Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Fast Moving Rollercoaster: 2013.

How can it already be the eve of a new year? It has been a year of so many life changing moments!

Let me break it down for you in pictures:

Emily Giffin, my favorite autor, tweeted me regarding my efforts to raise melanoma awareness.
Yes, this is life changing. ;-)

I celebrated my 2 year Cancerversary in January!
It was a quiet night with my boyfriend where I found comfort in this quote:
"But understand this: my commitment to living in the now means
I'll never ever say that I've beaten cancer.
To do so would be living in the "tomorrow," if you will,
and melanoma is far too erratic an opponent to go around making predictions.
But I can tell you for sure that I'll never give in to it.
Life is too precious to give it up
without giving everything you've got -- now."
Dr. Jack Ramsay.

I traveled to Richmond, Virginia, to testify about my experience with melanoma.
Sadly, the bill was tabled, but it was a learning experience for me, and I feel certain
that folks in Virginia, including myself, will still continue to try to get a law passed that would protect our minors.

In March, Melanoma decided to reappear.
Luckily, I caught it right away, went to the dermatologist within days.
The mole was diagnosed as an in-situ melanoma.
This caused a lot of drama with the doctors in New York as they were unsure
of how to classify this new melanoma. Was I kicked out of the clinical trial?

Nope, it was decided that this new melanoma did not mean
 I couldn't continue with the clinical trial.
Since the melanoma was surgically removed, I was once again showing no evidence of disease.

I got a visit in with my melanoma sister, Julie!

We got engaged!

I spoke at the Cambridge, Maryland, Choptank's Trot for Melanoma!
I was joined by family and friends.
The only person missing was my dear friend Lynette. Oh, I missed her.

I fulfilled a dream: I found my wedding dress.

I made my guy suffer through engagement pictures! ;-)
I was listed as #2 on the Top 10 Skin Cancer Bloggers!

My family and friends held 2 wonderful bridal showers for me!

I met this wonderful online friend, Susan, in person!

I met Heidi Klum!

I chatted with Giada De Laurentiis about melanoma!

Her brother passed from Melanoma when he was 32.

I married Mr. Spots.
(This was, by far, my most favorite day. Ever.)

And then we learned that melanoma may be back.
So many memories, so many life changing moments.
I can only wonder what 2014 has in store for us!
My hope for you is that 2014 brings you health, love, and happiness!
See ya next year!

Monday, December 23, 2013

"When Our Knees Hit the Floor."

I recently met a man I know I will never forget.

It sounds weird to say I'll never forget a complete stranger, but it's true.

When I met this man for the very first time I asked how he was, just as a conversation starter. With a smile, he responded, "I'm not kicking too high today, darlin'." We didn't chat too much during that first visit, but I walked away knowing that I wouldn't forget him.

Then recently, when I wasn't expecting it, I came across that same man again. He waved me over, we made casual chit chat, and then he informed me that his cancer had returned. Right there, in an unexpected place, this stranger told me that 8 years after his original diagnosis, the cancer is back.

He wasn't asking for my sympathy. He just needed an ear to listen. He needed to say it out loud to a stranger who he may never see again. He needed to say it to know that it is real.

I can't stop thinking about him.

It wasn't his recurrence that hurt my heart. That goes without saying. What broke my heart and inspired me the most was that this stranger, this beautiful man with tears rolling down his face, looked at me and said, "I've done it once. I will do it again."

And I do, without a doubt, believe he will.

F**K Cancer.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

"On Particularly Rough Days..."

I've had some time to process the idea that melanoma may have shown her ugly face again. How do I feel about it? Frustrated. Scared. Angry. But I've also decided that I can't obsess about the possibility. I gave myself a week to work through my emotions, but now I want to enjoy the holiday with my new little family. What happens in January will happen in January!

I saw this one Facebook yesterday & I knew I had to share. I figured someone else may appreciate it too!

Have a great week, friends. 


Sunday, December 8, 2013

"You're OK...I Think."

I often get asked if it is safe to have CT scans every 3 months. They question if I'm receiving too much radiation. People wonder out loud if the scans are really needed. "How long will you continue that? The radiation is so bad for you!" they say with an knowing look in their eyes. This past Thursday we learned first hand how necessary those scans are.

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.