August 1st I proudly celebrated my 3-year "cancer-versary"... 3 years since melanoma entered my life, 3 years since my surgery & 3 years of being cancer-free! I've been waiting for the right time to tell you PART II of my story... well, it's time.
Cancer changes you... PERIOD.
Post-surgery: My body was clear of any cancer, so I was "ok"... right? I could just go back to my life like nothing happened... right? Everyone congratulated me & simply moved on with their lives. Meanwhile I was stuck in a dark, lonely, unfamiliar place. At age 30, I was already a statistic... I had had cancer. Where did that put me in the scheme of the world? Was I supposed to feel normal now? And, what the hell is normal after cancer anyway?
Was I a victim or just unlucky? I didn't have to go through chemo or radiation because it was stage 1 cancer, so I didn't feel "worthy" of people's pity. But, I had still received a cancer diagnosis & I still had to live with the fact that there was a 1 in 20 chance that damn freckle could pop up again in the same place, or worse, internally... so I did feel i was entitled to a sense of "why me?"
Would I live in the dark the rest of my life? I lived in sunny San Diego & suddenly I couldn't just enjoy the sun like everyone else. I was pissed off & paranoid. Why can't I layout at the beach? How much sun is too much? Will I be pale forever? As vain as it sounds, I didn't realize how much those beloved tan lines were a part of my everyday life & my self esteem until that option was taken away from me.
Over the last 3 years, however, I've been coming to terms with all this & I have found ways to shed a positive light on my cancer experience. I've discovered & immersed myself in amazing organizations like American Cancer Society Relay for Life, Stupid Cancer & mAsskickers Foundation (the brains behind this blog). I've had the honor of meeting the most kickass group of young Survivors & cancer advocates & I have gained so much perspective & inspiration from their friendships... you guys know who you are!!
I've allowed myself to heal not only physically, but emotionally as well. I realized that what I went through was worthy of all the anger, fear & sadness that followed. I no longer feel the need to downplay the fact that I had stage 1 cancer & I've found strength in knowing that I beat it! I feel united with anyone who's ever heard the words "you have cancer" & I have made it my personal mission to stand by them, support them & honor them in every way I possibly can. And, most importantly, I have embraced the fact that thanks to that damn freckle I AM A SURVIVOR & I am damn proud of it!!
Cancer changed me... PERIOD.
"That Damn Freckle... PART I" - July 13, 2011
It's hard for me to simplify the last 3 years of my life... so, if you're reading this I sincerely appreciate your willingness to hear PART I of my story. It was the Summer of 2008 & I had been happily living & working in San Diego for almost 2 years. Life was good... 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 asymmetrical, 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 worrysome 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...