Melanoma- it’s not just skin cancer

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 I started writing about my journey with cancer last year, but only recently had the courage to actually finishing writing about it and decide to put it out there for the world to read. I think some part of me was embarrrsed, or ashamed of how people would see me. But I am finally ready to share my cancer journey.

It all started in March 2019 when I went away with a friend of mine. My back was so sore and I was having trouble even enjoying  our trip to Jamaica. As we were in our resort room; slathering sunscreen all over ourselves, she noticed a bluefish black mark on my back. “This doesn’t look like it use too”, she said. We’ve been away a few times now so she knows my back pretty well. I asked her to take a pictures of it and didn’t think much of it after that. When I returned from my trip I had an appointment with my massage therapist, who also mentioned that there was a mark on my back that she didn’t recognize and told me I should probably check it out. As I was leaving the clinic I called my mom and asked her to make a referral to my dermatologist. Thankfully my mom works for a specialist and was able to pull some strings and get me into my dermatologist within 3 days. This is pretty unheard of. I went to my appointment not really worried. What was the worst that could happen? My dermatologist told me it looked “strange” but didn’t look like cancer so not to worry. So I didn’t. Well, they were wrong. They told me that I had stage 2 malignant melanoma and that I would need to be referred to an oncologist. “Wtf? Are you kidding me”. On top of that, the real kicker was that the pathologist reviewed my biopsy results  from 2 years before, and they made a mistake. I had been living with cancer for 2 years and had no idea. You can imagine the shock.

A few weeks later I met with my oncologist and we scheduled surgery for the removal of my tumour, and a sentinel node biopsy.  Basically they were going to take some lymph nodes out from my armpit to make sure that the cancer didn’t spread. The weekend leading up to surgery were tough. I thought a lot about what the outcome would be and if the cancer had spread. How could it not? I’ve been living with this for 2 years. I was mad. How could they not have caught this earlier? After some research about this specific type of melanoma, I found out it is a rare form of melanoma that presents similar to a regular mole…. even under a microscope. Most of the time is goes undetected until it has spread. GREAT! As much as I was scared and pissed off, I had to focus on the positive side that the doctors think the caught it earlier enough that it had not spread.

The surgery was rough. I had a terrible reaction to the anaesthesia and was violently ill. The made an incision from the middle of my back that wraps around to the front of my armpit. Even though the tumour was small, they have to take out a large portion of skin to ensure that nothing will spread after surgery. My oncologist told us that he had got all the cancer from my back but wouldn’t know about my lymph nodes until the pathologist looked at them. I waited 3 painful weeks for the results. They found a small amount of cancer in my lymph nodes. This now moved me to stage 3.
In the coming days I would have a pet scan and mri to see if the cancer had spread anywhere else. They found a few spots on the scans but ultimately the oncologists have decided the best form of treatment for me is watch and wait”. I will continue to have my ultrasounds and scans every 3 months to make sure that the cancer hasn’t spread. I felt very uneasy about their decision when we had first discussed this option. Now after having met with them sereral times and done my research, this really is the safest form of treatment for me. Treatment for malignant melanoma is extremely dangerous and even life threatening. So whatever leftover cancel cells i might have in me is safer than the treatment options.

In November  during on of my checkups, they found a small nodule in my left breast. The doctor did a I biopsy and the results were somewhat inconclusive. Because they are unsure as to what kind of lump it is, and my history with cancer, my oncologist has suggested I have a lumpectomy and remove the lump. So in the next coming months I will not only have knee surgery, I will once again go down to Princess Matagaret and have surgery once again. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that this will be the last time I see the inside of the operating room.
  My friends and family have been so incredibly supportive this past year, and I was also able to reconnect with a childhood friend who was diagnosed with melanoma a number of years ago.

Its now the middle of May, and thanks to Covid 19 I have not have the lumpectomy. I’m waiting for my next scan in June and then to discuss my next surgery with my oncologist. This journey is far from over, but my team of doctors have been amazing and supportive.

The following is something that was posted on one of the support groups I am in and it really hit home. 

“Imagine you’re going about your day, minding your own business, when someone sneaks up behind you… 

You feel something press up against the back of your head, as someone whispers in your ear. 

“Sssshhhhh…. don’t turn around. Just listen. I am holding a gun against the back of your head. I’m going to keep it there. I’m going to follow you around like this every day, for the rest of your life.” 

“I’m going to press a bit harder, every so often, just to remind you I’m here, but you need to try your best to ignore me, to move on with your life. Act like I’m not here, but don’t you ever forget… one day I may just pull the trigger… or maybe I won’t. Isn’t this going to be a fun game?” 

This is what it is like to be diagnosed with cancer. Any STAGE of cancer. Any KIND of cancer. Remission does not change the constant fear. It never truly goes away. It’s always in the back of your mind. 

Please, if you have a loved one who has ever been diagnosed with cancer, remember this. They may never talk about it or they may talk about it often. Listen to them. 

They aren’t asking you to make it better. They want you to sit with them in their fear… their sadness… their anger… just for the moment. That’s it. 

Don’t try to talk them out of how they are feeling. That doesn’t help. It will only make them feel like what they are going through is being minimized. Don’t remind them of all the good things they still have in their life. They know. They are grateful. 

But some days they are more aware of that gun pressing into the back of their head and they need to talk about it. Offer them an ear.” 

XOXO Heather

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So I did Something Crazy!
Melanoma- it’s not just skin cancer