Forty-one-year-old Rhonda Craig of Lake Stevens, Washington is a no-baloney-type woman. Good thing. She has a tough job as a Washington State Trooper. She can find herself speeding along on a remote highway at night to pull over someone who is usually law abiding and compliant or someone who could be a deadly threat.
Craig, a mother of three boys with the youngest age 4, is used to facing challenges. She is made of tough stuff. She also is a woman of action. So when a lump showed up on her neck about three years ago, a year after the birth of her third boy, she wanted to get clear information about what it was.
First her gynecologist and then the ENT doctor she was referred to said there was no reason to worry. But worry was simmering inside Craig, as her mother had had three cancers and died from the disease, and other cancers had run in her family. Nevertheless, these doctors said they couldn’t imagine cancer at that location on her neck.
The ENT did a biopsy. It was negative for cancer. No melanoma, the biggest worry since malignant melanoma, which typically starts as a black spot on the skin, can be aggressive as it spreads to organs throughout the body.
Craig continued to worry and there was a second biopsy. Again negative. No sign of cancer.
Her husband, also a state trooper, was a Marine reservist who had been put on active duty. He was in Iraq, ready for battle.
Craig embarked on a battle of her own. She told the doctors she wanted the lump cut out. And she told herself it just might be cancer even though she had been assured it wasn’t.
Her intuition turned out to be right. The pathology report on the lump was what she feared: melanoma. And a follow-up PET/CT scan showed the cancer had spread to lymph nodes and her hip. She was stage IV.
Craig’s case shows how biopsies, whether done correctly or not, have limitations. They show the cells from one spot. But is cancer right next door? In this case the answer was yes, and time had been lost.
Craig had surgery – her husband flew home. And she had a range of treatments – immunotherapy, T-cell therapy, in at least two clinical trials – and more surgery.