WARNING: Some people might be disturbed by the graphic photos. Mike felt it was important to tell the story visually as well and through his voice. The story also contains bad language.
The Alternative Commentary Collective's Mike Lane has a new gag to share about the hole in his head – except this one is deadly serious, as he relates over a few overdue beers.
Mike Lane got a wee bump in the middle of his forehead last year. It wasn't angry like a pimple, or itchy like a bite. It wasn't painful, it didn't hurt to touch. It just hung around like an uninvited yet harmless guest.
It's a cyst, said his GP.
It's a cyst, said his dad, also a doctor.
It's a unicorn horn, said his five-year-old daughter Pippa.
"We found that quite amusing at the time," says Lane, "then all of a sudden it wasn't quite as funny."
For reasons of vanity alone, Lane - Radio Hauraki's content director - decided to get the unicorn horn removed.
His doctor agreed to cut it out. After dealing with daily waiting rooms full of rheumy patients, GPs usually embrace the opportunity to do some cutting.
So he pumped some local into the swollen area and started slicing.
Human instinct is finely tuned when it comes to danger. Lane's antenna was pricked when the doctor, hacking away at his forehead, said: "That's a bit weird."
Samples were taken for further analysis. The hole was then stitched up as best it could be.
Mild nerves kicked in about then. Lane might have engaged a predominantly young male audience over the years with untold variations of cock-and-balls jokes but he's far from stupid.
In the back of his mind he knew there wouldn't be this much fuss over a harmless little bump.
Ten days later his phone rang.
"I've got your test results," his doctor said. "Do you want to come in?"
It wasn't actually a question.
Dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans is not your normal type of cancer. It's not even your normal type of skin cancer.
It's definitely not a cyst.
It's rare; literally a one-in-a-million cancer. In the United States it is far more commonly found in African-Americans (there is no distinct racial profile in New Zealand because the cases are so few and far between). It is most commonly found on the torso.
Lane is neither African-American nor affected on his torso.
It is not believed to be caused by the sun but rather by mutations of the chromosomes between 17 and 22.
"It's quite funny," says Lane, not laughing, "but you have this movie-scene idea about what it must be like to receive the news you have cancer, but for me it was just so matter of fact – maybe because I could see it coming.
"My only words to the doctor were: 'How do I get rid of this mother******?' "
DFSP forms in the deep layers of the skin and burrows deeper, spreading tentacle-like through the flesh. It wasn't until he had cancer that Lane realised there was a bit more flesh on the forehead than he had credited.
If he'd waited a little longer, the tentacles would have started working its way into his eye socket. It was a good catch.
The other good news was that type of cancer mutated slowly, did not often metastasise and was rarely fatal. It can be cut out and treated without the need for chemotherapeutic drugs. Melanoma, by contrast, is fast-moving and aggressively metastasises.
The bad news was that the recommended Mohs surgery took place while you were fast awake.
The good news was that the specialist, an Englishman called Mark Izzard, had a keen sense of humour that Lane liked to think was because of familial ties to comedian Eddie Izzard (note, they are not related).
The bad news was there was nothing droll about the process, which included cutting ever-increasing circles out of your head and testing them live for cancer cells.
"I had two days of that. It was unpleasant," Lane deadpans. "You could hear them scraping my skull. They got most but not all of it so two days later I was in hospital having surgery under general."
To make matters worse, the radio in the surgery was playing The Breeze – "obviously the station to lose consciousness to" – which was finally changed under duress to Hauraki.
"The last thing I remember listening to was James McOnie doing a sports report that was absolute trash," he says.
The surgeon took another margin but also burnt the outer table of the skull because there had been a positive reading for cancer there, too.
WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT
The wound was spectacular and when a compression bandage was stapled to his head his normally stoic wife Anna had to take a moment for herself in another room.
Christmas and the next few months were a mixture of gross and frustrating. He'd moved a decent slog-sweep's distance from the beach but couldn't swim. He had also been given instructions to avoid sweating just as Auckland started baking in one of its greatest summers.
It should have been a holiday period dedicated to Narrow Neck beach, cricket and Liberty Knife Party IPAs, but he couldn't swim, his beloved Black Caps "laid a turd" in Australia and he was on a high-protein, alcohol-free diet.
Peak heinousness, he says, was reached when "ooze" from a leaking bandage dripped over his dinner plate one night.
"Yeah, the novelty had well and truly worn off by then."
Because bandanas were not a normal part of his fashion aesthetic, he'd often be greeted with: "Are you going for the pirate look?" Or: "Who do you think you are, Peter FitzSimons?" after the former Wallaby turned columnist and raconteur.
It was here that eldest son Ralph, 7, who had taken to calling his dad "Piehead", proved to be a godsend.
"He was a real icebreaker. People would look at me and Ralph would shout: 'He's got CANCER! He's a got a MASSIVE HOLE IN HIS HEAD!"
He wasn't embellishing it by much. Under the bandage Lane had a bovine lattice upon which flesh granulated to partially fill the gap, but he did worry that the rest of his life would be spent with a deformation on his head that looked like a clean divot taken by a well-struck seven-iron.
He would need a graft.
The first time I encountered Lane was much like the last time we met. It was reporter and subject minus the beers and bandages.
It was a story of dubious news value, involving the purchase of a ball believed to be used in the Underarm match of 1981.
It was clear back then that he and his great mate Paul Ford, the founders of the Beige Brigade, had an eye for an angle and weren't allergic to self-promotion.
Over the years, he'd continued to be a goldmine for quirky stories and cricket gossip. He'd find new ways of embarrassing himself both for good causes and for the hell of it, like the time he became the first man to commentate a cricket match while receiving a vasectomy (all captured on camera).
A few years back, after the merger of TRN and APN created NZME, we found ourselves in the same building; me still at the Royal New Zealand Herald, he by a more circuitous route at the less regal but iconic Radio Hauraki.
By then we were mates. He even managed to get me on a month-long Lions Tour junket to report on… him. Well, not just him but the entire Alternative Commentary Collective experience.
Most of what I would subsequently write was true but there were omissions, like the "boring" bits where they talked about increasing awareness around men's health.
The focus was mental health and Lane's interest in this space manifested itself in Hauraki's "No Talk Day" in August, where the station had no talking to encourage men to start a conversation among themselves about wellbeing.
Lane looks better now. Better than he did a week or so ago anyway when the graft taken from too near his "groinal region" for his liking was still knitting into his head and he had a vacuum pack attached to drain out all the fluid.
He can wear a cap now, not a bandanna, and had a bonus facelift thrown in with the graft as his hairline has been forever altered.
Lane's summer has prompted him to rethink men's health. Yes, the mental health aspect is important, but it has to be allied to greater awareness of physical health.
He knew the small lump on his head wasn't a pimple, he was pretty certain it wasn't the horn of a unicorn, but he was all too happy to accept it was a cyst.
It was, he repeats, only personal vanity that made him take action and discover what lay beneath, in all its horrible glory. He knows there are thousands of men who would have let it ride for a lot longer and in the process would have lost their eye or, if it burrowed into the brain, maybe even their life.
"Ever since I've started sharing my photos amongst my mates, I've had a 100 per cent strike rate getting them to clinics to get stuff they're not sure about checked out. I'm pretty happy about that."
His message is simple: If you have something you're not sure about, have it seen. Don't wish it away; that never works. Don't wait until your summer is spent looking like a "landmine went off" in your head. Get regular check-ups. Look after yourself.
It's no laughing matter.