After an unusually long wait to see my oncologist, he walks in, shakes my hand and says, "So, I think you're OK." My heart starts pounding. "You think?", mom and I ask. "I think. Let's cut the chit chat and get straight to your scans."
Shit. My heart really starts to pound.
The Wizard explains that my organs are all fine and healthy,(deep sigh of relief here), but the radiologist noted a swollen lymph node. My hand goes immediately to the left side of my neck where I'm been monitoring a swollen node. He shakes his head, and continues, "in your right axilla." Apparently it is just one node that is larger than the accepted 1 centimeter. In a normal person, this would possibly be ignored. In a stage 3 malignant melanoma patient, ignoring such a thing could be a death sentence.
He doesn't sugarcoat things for me, he said we are almost to the 3 year mark and it is quite possible it is a recurrence. I ask, probably with a wishful tone, "but it's possible it could be an infection?" Absolutely, he says. Then he reminds me of the results we had 3 years ago: lymph nodes positive under left axilla, right side of neck, possibly--but later decided it wasn't melanoma--in the right axilla. The only place that was unquestionably negative for melanoma was the left side of my neck. The cancer has spread to both sides of my body in multiple lymph node basins. This is why he's taking one swollen lymph node seriously, I think to myself.
The first time I had the SNB's, January 2011
He does the physical exam. I often do a self exam checking my lymph nodes and moles. I'm careful and pay attention to my body. How did I miss this? I ask if he can feel it. "No, it's too small."
Oh. Had it not been for the required 3 month scans, would I have been alerted so early that the cancer may be back? No. That's why I do the scans. That's why I risk the exposure.
I get dressed and we move back to our seats. He tells me he has signed off on getting my treatment because there is no reason why I shouldn't receive the drug/placebo at this time. He tells me I have 2 options: I can rescan in 3 months and see what the results show then, or we can rescan in 6 weeks to monitor the growth. He states that he votes to rescan, but that it's up to me. (He knows this isn't even a question he has to ask me. Of course I'm going to rescan in 6 weeks.) If the lymph node is the same size, we continue as we are now. If it has grown, he will schedule me to see Glinda again and we will surgically remove it.
This isn't my first rodeo. I know what that surgery is like. I know I can handle it. I thank God it's only a swollen lymph node and not a suspicious area in my organs. My lymph nodes have done their job, for now, they've kept the cancer out. But still, as my oncologist looks at me patiently waiting for my questions, I am pissed. And I am scared.
And he knows it.
He mentioned not that long ago that he's dreading the day he has to walk into the exam room and tell me something that isn't "You're fine." Thursday was that day, and it was obviously uncomfortable for all of us.
I asked a few questions: If it is melanoma, will I be kicked out of the trial? (He never directly answered this, but said it really doesn't matter, because I only have 2 treatments left.) Will we do something else besides surgery? (He didn't really want to answer this either. He said we will have to see. If we can surgically excise it, then we may just start over in terms of keeping a close eye on things.)
It's funny in a way. The way we were talking, we've already decided it is melanoma. It's so strange to know that you have this possibly cancerous area in your body, yet you feel perfectly fine. That's what makes melanoma so scary. I hear so many of my friends say it: We look healthy. We feel healthy. Yet, one scan can show something completely different. How terrifying is that?
So, that's where we stand. I've been a little angry these last few days. Bitter that I'm once again tossed into Hotel Melanoma when I was so enjoying my new life as a wife and step mother, a life where melanoma wasn't my every other thought. But I remind myself that I have no right to be angry. This is something I can handle. I've proven that before. This--even if it is melanoma--is something we can remove. I'm still one of the lucky ones, and for that, I'm so grateful. If this is the worst I have to deal with, bring it on.
As you say your prayers, and keep people in your thoughts, I ask that you include my friends Julie and Ron in them. Julie is heading in for another surgery on Tuesday and my friend Ron was just told to get his affairs in order. Please pray for their strength and healing, as for their families.
As always, thank you for your support and love. I know you're all with me on this crazy, crazy ride.