Monday, May 2, 2011

"Written by Chelsea Price."

I got published!

Not long after being diagnosed with Stage III melanoma, I emailed Roanoke's women's regional magazine, Bella, encouraging them to take special interest in melanoma in their May edition since May is known as Skin Cancer Awareness Month. I gave them a short summary of why melanoma awareness is important to me, and linked them to my blog. Later that same afternoon I received an email from their editor asking if I would like to contribute an article to Bella.

Sooooo, I did.

It was not my best article ever. I struggled with finding a way to say everything I needed to say without making it 100 pages long. How do you describe (at that time) the 2 most drastic, life altering months of your life in just a few words? Well, apparently they liked what I said because on Saturday afternoon I received a Facebook notification from one of my dear friends saying he and his beautiful Mom enjoyed reading my article in Bella.

I had been sick all morning on Saturday (who gets the stomach bug while having a horrible cold? this girl!) but after reading that notification, I looked at Mr. Spots, squealed, and ran to get the latest edition of Bella I had picked up the day before but had not gotten around to reading.

Mr. Spots yelled for me to come back, so I climbed into bed with the article, and we both flipped quickly through the magazine. In such a hurry, neither of us saw my article until the second time we looked. But, there it was....towards the back, yes, but they published the article in all of its glory.

I know it is just a local women's magazine; however, I am proud of myself. I am sharing my story, and I am doing exactly what I said I was going to do...spreading awareness. I want to thank the editors of Bella for publishing it. Maybe it will save a life.

So here's the article--in case you're curious. ;-)

I love New York City:
the lights,
the fashion,
the world class Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center...

Let me start at the beginning. I am Chelsea, 23 years old, not a blond hair, blue eyed, sun-worshiper. Despite my age, despite my dark hair, despite my devotion to sunscreen, I am a warrior against Stage III Melanoma.
It all started innocently enough. I felt an unusual mole on my upper back, scheduled an appointment with a dermatologist—just to be safe—and I had the mole removed. Since the dermatologist felt confident there was no need to be concerned, I spent the next ten days without worries.

Fast forward ten days, I am sitting on the table, the nurse is removing my stitches, when the doctor walks into the room. All I hear is, “Malignant Melanoma...No, I wish I was joking.”

Wait. Did he just tell me I have cancer? He must be mistaken...Maybe it is not as serious as he is making it sound. Can't skin cancer be cured by the removal of a mole? I release a nervous laugh and ask him to repeat.

Verdict is still the same...Malignant Melanoma.

If you have ever-God forbid-been in the situation where you have two doctors standing in front of you, unwilling to make direct eye contact, giving you unwanted news, you know what it feels like when reality slams into you. The head doctor starts discussing my appointment with a surgeon who will operate to see if the cancer has spread to my lymph nodes. Radiation is mentioned, my ability to have children following radiation is discussed, treatment options are listed. All I can think is, “I am only 23 years old. How is this happening to me?”

Two weeks following that life changing appointment I am in the operating room preparing to have surgery in five different locations. Prior to a wide excision surgery and Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy, a radiologist injects a dye into the original tumor site to see where the dye travels. I lit up in four separate areas: the left and right side of my neck, both armpits. Questioning the radiologist if the surgeon will actually operate in all four locations, she politely tells me, “You want him to operate, ma'am.”

So, he did. The surgeon removed lymph nodes from the four areas, and he also removed a large amount of skin surrounding the original tumor site. The week following surgery can be described as pure torture. Without use of either arm, I was fully dependent on my loved ones to bathe me, to feed me, to drug me.

One week later I received the dreaded call: the oncologist wanted to see me in his office. I had decided that if the oncologist simply called me, the news would be good. If he wanted to see me in the office, it was not going to be a pleasant appointment.

I was right.

Thankfully, the oncologist wasted no time telling me the pathology report. Out of four lymph node basins, two basins were definitely positive for melanoma, one was possibly positive, and one was negative.

The scariest part? The two lymph node basins that were positive are located on opposite sides of my body. Although that has been seen before, it is unusual.

Statistically, there was a 90% chance that melanoma would not be found in my lymph nodes. Had someone told me there was only a 10% chance that my lymph nodes would be positive, I would have confidently gone into surgery. I suppose I should be thankful no one shared that statistic with me...Can you imagine the let down?

So, melanoma in lymph nodes means what exactly? Well, it puts me at Stage III. The thing about melanoma that many people do not know is that it is a very aggressive and unpredictable disease. We know that it has the capability to spread internally at a fast rate, but we do not know if and when it will spread to my organs.

Unable to sit back and wait for the disease to 'off' me, I set up an appointment with Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. They are world known melanoma specialists. The frustrating part about melanoma for patients is that treatment is limited unless you are Stage IV. Hearing a world class oncologist tell me I am not sick 'enough' for the medication that is available was infuriating. Sure, I could do Interferon, but if you look at the side effects and the success rate, I find it to be unacceptable.

There are limited options for us Melanoma Warriors. Had I known the seriousness of melanoma, maybe I would not have used the tanning beds before proms and vacations, maybe I would have used a stronger sunscreen than SPF 35, maybe I would not be fighting viciously to save my life.

What do I do now? Next week I will undergo a crucial surgery to remove the remaining lymph nodes in my left armpit and the right side of my neck. This surgery, although difficult, will hopefully give me a peace of mind. If more lymph nodes are positive, I will be eligible for ipilimumab, a medication that will hopefully be FDA approved in the next month.

Besides being a real life lab rat, I am an emotional basket case. I have struggled with anger, with depression, with the sense of helplessness. Instead of giving into the dark side, I am using this experience to laugh more frequently, to write about things I do not have the guts to say, to share my experience with hopes that it will save another young person from going through the hell that has become my life. If I am going to fight this battle, I am going to smile, hold my head high, and embrace it.

Next time you head to the tanning bed, please stop and re-think. Lather your kids in sunscreen. Wear hats. Enjoy the sun--safely. Stop thinking it cannot happen to you. I am here, only 23 years old, to tell you that it can.


Ranisa said...

I can't tell you how great this is! Here are will give you a few great things...1. You wrote a great article 2. you are bringing awareness to our nasty cancer 3. a magazine publised it!-speaks well for both #2 and #3. as you can tell I can't write....or even spell so THANK YOU!!!

Chelsea said...

You don't have to thank me. We just have to keep sharing our story. Someone will listen!

Keep fighting!

Anonymous said...

Amazing article, Chelsea! I don't see how it could have been written any better than that. I'm so proud of you and your accomplishments! You are reaching people. You know people are reading that. They're reading your blog. They're thinking twice.

There will always be cynical people out there, but you can't worry about those. Just yesterday, I was treating a patient with COPD/emphysema/bronchitis despite her refusal to quit smoking. Despite my story about how I just lost my grandmother to lung cancer most likely due to smoking.

It's the ones you know you get to and cause them to think twice that make this all worth it. You keep this up because you're doing great things.

Brenda said...

My sister had an ugly mole on her upper back for years. It started to change so she went to the doctor. She ended up having stage 3 melanoma. They found a dark spot on one of her lungs and she had surgery to check but that turned out okay. I know that she could relate to what you are going through. I have a dark funny mole on my upper back side right and I have had it checked twice and they tell me nothing is wrong. Should I go ahead and have it removed anyway? Thanks, Brenda

Chelsea said...

I think if it makes you concerned, remove it. It's better to be safe than sorry. Most dermatologist's understand. Best wishes to you!