I'd like to share a personal story with the hopes of helping someone else. Maybe that someone will be you. After a recent Melanoma diagnosis, I searched the Internet about Melanoma for information on a personal level but only found articles about the medical basics of what Melanoma is and the detection and treatment. But I wanted to know what to expect for myself as told from a patient's view. So I decided to document my experience with Melanoma in the hopes of helping someone else to better understand the process of diagnosis, treatment, and recovery. Even though my story is a Best-Case-Possible kind of story, I would hope you will take the opportunity to inspect your skin and schedule a dermatologist visit.
Like so many other people, I've developed more and more dark spots on my body as I've aged. No biggie, right? I've always kept a conscious eye out for the warning signs of moles and spots in general. For example: multi-colored, large, asymmetrical, bumpy, itchy, rapid growth, etc. And it was this vigilance that put me in the exam room of the skin doctor. I had a couple questionable spots to be checked out. However, the one on my arm wasn't one of them because it didn't fit the bill as suspicious. It was tiny, solid black, round, and flat. Even my regular doctor didn't think it was anything to worry about.
At the appointment with the skin doc it was determined the little black spot needed to be biopsied, meaning a sample was taken and sent to the lab for analysis. I've had a biopsy performed before, so I wasn't too worried. The photo above was taken after the biopsy and after the stitches were out. The original spot was as small as the little brown dot between the penny and the reddened biopsy crater.
Nearly a week had passed since the biopsy without word from the dermatology office. I just figured no news was good news. Then one evening, I answered a call from the doctor himself. Uh-oh. Usually when the doctor calls and not the nurse the news isn't going to be good. He said the pathology report had come back with abnormal cells consistent with Melanoma and that a larger portion of skin needed to be removed to hopefully clear out the abnormal cell growth.
"Melanoma. That's skin cancer," I told my co-worker right after I finished my call with the doctor. I couldn't believe it. I sent a text to my husband, not wanting to wait to tell him till I got home, then I went back to work. I couldn't focus on anything other than the idea I had cancer. That little black dot had been staring me in the face for over a year, not growing any bigger, just lurking ominously. I'd been watching the larger brown rectangular spot a little further under my forearm, but not the spot that looked more like I'd touched a black Sharpie marker to my skin.
When I got home, I found my worried husband had scoured the Internet for information about Melanoma. Of all the skin cancers, Melanoma is the most deadly because it can progress into the lymph nodes and travel throughout the body. However, Melanoma is also the most likely to be eradicated with early detection. The question was, had mine been found early enough?
A few days later, I went in for the procedure to remove 5mm of skin from around the original biopsy location. This was done by making a cut in the shape of an elongated diamond. (That's kind of ironic, isn't it? Being that I write fiction about diamonds being inserted into the body. Now a very real doctor was cutting one out of my skin.) Once the skin was pulled together and due to the curvature of my arm, the stitched line was straight. Four inside sutures and eleven outer for a total of fifteen stitches were needed to close the cut. (I put a penny next to the cut for comparison to the earlier photo.) The photo to the left was taken when I got home and before the inflammation hit. I think the doctor did a really good job with his sewing. I'll be sure to call him when I need to hem my daughter's prom dress.
After getting home from the procedure, I did what any hard working person does, I went to work. Of course, I babied my arm and wasn't good for much at work. By the end of the night, my arm had swelled and was tight to the touch. The next five days were difficult. I used ibuprofen for pain. Elevated my arm whenever it throbbed too much. Tried several different kinds of bandages and topical antibacterial ointments because one after another would irritate my skin. I debated calling the doctor office a couple times because it looked infected and was hot to the touch. Also, for those five days I couldn't straighten out my arm without causing a lot of pain so I held it at a bent angle all day long. This caused my neck, shoulder and bicep to ache. To top everything off, I came down with the cough and cold virus going around. So between popping DayQuil, and Advil, and changing out my dressing, and complaining to whoever was nearby, I made it through the week. But in the back of my mind was the pathology report that needed to come back detailing the results of the extra skin removed. Would it show normal cells or would the report deem it necessary to order a lymph node biopsy?
Five days later, the stitches were removed and skin tape applied. There was no bleeding with the removal of the stitches, but there was minimal pain. Most of the swelling had gone down by this point and the bruising had turned yellow. The pathology report said normal skin cells. I know it said more than that, but that's all I heard the doctor say. Once he said those magic words, my brain did a happy dance.
By day six, I could straighten my arm completely and rotate normally. I was still experiencing nerve twinges above the cut and around my wrist and the wound was still sore to the touch. I could do most everything with my arm as before, just not rest anything or carry things directly on the wound.
I've called around in my family to see if anyone else has had a Melanoma diagnosis. None of my siblings and neither parent has, but a couple paternal uncles have had skin cancer diagnosis and my maternal grandfather had one. My children will need to watch their skin closely, as will I for the rest of my life.
Here's the take away: Get a physical head-to-toe exam from a dermatologist. Don't put it off. When caught early, Melanoma can be eradicated not just sent into remission. Also, something I didn't know is Melanoma can be caused by more than just overexposure to the sun. Chemicals and viruses can also cause cells to mutate into Melanoma. My skin doctor told me Melanoma can be found on the bottom of your feet, in the eye, and where the sun doesn't shine. He also said it's all about how the body heals after injury like an intense sunburn. Some people can live in a tanning bed and never develop Melanoma while others visit once and BAM! I personally have never been in a tanning bed, but I've spent plenty of time outdoors. The spot location on my arm is always facing up no matter which way I twist my wrist. So if it was sunshine or UV radiation that caused the damage that my body failed to heal properly, I could at least double down on the sunscreen to prevent future issues. But that might not be the case at all. Needless to say, I'll be visiting my skin doc twice a year to stay on top of it.
Please share this post to help raise awareness of Melanoma skin cancer. Hopefully together we can prevent someone's life from being cut short. If you've been diagnosed with Melanoma and would like to tell your story, please do so in the comments section below.