Tag Archives: Cancer

Sometimes, Cancer Isn’t Cured with Stitches

Yesterday I found out that a young woman who I was introduced to via social networking shortly after I was diagnosed with Malignant Melanoma had passed away from her cancer. She was only 40 and left behind a husband and two young sons, and her name is Dawn.

While my mole was simply removed with a wide-margin surgery, her treatment was to take out a couple of her lymph nodes in her groin to biopsy them as well along with the mole removal. Dawn’s treatment was considered successful after her second lymph node surgery, CT and PET scans in the winter of 2009, a full year before my diagnosis and treatment. She was instructed to get a mole check every three months; I went in every six.

Last February when she told her doctor she’d been having pain, he proactively ordered a scan even though she’d been given the all clear by her dermatologist. That’s when they discovered her cancer had returned. Then after some chemo treatment, they performed surgery just three weeks ago and basically found the tumors were inoperable. Last week she came home and began “planning visitations and playlists“.

Her story is both frightening similar and altogether different from mine. I don’t compare my situation her hers to bring attention to myself, but as a simple reminder to that I don’t believe that fate has anything to do with how our lives turn out. It’s simply luck, whether good or bad. I didn’t “deserve” getting cancer, and Dawn certainly didn’t “deserve” to die. A roll of dice has left me cancer-free (as far as I know), but her death has shaken me to the quick. In another six months, my diagnosis could be as equally dire. Like her, I look back on past symptoms (the severe breast pain; the bone-melting fatigue) and wonder if the doctors really did weigh in my past diagnosis.

I don’t want to harp on you, my friends, the seriousness and dangers of tanning, whether by bed or sun, but if my story of survival doesn’t convince you that you need to be sun-conscious, I hope that Dawn’s life and her legacy does.

I’m Tired of Being “One out of X”

My sister, who I haven’t seen for about six years, is visiting this summer with her kids from overseas. They live in the Middle East and her oldest daughter is in her tweens. My sister asked that I order a swimsuit that they picked out on-line that consisted of a rash guard and board shorts. Conservative, but not nearly as conservative as the one she packed with her.

I ordered the suit and then in a bone-head move that could only be contributed to being the daughter of a woman who is slipping swiftly and surely into senility, I’ve lost the shopping bag with the suit in it.

I KNOW, RIGHT?!!

I offered to take her shopping so we could find something else, but I was reminded it had to go to “here and here!” or else she’d have to wear the traditional swimsuit. My niece was rolling her eyes and giving me the neck-slashing signal behind her mother’s back, a “no way in hell am I wearing that!” move. I told her that she won’t feel too out-of-place. My swimsuit also went to “here and here!” on me, “because I can no longer be in the sun,” and Sparring Partner, hitch-hiking on the conversation corrected, “no, you don’t want to be in the sun.”

With guests in the house, I could only change the subject. But now I’m rerunning what he said in my mind and getting angry. Does he not realize I had skin cancer? Does he not realize that I will probably get it again, only sooner with sun exposure?? Does he not realize that after 40 years of exposing myself to the sun’s rays, I have to hope that I can spend the next 40 avoiding them?!

For the past several years, I’ve been dealing with shit statistics: “Infertility affects 1 in 6 couples,” and now I have this to contend with, “Malignant Melanoma kills 1 in 7 diagnosed with the cancer.” It was hard enough explaining to him how I felt being part of the first group. Am I going to be beating my head against a brick wall on the second one?

Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! (boo!)

When I get the mail, I read who it’s addressed to and then who it’s from. Saturday there was a letter addressed to me and I groaned. Another rejection letter to rip up in front of my daughter who laughs hysterically every time. I can’t believe I missed out on my 15 minutes of fucking fame by two years.

Then I noticed the return address. Huh, that’s odd, I thought. I hadn’t applied for anything with my dermatology clinic…oh…OH! I knew with that letter that it was good news because bad news warrants a phone call. I ripped open the envelope to find a one page letter with four separate boxes of information. Two of the boxes were checked.

“No cancer was found…” !!! Yippee! I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I sobbed in relief.

Here are those moles:

Inner Arm
Inner Thigh (aka The One-Haired Bastard)
Chest

The other section marked wasn’t quite as good, but not altogether bad:

“…an atypical mole – not 100% normal…” Dysplastic Nevus.

Of course I had to look up dysplastic nevus and really found nothing useful. I don’t fit the profile for someone at risk for dysplastic nevus, nor for malignant melanoma, but here I am. I tan easily and I don’t have a body full of freckles and moles and there’s absolutely no family history. My dermatologist told me during my exam last week that it would be easy to find unusual moles because I didn’t hardly have any. Also, dysplastic nevus usually means moles that are large and of different shades and margins, but this one? This bad baby was just a tiny little dot on the top of my foot. Of the moles biopsied, I was the least suspicious of this one:

Left Foot

Since my diagnosis of MM six months ago, I’ve seen updates from a couple of my friends about getting their moles checked. Whether it’s due to my diagnosis or not, I’m always glad to see that they are being pro-active. Get checked, even if there hasn’t been any changes to moles you may have. The worse part is you may have to get naked (I got to keep my underwear and bra on) in front of a young, good-looking doctor. And since I know many of you have had more intimate “exchanges” with medical professionals, this kind of visit will feel like walking around your home.

I already have my next appointment scheduled. Another six months. I can’t look at it as another six months I’ll be cancer-free. Instead, I can only look at this past six as such. The next six months will be once again full of uncertainty and worry. I just hope that I’ll luck out this next time and not have to get nekkid again for a whole year.

Six Months Later and I’m Right Back Where I Started

Yesterday was my six month appointment with my dermatologist. It was scheduled as a mole check, not necessarily a follow up to my surgery on the malignant melanoma in October. The scar has improved in appearance, but it still has the ability to make my friends pull back in horror and grimace when I show them. The edges are still rather purplish-red prompting the doc to suggest laser work to break down those blood vessels and lighten the scar’s edges if things don’t improve on their own in another three months. Due to lack of insurance – or a job – I’ll be stuck with red, angry margins for a while.

He then did a quick mole-check, literally scanning me from head to toe. He asked if I had any moles that I was concerned about and I showed him three, two of which he agreed should be biopsied, while the third was a wild card and he would biopsy anyway and eliminate it from future worries altogether. A fourth mole, a freckle really, on the top of my foot he marked with his pen to be sliced.

The nurse numbed the four areas quickly and efficiently and then he removed each and dropped them in their respective vials to be sent off to the lab. I should have the results by the end of next week. Then again, maybe not.

I was glad to get rid of the mole on my inner thigh (the one that looks the most suspicious). That fucker was growing a singular hair of bristle brush quality. I remember after my pregnancy with Aitch, once I could finally see that part of me again, the hair had sprouted to mythical proportions. I’m fairly certain a little boy named Jack was eyeballing it as a worthy challenge.

And now I wait again and hope for good news. My doctor was especially pleased when I told him that my swimsuit this year is one that covers me neck to hip and shoulders to forearm. A rashguard designed specifically for women with a built-in shelf-bra. Now I can stop taking those contortionist lessons that I had scheduled to help me apply sunscreen to my back with my feet.

Survivor

It was just a couple of months ago that I was diagnosed with malignant melanoma. It seems odd to even say or think the word cancer since in my case the diagnosis and the removal of it occurred within days of each other. In other words, could I really be a cancer survivor when I really don’t feel as if I ever had cancer?

Very shortly after I lost my job at the hospital two years ago, I found out one of my friends still working there was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer. They gave her six months to live. As of last week, she is still alive but in so much pain that she refuses to see anyone. The only treatment available to her at this point makes her violently ill and unable to function physically or mentally. Her family doesn’t know if she’ll make it through the holidays.

Last week we received word that Sparring Partner’s CousinP from Boston, the one who graciously gave up his free time to me while I was visiting there, was diagnosed with testicular cancer. We don’t know any more than that right now except that he has taken the news very, very hard.

S.P. told me I should give him a call and talk to him “about what we had in common.” Obviously, I understand where he was coming from but the suggestion was ludicrous because I just don’t feel as if I do have anything in common with him, just as I don’t know how to talk to my friend who is quite likely on her deathbed with cancer.

I had a cancerous growth. I had it removed. I don’t see myself as a cancer survivor and quite frankly, I’m sure many feel the same way towards those with this particular type of cancer…some might even say it’s a pseudo cancer.

I rarely think of it, except when I accidentally hit my leg against something or when Aitch demands to see my “big owie” (to which she always exclaims “Oooh! That’s a big owie!” and then kisses it to “make it better”). Sometimes I examine it while getting dressed. I stopped commenting out loud about how ugly the remaining scar is as S.P. would remind me, almost reprovingly, “The cancer was ugly. This (he would look pointedly at the hole in my leg) is not ugly.”

I appreciate his sentiment, but I guess I’m vain. The large scar seems to be the “pay off” for what seems to be a curable (for the time being) cancer; simply cut it out much like a rotten spot from an apple.

My friend with terminal cancer is a survivor, regardless of what comes in the next few weeks. My husband’s cousin will be a survivor because of the uncertainty he will face. If I am lucky (very, very lucky) my cancer will not return and I will never have to perceive myself as a survivor.

Moon Walker

Lucky you. Bedrest means I can update.

And oddly, now that I have the time, I don’t have much to say. Maybe it’s because I’m distracted by my DVR’d Desperate Housewives.

Still crazy sore. My palms and shoulders hurt from bracing my weight on the walker. Did I mention I’m using a walker?!

I finally got some good news just a bit ago. The second mole biopsied from my left foot came back negative for melanoma. Yippee! And the wide excision on the right leg’s tissue also came back negative. Double yippee!!

Did you know there’s a right and a wrong way to put together a walker? The wrong way means that when you try to go through standard width doorways, you can scratch and gouge up the woodwork. As the picture shows, the wheels are currently on the inside of the walker. That was after Sparring Partner repositioned them from the outside. Just in case you ever have to use a walker.

I have also improved my moonwalking via the walker. Our master bath has a separate commode area and there’s no room for me to go forward into it and then turn around. Oh no. I have to back in. And since I can’t put full weight on either foot, I moonwalk. To the toilet.

I. Am. Awesome.

Also, I’m a bit looped on my meds. Wish you were here!

I’m Learning Too Late That Baby Oil Does Not Have An SPF

Dr. Drapenscrape didn’t keep me waiting long in the exam room. I was sitting on a chair and he pulled the other up next to mine and sat down, my medical file in his hand. I knew going into this appointment that the mole hadn’t been benign, but to see it on the pathology report’s Final Diagnosis…well, I don’t know how to describe what I felt.

Malignant Melanoma

Zee Mole has now got himself a fancy new name and a lot more respect.

Dr. Drapenscrape went over the findings in detail, including the following important points about Zee Mole, which will now be “MM” for brevity’s sake:

  1. It has a depth of .6mm. My doctor’s policy has been anything with a depth of .75mm or greater is a ticket for an automatic CT and PET (Positron Emission Tomography) scans. Mine, at .6 is right at the point Dr. Drapenscrape’s orders the scans if he’s feeling a bit of hypochondria. His words. This measurement is the Breslow Measurement.
  2. It is at Clark’s Level IV on a scale of 1 to 5. Not to be confused with the stages of cancer, this just tells how deep into the dermis the MM goes. Clark’s is not used as often as it had in the past, and according to Dr. Drapenscrape, it will become obsolete by 2012.
  3. Add in the Mitotic Index. That’s the growth of the MM cells. It also has a scale: 0 – 3. The path report indicates mine is at a 1. So there’s growth, but slow, however…there’s growth.

Take these three facts, all gray and borderline, and add them to my age (which I am considered “young” – Finally!), and we have a situation that would lead my doc to err on the side of caution. Why wait 10 years to find out that things are way more serious?

Tomorrow I meet with an oncologist in The Metro for a consult. We will then schedule a Sentinel Lymph Node biopsy that will be more definitive as far as stages, if there’s even one I’m at. He may decide that I should go ahead and have the CT and PET scans prior to the results, or we may hold off.

The words “survival rates” came up and I felt the first real moments of panic settle in my chest. Googling what I have so far has added to that fear: “most serious form of skin cancer” and “deadliest form of skin cancer”. Fuck you, Google.

It’s not just skin cancer, kids, it’s cancer. And I have it.