Meteorologist shares photos of surgical scars

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Kathy Sabine still remembers the moment she discovered that a seemingly harmless spot on her nose was actually skin cancer that would require surgeons to cut off her face.

There was so much at stake: With a job in television, Sabine — the chief weatherman for 9NEWS, NBC’s Denver affiliate — is in the public spotlight every day. She wears sunscreen and hats to protect her skin and gets regular checkups from her dermatologist, she said.

“When (my doctor) called me back and told me I had skin cancer, I was shocked. I never thought this would happen to me. I thought I was doing everything right Sabine, 57, told TODAY.

“I started crying, I was in disbelief. And then I thought, is this going to be the end of my career? … Is this this? I’m going to be done before I’m ready to be done in my 50s.

Kathy Sabine has shared the aftermath of her skin cancer surgery on social media.Courtesy of Kathy Sabine

Sabine was back on the airwaves this week, a month after undergoing surgery to remove non-melanoma skin cancer and reconstruct her nose using cartilage from her ear. She was open about the ordeal, taking to social media to share candid and striking photos that showed the aftermath of the procedure and the healing process.

Sabine, in turn, heard stories similar to hers.

“So many people have told me how scared, depressed, isolated and hidden in their homes when their faces look like mine,” she said.

“I just wanted to come out and say, ‘Listen, you can get your life back. You can survive this. … If I can inspire a person through this journey, because I feel all these feelings, I’m so here for it.

“This place bothers me”

Sabine, who grew up in the Lake Tahoe area and has lived in Colorado for 29 years, called herself an “outdoor adventure girl” who rides horses, skis, runs and loves being outdoors. She suffered from sunburn as a child but has been careful to protect herself from the sun ever since, she said.

When a spot recently appeared on her nose, Sabine asked about it during her comprehensive skin exam earlier this year, but it didn’t raise any concerns at the time.

This photo shows the suspicious spot on Sabine's nose before the operation.
This photo shows the suspicious spot on Sabine’s nose before the operation.Courtesy of Kathy Sabine

In May, she was back at her dermatologist for advice on thinning hair. As she walked out, she pointed to the freckle again and said to the doctor, “This age spot on my nose bothers me. What do you think?”

It’s a classic example of the “doorknob phenomenon,” when a patient waits for the doctor to have his hand on the doorknob to leave the exam room and provide crucial information.

This time, a punch biopsy was planned.

The result: basal cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer that tends to grow slowly and isn’t usually life-threatening, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. But if not removed, it can deepen, form a large tumor and reach the bone below, the AAD warned. Basal cell carcinoma often develops on the head or neck and may look like a pimple, scar, or sore.

Two operations in one day

On July 8, Sabine underwent Mohs surgery, a procedure in which the surgeon removes skin from the affected area layer by layer until there are no more cancerous cells when the tissue is examined under the microscope.

The spot on her nose turned out to be hybrid basal cell squamous cell carcinoma, Sabine said. This second type of skin cancer is also not life-threatening and tends to grow slowly, but it can grow deep and form a tumor, noted the American Academy of Dermatology.

Surgeons also found and removed another squamous cell carcinoma on the bridge of his nose between his eyes. A third location was biopsied but found to be benign.

With three holes in her face, Sabine then underwent plastic surgery to reconstruct her nose using cartilage from her ear.

"The ear was the most painful of all," said Sabina. "They had to bolt it together."
“The ear was the most painful of all,” Sabine said. “They had to bolt it together.”Courtesy of Kathy Sabine

The resulting scars were startling. Sabine did not leave the house for the first three weeks while they were recovering.

When she finally came out, she was struck by how kind people were, she said.

Sabine has been candid about the aftermath of the surgery, posting photos of her scars.
Sabine has been candid about the aftermath of the surgery, posting photos of her scars.Courtesy of Kathy Sabine

The meteorologist has just been allowed to wear makeup and returned to television for the first time on Wednesday feeling “a bit anxious”. It will take several more months for the scars and swelling on his face to fade.

“But I work, I’m in public,” Sabine noted.

“I am allowed to exercise, allowed to ride horses. … I’m going to continue to live my best life, and that includes everything that happens on the outside.

Sabine returned to television work this week with barely noticeable scars.
Sabine returned to television work this week with barely noticeable scars.Courtesy of Kathy Sabine

Skin cancer in Colorado

After the event, Sabine is even more vigilant about the use of sunscreen and now avoids exposing herself to the sun on her face. She urged others to get regular skin checks and report spots that don’t look or feel right.

Colorado has the highest per capita rate of skin cancer in the nation, according to the University of Colorado Cancer Prevention and Control Program.

Intense sun at high altitudes may be a factor for the mountainous state, the Colorado Health Institute noted. This is because there is less atmosphere available to absorb ultraviolet radiation at higher altitudes.

Many sunny days combined with the state’s natural beauty also mean people flock outdoors and may not be adequately protected from UV rays.

“Skin cancer is a Colorado thing,” Sabine said. “I’m just grateful to have the opportunity and the platform to help spread the word about this.”

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