That might be a weird title. Perhaps, it could seem a tad bit laid back. I am mentioning cancer and all, maybe I should take that a bit less lightly? In light of the situation and the fact that it seems like just yesterday and a million year ago all at once- it’s an ever changing feeling about it.  It was is a big deal and I am very aware of that, everyday in fact. Cancer runs pretty hard in my family, unfortunately. My cancer however, was no where to be found in this family history (that we know of). ALL of my Grandparents and Great Grandparents as well as an uncle and a great aunt (with the exception of one of my great grandmothers who did have Leukemia twice and is still alive and my paternal grandmother and step-grandfather) have had and passed away from cancer, all of them except those mentioned in the () were smokers as well. If I listed them out, it would be a terribly sad lineup to say the least.

Getting back to that the time that I had cancer- which is approaching the 7 year march here in a couple short weeks. I can’t even believe it when I say either of those. I had cancer and it’s been almost 7 years since I was diagnosed. Sadly- it was and is very real.

In a brief paragraph, here’s how it happened and some of it is a blur, so bare with me.

Brendan and I were married in December 2006- this was Feb/March of 2007 when this all happened. I was 21.

I went to see a plastic surgeon (no idea why it was that and not a dermatologist) and I don’t even know really why initially I went in. They saw a mole on my chest, near my collar bone and said it looked a bit abnormal, so they shaved it off and sent it off. I don’t recall really thinking too much about it at all. When I got the call saying I needed to have a bigger biopsy done, I was still unaware of what that really meant. I went in, had that done- involved about 4 stitches- and that was sent out again. Thankfully, that second biopsy came back clean and all was fine. This was diagnosed as Squamous Cell, which is a type of skin cancer, but one generally treated very easily and quickly.

A few months later I had something on my right thigh, around the side but in a general area that I couldn’t see well enough. I thought it was a zit in all honesty. I was playing with it and picking at it (because it’s a habit for me to pick at things) and when I was done, it was bleeding a bit. I looked at it and it was brown and I realized it was likely a mole. After having been told that bleeding moles are not a good thing, I called the plastic surgeon and got in as soon as they could get me in. They took a sample immediately and off it went.

Now, generally when having a “shave” biopsy done- they usually will tell you that you will hear from them within 7-10 days with results. By the way, these are the longest 7-10 days of your life- but when it took the full 10 days, even 11 I think, when they called, I just knew it wasn’t a good sign. My initial biopsy had been sent from Florida-where we were living- to Boston, to a specialist. A specialist. When it came back, they called me around 8am-right when they opened. They basically said something along the lines of, “can you come in right now? We have your results”. Again- that can’t be good. I hung up the phone, and went in-alone. Brendan was still sleeping and I didn’t want to wake him.

I drove the 15/20 minutes there, hands shaking and most likely looking like a mess but acting as if I was pretty put together. I went in and my plastic surgeon/assistant person- who-the-hell-cares-what-they-are-just-tell-me-the-results-lady- sat me down and told me that my results were (in a lot of medical words I didn’t quite understand)- Stage III Melanoma. What the F* is that?!

In a few minutes she spoke about the options and what would possibly come next, quite frankly, I didn’t care. What I did care about was that I had cancer. How was I supposed to tell my family? what was I supposed to say? Did I even know enough to tell them? No idea.

The next few months were weird- I asked about being able to go on our honeymoon in May to Italy and how surgery would affect that. They suggested we wait, as long as it doesn’t get worse, until after I get back from the honeymoon, so that I can walk while in Italy because surgery would take me out for a few weeks. My first option, and the one I went with, was to have a Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy.

My surgical Oncologist was awesome and very upfront. He did tell me that he had never had a patient as young as I was….I was 21. We scheduled my biopsy/surgery for two days after we came home from our honeymoon. The day after we got home from Italy, we picked my mom up from the airport and then I went in for my surgery. We got there and signed in, my mom was with me and Brendan has a math final. I was a little worried about him not being there, but it was something he had to do and knew he would be there after. They almost operated on the wrong leg- but that was quickly fixed after reading the papers and waiting a few more hours. Prior to surgery, they took me down to Radiation to inject a dye that would travel up to my groin area. That dye would reach the lymph nodes and those that turned blue (with the dye) were those that were either infected or not (i cant remember which is which).  I don’t remember how long the surgery it took, but I do remember waking up and trying to get out of the hospital bed and under my nose was sticky from the tape from the tubes up my nose. The nurses said I tried fighting them to get out of bed a few times while coming out of anesthesia. Whoops.

The surgeon did tell us after that while initially assuming that he wasn’t going to have to take any Lymph Nodes, there were actually 5 that he did have to take. They would be dissected and looked at to see if further treatment would have to be done, so there would be more waiting. Mom and Brendan took me home and I was off for a good week. The fun part was peeing blue for a few days- from the dye from Radiation. It was a cool sight to see-even if it was childish to get excited about :) If I am going to have this- at least let me get excited about multi-colored pee (that at least doesn’t mean I have some sort of horrible venerial disease/infection)- it was meant to be that way!  Overall, I had 2 incisions in my groin with about 4-5 stitches each, and a massive incision on my right thigh. The chunk of skin taken out was about a softball size- for a mole that was about 3cmm in size, the size of the skin was much, much bigger. After it was closed up, it left a pretty hefty dip in my leg for quite some time. I think there was about 10-12 stitches. When I had the stitches removed, I got my results from the biopsy and all came back clear for now, but they would watch for the next few months and we would meet again in July for an official re-diagnosis.

July came and I got the clear that I was in remission! It was the best thing ever- and it’s now been almost 7 years!  Melanoma is one of those things (like any cancer) that can recur, but it can recur in any area of the body- most commonly the liver, brain, lungs, or bone). It’s a scary thought really, but I know that by continuing to take care of myself and go for quarterly skin checks, I will keep atop of anything that may come up again.  I was a frequent tanning bed user for a good year or two in high school (for prom season etc) and I never used sunscreen while outdoors in the summer. I didn’t frequently burn and had a bit darker of a shade of skin to begin with, but I also didn’t know better at all. I talk about this topic two times a year in this format so that I can educate, even just a little, someone else who could be in the same situation.  This is something that can be so easily prevented, it would be shame to not take just a few extra minutes and put sunscreen on. There are things called Spray tans now, which you can do cheaper and faster than recurring tanning bed appointments and it doesn’t allow you to be exposed to harmful UVA rays. I can’t tell you the amount of times I see friends saying they are going tanning and I just want to scream. You have NO idea what you’re doing to yourself…..and I certainly don’t want to see anything happen after the fact. Here are a few things to be aware of (facts pulled from the American Cancer Society’s website for accuracy):

- The most common types of people that get skin cancers are those who are fair haired and fair skinned. Mostly Caucasian

(While I am Caucasian, I am neither fair haired or fair skinned)

- you don’t have to have moles naturally to be able to go to the dermatologist. Everyone should go to take care of their skin properly and it’s generally a simple co-pay under your insurance. Once a year usually suffices for most.

-If you do have moles, keep an eye on them. Changing colors and sizes are the most common factors to watch for as they usually signal a possible issue.

-family history. If there is one (even if its not melanoma, but another form of skin cancer) you should be regularly seeing a dermatologist to get checked out.

-If you are out in the sun a lot (athletes, those who enjoy the outdoors, sun worshipers)- you should be seeing a dermatologist regularly. You should also be using at least 30SPF sunscreen, which generally means reapplying every 60 minutes (double what the SPF is)

It doesn’t take a lot of time or money to see a Dermatologist regularly. If you don’t know of one, ask around or check your insurance’s website to see doctors covered under your plan. I had cancer, but I had it fairly easy compared to many others. Please don’t be one of those “others”. Be aware, be educated, and use sunscreen.- I would rather be “pale” and alive than have a tan and be sick. There’s no fun there. <3-Amanda