Daniel’s personal story
My Dad died in May 2017. His death certificate listed the cause of death as squamous cell cancer on his neck. He was almost 97 years old. For purposes of educating others, I want to share my Dad’s skin cancer story, including pictures that show the progression of the squamous cell cancer on his neck.
Emails dated four years before my Dad’s death discussed and documented the basal cell cancer on the tip of his nose, the other moles on his forehead, and the moles on his neck:
Dad’s neck moles (which later turned out to be squamous) were noted in an email by my brother dated April 15, 2013: “As Dad's barber, I can tell you that the area on the side of his neck (his left side) is about the size of a quarter and looks nasty.”
Dad visited the doctor, a dermatologist, with my sister and his nurse on May 2, 2013. The doctor diagnosed a spot on his nose as basal cell skin cancer, and Dad allowed a biopsy to be taken, which confirmed the diagnosis. The doctor suggested he get the Mohs procedure to completely eliminate the cancer, and Dad emphatically declined. The doctor also asked for permission to biopsy a few other places (his forehead and his neck, the latter of which later became the squamous), and again Dad emphatically declined.
In October 2015, my sister took him back to his primary care doctor. At that time, we discussed the wound on his neck, which had grown to about a 1.5-inch-square open sore. She suggested he see a dermatologist and he emphatically declined, stating that this is just a sore that old people get.
Throughout 2016, my sister visited regularly and mentioned that the basal cell cancer on his nose looked like it was coming back and the neck sore was getting larger. He brushed all of that off as very manageable.
In the summer of 2016, just following Dad’s 96th birthday, the wound grew larger and started getting infected on a regular basis. He finally saw a dermatologist again who biopsied the wound (which Dad refused to allow on previous visits). We had hoped it would be diagnosed as basal cell, but it turned out to be squamous. It was suggested by a few oncologists that he try radiation as a treatment to heal the wound; unfortunately, he refused again. By November the wound was causing pain daily. The oncologist did not feel that radiation was any longer an option due to the location and size of the wound, and the potential side effects of the radiation to a 96-year-old man. We were out of options.
From December 2016 to May 2017 the wound just grew larger and started bleeding and weeping severely, and all we could do was provide pain relief and antibiotics when he would allow it. He finally agreed to a wound care nurse in February, which quickly shifted to hospice until his demise.
Dad could have/should have had the moles removed from his neck back in 2013 before they became an issue, but in some ways, he was his own worst enemy when it came to being proactive about his health.
If you think the pictures are bad, it was heartbreaking treating it. Watching it grow and disfigure my father. Witnessing the pain and suffering my father endured. Dad was foolish not to schedule a yearly visit with the dermatologist and have all moles or any skin changes professionally assessed and removed, particularly after his own son and our brother died unnecessarily from melanoma skin cancer at age 63. He also made the mistake of assuming old age would kill him before the skin cancer would become an issue.
Yes, he lived a long, good life. But he suffered at the end needlessly. My hope in making Dad’s story public is that someone else will learn from his mistake and avoid it. If my Dad’s journey can motivate one person to get treatment early enough to prevent the 24/7 pain and suffering he experienced during the last three months of his life, it will have been worth my time and effort.