My melanoma experience started on March 7th, 2011 with my first ever visit to a dermatologist. Actually it started before that; when my husband told me that a spot on my back looked “bad” for several months. A new baby and a new legal career just kept getting in the way. But melanoma made its own way in when I got a voicemail from the dermatologist herself on March 10th. She asked me to call her cellphone if I didn’t reach her at the office. Who does that? A scared doctor does. I smiled through my professional head shots being taken before I called. The words out of the doctor’s mouth seemed like they were for someone else, not me. I am a 32 year old who swore off tanning beds a few years ago after I got married. I just had a baby. I just started working in a law office. I couldn’t have skin cancer; but I did.
I was scheduled to meet with a surgeon in a few days. The doctor they usually recommend was out for Spring Break so they went with another one. Whoa, slow down please. No, there is no slowing down when melanoma comes to town. You have to move faster than it does and it can move fast. There was a whirlwind of tests and meetings and all I wanted to do was plan my daughter’s first birthday party in two weeks. I met the surgeon on Tuesday and had my first scheduled surgery on Wednesday. Once at the hospital, the tests suggested that the melanoma may have spread to my lymph nodes so not only would they be taking a chunk from my back, but they would be going in through my armpit to remove a lymph node for biopsy. Wow, it hurt. I never thought I would be able to brush my hair again because I couldn’t lift my arm. Sleeping was a new chore with the pulsing pain from my back too. Now the bad news; the lymph node had a tumor and they would have to go back in and remove the rest of the lymph nodes from my armpit.
Scars: Two surgeries later, I was left with a 7 inch slash across my back and 2 inches under my arm. They hurt and I cried at the sight of them. The worst was the drainage tube sticking out of my side that helped the fluid in my arm drain since the lymph nodes were no longer there for to do it for me. My husband got to drain it for me twice a day and check to make sure it didn’t smell funny. I couldn’t move my arm without pain, I couldn’t take care of my daughter; I couldn’t do much of anything and it was about to get worse.
Walking into the infusion room for the first time was one of the hardest moments of my life. I would be visiting there for a few hours each day for four weeks to take interferon by IV. Interferon is made by your body naturally to fight off the bad stuff; like when you have the flu. It makes you feel like you have the flu too; times ten. The first night was okay, I had only mild chills and fever, but by the third night I thought I was going to die from the pain of the chills. After four weeks, the flu-like symptoms and daily needles didn’t bother me but I could barely stand, let alone walk because of the muscle weakness.
After the four week intensive infusion I have 11 months of giving myself a shot three times a week. I thought it would be easier on my system but I was wrong. I still had all of the physical side-effects, but now I had the mental turmoil too. Depression set in hard and fast and I experienced “chemo brain” for weeks. My brain didn’t feel connected to my body, I couldn’t think full thoughts so I couldn’t speak full sentences. Before, all I could do was lie in bed and watch t.v. and now I couldn’t even understand what was going on there.
Quality of Life: husband, child, work, friends
As a mom, I couldn’t do much of anything for my one year old; no driving to daycare, carrying her around, even reading was difficult at times. As a wife, I couldn’t even have a conversation with my husband when he got home. As an attorney, I couldn’t think or speak for my clients, so I couldn’t work. I didn’t leave the bed much and I found out how isolating cancer can be. Friends don’t want to come over and see you sick or call and bother you; and most days I preferred living under my rock-but it was sad and lonely for sure.
I’ve missed out on time with my daughter. She has seen the sand at the beach three times now and I have never been there to see it. I have had to stop taking clients at work, which has hurt professionally and financially. I will never be able to get life insurance and health insurance won’t be easy either. My dentist says the interferon has already won me several new cavities and who knows what other long-term effects on my body are taking place.
Several of my friends have gone to their dermatologist. Some have had spots removed as a safety precaution and one caught melanoma at stage one. She now only has a two inch scar after one surgery, but does not have to go through any more treatment.