Alright so I was probably celebrating a cancer free diagnosis early.
I recognized the missed call phone number and my heart sank.
I’m not sure why I wasn’t waiting for a call this time. Maybe I was just so sure it was gone I didn’t think they would even need to call.
It took me by surprise.
I carefully dialed the number and was transferred to a nurse. It seemed like forever in silence waiting on hold.
I had no idea I was holding my breath until she said the pathology results came back as a scar. All clear for the original Melanoma! I let out a dramatic breath and smiled as big as I probably ever have. I thanked her for her time and said something about it being great news.
It is great news.
The best news.
It almost makes the pain and bruising a forgotten memory. Almost.
I am home from my 2nd out patient surgery to remove melanoma, the deadly skin cancer from my shoulder.
It’s been a day so far.
My anxiety has been out of control, waiting for this last round of flesh removal. Nightmares and mood swings and desperate conversations better saved for when you aren’t fresh out of a cancer diagnosis have been my reality for the last 2 weeks.
First thing this morning my first round of stitches were removed and the area around the initial incision was removed … just to be safe.
The doctor was amazing, literally the best of the best and he made me feel totally at ease after the initial honesty session.
Our talk went something like this:
“This looks like it healed up really well. I didn’t think I would see you back in here, I didn’t want to tell you when you were here but I was sure we would have to send you out.”
He looks me straight in the eyes and continues this heart to heart …
“I was sure you would need a lymph node check, and that means injecting a dye around the area and doing exploratory surgery. That would mean a lot of scarring. I wanted to spare you an initial large one.”
So … he thought for sure it had grown to a stage of disaster and wanted to spare me the fear and extra pain of a larger, deeper incision.
He didn’t want to scare me by telling me when he removed the spot … the spot he thought for sure would be sending me straight to the cancer specialist. He didn’t want to tell me right away.
At this point I’m glad he didn’t. I was already a mess. I can’t imagine if he had told me honestly what he thought in the beginning.
I don’t care about the pain or the scar. I care about being prepped for possible death.
My belly flopped like a fish out of water. I started to see spots and tried desperately to breath deeply and stay calm, at least on the outside.
He had me hop onto the medical table and began the round of local anesthetic. This was painful in itself, a freshly unstiched incision surrounded by stinging injections. Once complete I took position face down into the pillow and waited for the final procedure to be over.
I could feel the tugging and dabbing, I could smell the cauterization and hear the slight sound of sizzle next to my face. It was terrifying and amazing at the same time.
The doctor joked about how many stitches I wanted, he said he aimed to please. We laughed when I admitted I wanted enough to look super bad ass … he said it would be no problem 10 on the underside and 18 on the top.
All mine in honor of my battle. I’ll take them. So much better than any alternative.
I have a chest x-ray, stick removal and a date in 3 months for a body check in my future.
He said he wouldn’t try to tell me to stay out of the sun but that I should be careful and always wear sunscreen. My diagnosis make it very likely I will need to have other spots removed.
Today though all I need to do is be still. The pain is incredible. It’s a mix of burning and deep throbbing if I move my arm at all. I want to sleep but I’m terrified I’ll hurt myself.
I think I’ll take advantage of this prescription and let it all sort itself out.
Tomorrow morning is (fingers crossed) the final surgery and I am cancer free.
Tonight though real life is being lived. I am a mom, a wife and my family needs dinner. I began by throwing some chicken pieces in a shallow roasting pan and setting the convection oven to slow cook those bird bits to perfection.
I then snuck off and flopped onto my bed. I snuggled into my pile blankets, called my dogs to join and then began to browse the internet. I will need stuff to keep me occupied this week while I recover and this seemed like a good time to get some ideas.
Typical end the weekend stuff.
Only not so much.
The wife came in and belly flopped beside me. I love her but she has some serious bull in a china shop mannerisms. She landed sticking her chin directly into a rib. She says she heard a noise, I just felt the pain. I ignored her for the most part and continued to browse, pretending not to notice her or the now sharp pain in my upper abdominal area.
She grew bored and demanded attention again … about 10 minutes later. This time she tries to pull me away from my browsing with a little story.
She says that before she came in she “smelled something burning” checked the upper oven, nothing in there, checked the bottom. Just then “a poof of smoke came out” at her but since she “didn’t see fire” she thought it was fine.
She thought it was fine.
I looked away from my phone for the first time with terror in my eyes. I envisioned my oven engulfed in flames and my kitchen filled with thick smoke which would certainly kill us all.
She didn’t even move.
I started to flail, throwing blankets and attempting without much sucess to get up from the canine restrictions currently imposed on my legs.
I got to the door and the smell was clearly something burning, but it was much more than that. Think self cleaning oven. It was obnoxious. I was sure that chicken had tipped or something and we would be having PB&J for dinner tonight.
By tonight I really mean maybe forever because fancy 2 oven ranges are expensive and I am, as I mentioned, a mom aka cash poor.
While I’m running worst case scenarios in my head she had beat me to the kitchen. She opened the lower oven to show me there was no fire …. to prove somehow she had been fine to ignore the initial smoke and smell of burnt cheese on the oven floor.
*I assume the last batch of pizzas spilled over in there, not that I would know it was burnt cheese since nobody mentioned it.
So by now I see the chicken looks fine, perfectly placed and roasting casually. No need to fight over who gets the last of the good jelly or who has to have the butt end of the bread.
The house smells weird and I still have surgery tomorrow but it could be worse.
It could be way worse.
I could be dying. I could be a cancer victim and not a survivor.
I am grateful for stinky smells, family dinners and if my family is in a good mood, even for the last of the good jelly.
Myself, my wife and our dear friends have all been waiting patiently and sometimes impatiently for the results of my biopsy. I had been given an initial diagnosis of melanoma, the deadly skin cancer who isn’t usually content to just hang out on the top layers of skin.
Today I learned that the initial diagnosis was correct, melanoma. That wasn’t much for new news but I would have been ecstatic had they been wrong. No such luck.
Here is the good part: I need only go back for one more in-office surgery and then I can buy myself a cancer survivor T-Shirt as a souvenir.
I can wear it to cover the ginormous scar I will be sporting. A battle wound from an ordeal which I survived.
In a week from today I will be back under the knife followed by a couple days of Netflix to watch while I recover.
I should have plenty of time to write about prevention, diagnosis and the importance of self-care. Plenty of time to thank people for reaching out with love and support and the strength to be brave while I waited.
I was super lucky and I am extremely grateful for early enough detection.
I made myself think of what a stage 4 diagnosis could mean.
I made myself face the fact that I could die
I made promises I probably won’t keep if I could just get a pass on this one thing.
I promised to stay out of the sun. I love the sun. I will promise now not to abuse my skin in the sun.
I promised to take better care of myself. I like to be lazy and I love wings and beer. I will still partake in shenanigans but I will go to the gym more regularly. Uhh … as soon as my stitches are out.
I promised to be kinder. I am trying really hard with this. First step? Mocking people in my head instead of out loud. I have faith in me I can minimize my facial expressions soon.
My scar may be visible but at least there are no thought bubbles over my head.
I think that’s the real gift here. You are welcome.
The call that will determine what happens next and whether my biopsy is clean enough I can be considered lucky.
I ignore most calls. Ok, I ignore 99% of calls and my voicemail is ALWAYS full.
I not so secretly wish people could only text me.
Yet here I am … willing my phone to ring.
I need it to ring. I need to know.
It could happen any minute now and I am terrified and tired of the wait at the same time. I just want the wait to be over.
My stomach is tied up like balloon animals and I feel like any moment my heart will jump and land squarely my throat.
I still really haven’t told more than a few people about what’s happening. I don’t know if it has helped or hindered. I don’t want anyone making a big deal about the C word.
If I talk about it, out loud, it will be real. I don’t think I’m ready for real cancer just yet.
I am a planner. A do or don’t kinda woman. I don’t like to half ass anything and I do not like to wait. I like punctuality and plans. I like a clear destination ahead.
I am the kind of person who gets road rage at WalMart and refuses to go unless it is absolutely necessary. My patience when I need or want something to happen is so thin. Possibly too thin for my own good.
Waiting for others to do something for me is excruciating. Not knowing is torture.
Waiting for this call will likely kill me long before any potential diagnosis could.
I can only imagine the countless people before me who waiting with shaking hands and worried faces. With family and friends telling them it would be alright, no matter what.
I need to make a plan to make it alright for myself. First step … I need the phone to ring.
I woke up nervous. My appointment with the dermatologist was in 2 hours and I needed to be at work shortly after.
I picked a cami tank and 3/4 sleeve cardigan and matching pants. I kept my jewelry to a minimum and left my hair down.
I tried to look as chill as possible.
No reason to give away the fact I was climbing out of my own skin.
Skin I had reason to suspect had betrayed me.
There has been an ugly spot on my left shoulder for maybe the last 6-7 years. Slowly creeping larger and larger until I asked about it again recently.
This time when I asked the reaction was a bit alarming.
The doc said I should see a dermatologist as soon as possible to minimize scarring. It needed to come off, like yesterday.
I nodded and promised to make an appointment right away.
That was probably 2 months ago.
I’m always, always busy. I spend alot of time working and the rest of the time enjoying life.
Then my shoulder started to itch and become not only ugly but also annoying. I looked at this reddish brown spot a bit closer after every shower and with an accusatory stare. It had abnormal edges and it had definitely grown.
I have no doubt it planned to take over the world … one cell at a time.
I searched the internet for similar images to the colored continent resting on my shoulder.
It looked more and more like melanoma, only way bigger than most diagnosed spots. If you are wondering there are images galore photographed and cataloged for the overly curious to browse. I don’t really recommend it.
From everything I read it is the least likely of skin cancers but ultimately the most deadly.
That’s when I started to worry. For real worry.
Deep in the pit of my gut … worry.
I thought about it until I almost made myself sick with anxiety.
My love assured me it was probably nothing and I should stop playing doctor with my degree in internet medicine from “I Can Google University”
It’s almost like a medical degree. Only cheaper.
I thought she was probably right. .. but just in case I was going to think about what would happen if I got a fatal diagnosis.
Who would get my jewelry? Who would my dog live with? Would anyone remember to feed the rabbit?
How many people would rejoice?
I only wish I were kidding.
So the time came, I made it to the dermatological place of business and met the man who would give me the news.
Although super pleasant and kinda ruggedly handsome he was still going to cut into me. He was also ultimately going to give me the thumbs up on self diagnosis.
It wasn’t the time to call the wife and leave “I told you so!” on her voice-mail but I wanted to. I was right about this in a very wrong way.
He said … “yes, this is melanoma. I hate to say it but that’s what it is.”
He asked if I had a history in my family of skin cancer of any kind. I said I didn’t know for sure.
Cancer yes, skin cancer I don’t know. In that moment I couldn’t think. It didn’t matter though. It wouldn’t have changed what was happening.
Then he told me where it was positioned made him sad, it was going to scar and it was going to be bad.
Adorable. So sweet.
I just wanted it off. I wouldn’t have cared if he used a melon baller and whiskey for antiseptic.
He said he needed to take out the growth right then and it would be a large incision. That was fine by me.
He said it would be the first step.
Not the final.
I would need to see another specialist … or many. I’m speculating on many. At the very least a plan would formulate for treatment based on the stage of the melanoma chunk he sent to the lab. Seriously… it was a wad of tissue he cut out of my shoulder.
He stitched my massive wound and tried to keep me talking. We talked about my dachshund tattoo at the base of my neck.We talked about what I do for a living. We talked about the nurses dog and her little boy.
They could see I was about to cry. They could feel me shake with nervous energy. They could hear my breathing slow and purposeful so as to not pass out cold onto the exam chair.
He took a photo of my new Frankenstein shoulder sutures and showed me. It was awesome and terrifying at the same time. The nurse covered the line with heavy bandages.
I left the office, walked to my car and drove to my office. I fed my fish, grabbed some paperwork and drove home.
I was sobbing uncontrollably at the prospect of what comes next. Of the wait. Of the potential that it spread while I was too busy working on climbing the corporate ladder and playing on beaches with my family.
So now I wait.
I will wait as patiently as possible to be defined as a number and a letter.
The number and letter which will reflect the stage for my melanoma tumor.
The grade if you will for how much toxic growth was removed. The crystal ball to see into my future.
It has happened every single time I have seen a new doctor since I got married.
I go in to fill out my paperwork, hand over my ID and insurance card and wait.
It doesn’t take long before the whispers.Then they call out to me in the waiting room.
I know what’s coming but before I can approach the counter they shout…
“Is your real name Jolynn?”
“Who is Jolynn?”
“Sorry, your … spouse?”
Yes. Fuck. Thanks for keeping that on the low.
They don’t do this to straight married women.
Never would they say … “ma’am this card says Steve. Is Steve your real name? Who is Steve? Oh. Your husband? Is that right? You say Steve is your husband?”
It would never happen.
It would be unimaginable to think that it is the entire waiting rooms right to know that I am married … and to who. Yet it has happened on multiple occasions. I happen to need to see an array of specialists and every single office has been incredibly *special* in the insurance process.
Not that I am ashamed to have a wife.
I parade this rock around on my finger like a beauty queen wears a crown.
When she is with me she is arm candy … like a sexy, smiling, human accessory that holds my purse and tells me my ass looks amazing.
That’s not the point.
I’m 100% sure when I get back to the waiting room they will ask if I am pregnant.
Then they will ask how I can be sure I’m not.
Today might be the day I explain it …loud and in detail.
After all if we are sharing we might as well share it all …