Somehow, I feel underwhelmed by the whole ordeal. Looking back on the initial phone call from the dermatologist, she told me the biopsy came back positive for melanoma and my response was “OK. So what do I need to do now?” Am I missing something? Shouldn’t I be upset or angry? It’s not that I don’t care – at that point I didn’t know, well, anything about skin cancer. I don’t even recall thinking about what would happen if I died. Or if I was going to die.
Rolling the tape back a bit, one morning back in February, my wife noticed a mole on the back of my right leg, just above the knee. Neither of us had ever noticed it before, so she said I should make an appointment to a dermatologist.
Well, life got in the way the way it always does. I changed jobs in April and went through the routine adjustment process. And then changed jobs again in July. And went through another routine adjustment process. Did I mention I just returned from a deployment to Afghanistan in December? Yeah, life has been busy, to say the least. And finally made an appointment to look at my mole in August.
My primary care physician recommended I go up to see the dermatologist right away because they had open appointments that morning. The dermatologist looked at it and said “we like to cut things like this off. Do you mind?” So I had a quick scrape biopsy and off I went about my life. A week later things got … interesting.
So the next couple of weeks were a blur of medical shenanigans. The next morning, we met with a surgeon who explained a bit about the medical procedures to come. Unfortunately, he was going out of town the following week. So I had another appointment with another surgeon on Tuesday morning and was scheduled for surgery for Friday morning. Only nine days after finding out I had cancer.
Having never had surgery before, I admit to being a bit anxious. I think I was more uncomfortable with the concept of surgery than with the cancer. They injected me with some low dose radioactive stuff at the site of the now-healing hole in my leg and the most painful part of the process was the quad-injection. The radiation showed which of my lymph nodes would be the first to collect any potential cancer cells.
Then on to the main event! The anesthesiologist was awesome because I don’t remember even turning the corner to the operating room. I woke up a few hours later with my right leg in a brace. So what happened? Well, they had to do essentially two surgeries, one on the front of my body and one on the back. And I’m not a small guy, not that 240 is all that big, but moving dead weight is harder than moving a willing participant. They did a wide local excision, cutting about two centimeters all around the mole site. Fortunately, they were able to close me up without using a skin graft. Then they flipped me and did a sentinel lymph node biopsy, removing the four radioactive lymph nodes.
And the best part is there was absolutely no pain. I didn’t even need Motrin. I spent a week on the recliner. Literally. Eating. Sleeping. Reading. Whining. The immobilized leg thing is a real killjoy. The worst part was not being able to shower. Thank goodness for baby wipes! I spent a second week at home, with a little more mobility and the ability to shower. The good medical news came back that they had gotten the margins at the site (no lateral spread of the cancer) and my lymph nodes showed micrometastatic melanoma, with a diagnosis of Stage III melanoma. And I use the phrase “good news” in a relative manner.
I’m no doctor, but micro-anything is better than macro-anything. Since then, I’ve met with my dermatologist, another dermatologist, and oncologist and another surgeon. I’ve had a PET scan and I’ve got a brain MRI tomorrow. All signs point to me not having any other obvious cancer, but I still need to do the whole treatment process with Interferon for a year.
Like I said, I feel kind of underwhelmed. Sure, things have been hectic but I haven’t felt scared or panicked or nervous or terrified or anything else. I had a medical issue and I went to a doctor to take care of it. Somehow I thought having cancer would be a Significant Life Event. I’m kind of embarrassed to talk about my cancer because I don’t feel impacted by the diagnosis. Unless people had to know because they work with me on a daily basis, or they saw me on my crutches, I have not said anything. If people ask, I’ll tell the truth, but it’s not really a conversation starter.
Maybe things will change once I start the Interferon treatments. Or maybe I’ll have no (or minimal) side effects and life will go on. I can’t do anything about it, so I’m not going to worry about it.
Still, part of me feels wrong for not feeling sick or bad or scared. Am I weird? It sure seems like it.