Wednesday, July 13, 2011
That Damn Freckle... PART I
That June, my mom noticed something on my left calf when my parents were visiting me in San Diego for the US Open. From across the room she saw that damn freckle & asked me how long it had been there... I told her I'd seen it when I was shaving my legs but hadn't really thought anything of it. I mean, I knew the danger signs & it didn't match up to any of them... it wasn't assymetrical, raised, large in diameter, bleeding, etc, etc. In fact, the only thing that made that damn freckle different from the hundreds of other freckles on my body was that it was black... all my other freckles were various shades of brown. But, for some reason that damn freckle gave my mom a bad feeling -- & my mom doesn't freak out about anything -- so I promised her I'd get it looked at as soon as I could.
So, on Friday, July 11, after a carefree, sun-filled vacation with my ex-boyfriend, I went to see my primary care physician for the first time. Lucky for me he was not only very cool but also very thorough... AND, I had great health insurance. I showed him that damn freckle & nervously laughed as I told him the story of my mom's worrisome discovery. Based on the lack of danger signs, he too thought it was nothing of concern. But -- & I'm thankful everyday for this but -- he said, "If it'll make your mom feel better, I can biopsy it." So, he shaved that damn freckle right off, put a band-aid on my leg & sent me on my way. I had a happy hour to go to after all... & that band-aid wasn't going to stop me!
A week & a half went by & still no word from the doctor... they always say "no news is good news" but something just didn't seem right. Finally, on Wednesday, 7/23, I got a call from the nurse on my way home from work... "The doctor would like you to come in ASAP so he can review your biopsy results with you." I knew that was a bad sign. I started to panic & begged her to tell me what was going on. Why did they need me to come in? Should I be worried? Why couldn't she just tell me everything was ok? After insisting she couldn't tell me over the phone, she put me on hold. I guess she got the doc's permission to tell me because when she came back on the line she said the 3 words that would haunt me til this day... "IT'S A MELANOMA."
The next week was a total blur... breaking the news to my family, lots of crying, scheduling my first oncologist appointment, shame, emotional phone calls with family & friends, internet research, anger, a likely stage I diagnosis, sleepless nights, denial & complete & utter confusion. How can I have cancer? What does this all mean? How bad is it? Does stage I mean I shouldn't be worried? Aren't I too young for this? Is it my fault? What's the oncologist going to say? Does cancer automatically mean chemo? Will I be allowed to be in the sun again? What if it spreads? Am I going to die? My imagination filled my mind & heart with fear that took me on an emotional rollercoaster I couldn't have prepared myself for no matter how hard I tried.
Friday, August 1 was my surgery... the oncologist cut a chunk out of my leg, both around & under where that damn freckle had once been, just to make sure the surrounding tissue was clear. Fortunately there was no pain... I would just be left with a dent in my leg & a lovely scar. After a very long week of waiting for results, we were given good news: CLEAR MARGINS. It was confirmed as stage I melanoma, the cancer cells hadn't spread internally & my lymph nodes were all healthy. I was physically "cancer free"... little did I know that emotionally the cancer would stick with me for the next 3 years...
Stay tuned for PART II...