Sunday, October 3, 2010
I've been busy tearing up old wool sweaters to make new flowers this week. Since it's October, I want to share a pink one with you today. It's the month to remember those touched by breast cancer. I actually find myself thinking of those touched by any type of cancer, not just breast cancer. Touched isn't the correct word, body slammed is more like it.
I'm a melanoma survivor. It's been seven years since I first heard that dreaded malignant word. Honestly, it's taken me this long to be able to write about it. I can't begin to describe the range of emotions attached to such a diagnosis. I'm one of the very lucky ones. I noticed this little mole on my knee change shape over the course of a two week long car trip. I was sitting there in the passenger seat for long stretches of time and noticed what used to be a light colored circular mole had turned into a little heart shaped mole. I actually thought it was kind of cute at first. Then it developed a third little round up between the two halves of the heart shape. It was definitely asymmetrical, but had none of the other warning signs of skin cancer. The speed with which it changed scared me. When we got home from our vacation I called to schedule an appointment with the dermatologist.
He honestly didn't think it was anything. He actually showed me photos of what to look for, what skin cancer is supposed to look like. I told him I didn't care, that I wanted it removed. It worried me. I really think he removed it to humor me. In just a few days time I got a phone call from a surgeon's office asking to schedule me for surgery to remove a malignant melanoma. That's how I found out. My doctor was on vacation and the doc on call didn't follow up. It was such a body slam. I had no idea what to expect.
It was a very long weekend of researching what I could online. My biggest fear was not being here to raise my son. He was only in 3rd grade at the time, just a little guy. The statistics for melanoma are quite frightening. It's in the handful of types of cancer you never want to have. You can't get rid of your skin; it's everywhere. The phrase "comfortable in her own skin" no longer applied to me.
My mom drove me in for the surgery day. It was an outpatient surgery and I was awake for the whole thing. They gave me a local anesthetic and did a wide excision to remove all the tissue around the area. The goal is clean margins. I referred to it as my knee lift. That knee used to be a little thinner than the other one. They look about the same now. That was my whole treatment plan because the melanoma was in situ, which means it was on top and hadn't grown large enough to have a stage or put me at big risk of it going other places in the body. I lived for a long time in fear that they missed one little cell. Rational or not, that scared me silly.
I am forever tied to my dermatologist. We get together twice a year, I take off my clothes and he inspects me from head to toe. I'm a bit of a patchwork of small scars where he's removed other suspicious looking moles over the years. We talk about our family vacations, music, our kids, etc. His nurse and I share stories about our hair color which has changed over the years for both of us. Once a year I also get to have blood drawn and go to the room with all the disney posters so the radiologist can take a photo of my lungs. I just did all of this last week again. I also had a mammogram on the same day.
I'm walking proof that early detection is the key to surviving. You also have to be your own advocate. If something isn't right with your body, keep talking until somebody listens to you. If I hadn't insisted, I may not be here today to share my story. I'm very lucky indeed.