Down the Melanoma Cancer Road
Holding up the heavy rock
A beginning. I am sixty-seven years old so I rarely wear shorts. However last April on a visit to family in Washington DC, I donned a pair of khaki shorts. My daughter and I are sitting side by side at a restaurant table and she looks down. “You should have that checked,” she says pointing at a mole above my knee that I have had for years and years.
I look down and feel a tiny shock. My birthmark is several times larger than I remember it. With this discovery, the journey begins. I make an appointment with my primary care physician. She takes a look and does a punch biopsy and says the standard words, “It is probably nothing but we need to look at it.”
No News is Not Good News
For two weeks I hear nothing on the biopsy. I assume no news is good news and move on with life. In May I need to see my doctor in order to renew a cholesterol prescription. So I ask about the biopsy. She checks her computer and tells me that the mole is not cancer but it needs to come off. She gives me the name of a dermatologist to call. After some confusion regarding the pathology report and the referral for insurance, and three calls later, I have an appointment for July 14, nearly three months since the mole was noticed by my daughter.
I arrive expecting the dermatologist to make a football shape incision and remove the mole, stitch the skin together, put on a bandage and send me on my merry way. This does not happen. The dermatologist does a skin exam and finds two more spots that require a biopsy. A mole on my back near the shoulder and a nearly invisible spot on my nose. She does a different type of biopsy that removes a layer of skin across the entire area.
A Mole I've had for decades that suddenly changed
The Pathology Report
The dermatologist has not received the pathology report from the primary care physician. I walk downstairs in the medical building to my doctor and request the report which is handed to me. Both offices are in the same building. I return to the dermatologist. I did change my medical gown for my clothes though I was tempted to walk into my doctor’s clinic in my backless gown.
I hand over the pathology report and ask for a copy. We have now used all my time. I need to reschedule a time to remove the mole above my knee. Plus we need to await the results of the other two biopsies.
I leave the dermatologist office. While sitting in my car I read the pathology report.
The report from the first biopsy reads: skin, left thigh, punch biopsy; dysplastic junctional melanocytic nevus, exhibiting severe architectural disorder and atypia, transected at a peripheral section edge (see comment).
GIVEN THAT THE DEGREE OF ARCHITECTUAL AND CYTOLOGIC ATYPIA IS APPROACHING THAT OF MELANOMA IN SITU, EXCISION WITH 5 MM MARGINS IS ADVISED.
I find this report frightening since I do not know what it means. I know the words disorder, atypia and melanoma. Bottom line, sitting in my car, reading a near foreign language, I think – I have cancer.
Have you had moles removed?
I can’t allow myself to disrespect the millions of men, women, and children with legitimate suffering and pain from this most dreaded decease by considering my situation as truly serious. Still, I look at the small disc of color on my thigh, and I feel dread that I can’t discuss. So, of course, I go home and start research on the internet.
None of the pictures quite match my mole. None of the symptoms are exactly on target. For example: for women, a melanoma most often displays on her thigh. That is me. However this occurs usually in women under 55 years of age. Not me.
In situ means that the melanoma cells are contained within the colored area and have not metastasized to other areas, except the doctor took two more biopsies. The cancer could show up in the lungs, brain, liver, bone or other places. Suddenly my thigh bone pains beneath the mole. I know this pain is all in my imagination. I find myself studying this mole I didn’t know existed with a flashlight.
I am now scheduled for an appointment in late July. I will know nothing more before that appointment though the doctor may call. So I can stop using a mirror to stare at the biopsy on my back. I can stop using a magnifying glass to study my nose. I can stop feeling pain in my thigh that has never hurt before.
I have to wait. I have to maintain perspective. I will let you know what happens next.
The pathology report
The Experience of Cancer
Everyone has been touched by cancer in all of the insidious forms of this disease. Melanoma or skin cancer is, of course, caused by exposure to the sun. I had a severe sun burn when I was young when I fell asleep on the beach. Everyone has exposure to the sun.
To think that I have cancer is scary. At my next appointment the moles will likely be removed, stitched and bandaged. I will be told to be careful of my skin. And I will go home and take a nap.
But what if it isn't that way. What if I am told there will be some additional testing just to see what is up. For all the sufferers of cancer who started the journey just as I have, I offer a prayer for you. I will let you know how my appointment goes.