two since we last saw you?" I proceeded to rattle off the following:

"Well, at the beginning of May we went to Atlanta for an International Living conference.

Then, since I was born in Atlanta and we spent most of our adult lives there, we stayed over some extra days visiting family and friends. I'm missing my 50th high school reunion this fall so I organized a mini-reunion of classmates which was a blast."

Next we flew to New Jersey and stayed with our daughter and her family for three weeks. While there we took a train into Manhattan to visit friends who live in SoHo.

Before returning to Cuenca we took another train to Boston and enjoyed exploring that beautiful city for four days. Plus we discovered we really love train travel.

After being home only about two weeks we turned around and flew back to Quito for another IL conference, then hung around in the city a few days.

We flew home and spent the weekend before leaving for several glorious days in Yunguilla.

And now we're back in Cuenca."

Our dinner companions own several businesses and have young children so their lives are very different from ours. The husband seemed amazed and remarked, "Wow, you two are really busy for retired people!"

The truth is, yes we are. On purpose.

After this recent flurry of activity we have no set travel plans for awhile because we are working on a massive project that requires us to stay put and focus. That doesn't mean we'll be hermits. We cherish our relationships with close friends and look forward to socializing with them after being away so long.

I'm in no way knocking those who embrace a more reserved approach to retirement. Heck, if you feel like you've worked hard your whole life and just want to putter around, I say more power to you. We enjoy limited doses of chillaxin' ourselves, with our just-completed getaway to Yunguilla I mentioned serving as a perfect example.

We spent an extended 4th of July celebration with wonderful friends eating, drinking, sleeping, playing games, sunning ourselves (the weather is fabulous there--and only an hour away!), and hot tubbing. Sound like fun? It sure was!

Here are a few photos of our surroundings:

This is the view from our bedroom window

And here are a few from the deck looking down into the valley

Yes, this is retirement, Edd and Cynthia style.