How to Reduce Anxiety Before Surgery in San Diego

Kathleen Lisson
4 min readApr 5, 2017

By Kathleen Lisson, CMT, CLT (CAMTC #70128)

How to Reduce Anxiety Before Surgery in San Diego

“Basal Cell Carcinoma”

Those three words spoken by my dermatologist as she shined a bright light and peered at my right cheek felt like loose sand being stolen from under my feet by an undertow.

“I’ll take a biopsy to make sure”

Carcinoma, I thought dully. Carcinoma. Both my parents had died from cancer, so I knew what the word meant.

I had skin cancer.

The next ten minutes: scraping of the pimple that had never healed on my cheek, then an explanation of how I would book surgery that went over my head. I asked if it would be written on a sheet of paper — “I’m just not thinking clearly right now.” My Derm smiled, “Yes.”

I didn’t know that that sheet was just the beginning of the paper trail that cancer created. Even a simple skin cancer, the ‘no big deal,’ the ‘we get hundreds of cases a month’ it’s just surgery type of cancer.

It was decided — I would get an outpatient procedure, booked in the late afternoon, an operation called Mohs surgery. No chemotherapy, no radiation.

One day I would have cancer, the next I wouldn’t.

Maybe I would have been fine, maybe I would have been as relaxed as other people who take a small operation like this one in stride. Maybe.

But I made one big mistake — I Googled Mohs Surgery.

Then I waited until it was late at night, after my concerned, loving husband had gone to sleep and I searched on Youtube for “Mohs surgery cheek.”

That’s when the anxiety started, an empty levitating heaviness in the pit of my stomach and pressing tightness in my heart.

All I could think of was being permanently disfigured.

Instead of imagining a healthy recovery, I was mentally preparing myself for the worst — and giving myself a huge case of anxiety.

Post-op visit to my dermatologist after skin cancer surgery

Hello, my name is Kathleen Lisson and I am a Meditation Teacher and Board Certified Massage Therapist in San Diego, CA. I specialize in helping people prepare for and recover from plastic, orthopedic and reconstructive surgery.

Why do I have such a passion for helping others get back to living their life after surgery? I have had both really good operations and much more traumatic surgery experiences, and I spent time last year thinking deeply about what happened differently in each situation to make my experience so different.

I had reconstructive surgery almost a decade ago after a skiing accident and felt completely at ease because I intuitively had positive thoughts about my recovery. In contrast, the 2016 surgery to remove skin cancer from my face didn’t go so well because I spent time looking at worst-case scenario Youtube videos instead of thinking positively.

Scar a few weeks after Mohs Surgery for Skin Cancer on the cheek

Whenever I have a traumatic experience, I try to find a way to use it in a positive way to help others. After my surgery and recovery were underway, I searched for the answers I didn’t find before my operation — how can people facing surgery reduce anxiety and keep their mind focused on healing?

I was very fortunate to find Peggy Huddleston’s Prepare for Surgery, Heal Faster book earlier this year. Huddleston’s method of focusing on positive imagery before surgery has resulted in patients reducing their anxiety levels before surgery and using less pain medication and recovering faster after their operation. The power of focusing on personalized positive imagery has been documented in research studies at the Lahey Clinic (Tufts University Medical School), New England Baptist Hospital (Tufts University Medical School) and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (Harvard Medical School).

After reading her book, I jumped at the chance to personally train with Huddleston and I now offer a workshop in San Diego based on the methods and research in Peggy Huddleston’s Prepare for Surgery, Heal Faster book. This one hour program provides San Diegans facing surgery with the many of the tools we need to use personalized positive imagery to help reduce anxiety before an operation.

I know how anxiety-provoking surgery can be. Invest an hour of your time to learn how to use personalized positive imagery, family and friends and your surgical team to improve your recovery from plastic, orthopedic or reconstructive surgery in San Diego.

To find a list of upcoming workshops, visit



Kathleen Lisson

San Diego lymphedema therapist, Massage CE provider. Author, Plastic Surgery Recovery Handbook & Lipedema Treatment Guide, Stress Reduction for Lymphedema.