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Managing fear

I have melanoma on the inside curl of my ear (helix). I noticed something happening with a mole there last year, but being in the midst of debilitating grief over the death of my 32 yr old niece in March I walked through the year like a zombie, not seeing nor caring about anything. Fast forward to this year. Went to my derm doc where she froze a spot on my arm in Dec (I Forgot about my ear and she forgot to check it) . It never healed properly so I called her to go in again. She shaved it to biopsy, and I said btw can you look at my ear. she did and her demeanor changed completely. We have a good relationship, with a lot of light hearted joking, but she got serious immediately. My stomach sank and bASAP. time she shaved the mole off and did a punch, the room chilled and she was talking melanoma and sentinal lymph node biopsy asap. I went home and called my pcp for a referral to Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia, a place I had been too many times over the past 20 years. 3x for breast cancer lumpectomies and once for another melanoma, a story for another time. My pcp gave me terrible news, my insurance company, Independence BC Keystone Health Plan East had dropped him with no notice The day before (!) and he couldn't write a referral. He has been my doc for over 25 years. I recieved no notice from Keystone. I called them for an explanation for which I got no answer other than an offer of a list of 1000 pcp's in my area that I could call. First off, I live in rural PA where there are maybe 4 docs within 30 min. Second it takes 3 mos to get an appt with anyone. In a panic I called my pcp and derm doc. They both pledged to find me someone to write the referral but of course it was a Thursday and I went through the weekend frantic with fear . My pcp prevailed upon a friend to see me and I made an appt for later in the week, their earliest. I had to go through all of the medical history details of an initial visit before they'd write the referral. she mentioned the fact that at best, I'd probably lose part of my ear which I knew but hearing it said made me sick. I then called Fox Chase and they gave me an appt 2 weeks out, the earliest they had.. I went back to my derm doc for stitch removal but the biopsy report hadn't come in yet. Of course that was a Friday. Another fear filled weekend passed and on Tues they called with the news that yes I did have malignant melanoma along with basil cell on my arm. I got through the next 2 weeks using my normal stress eating, baking scones and cakes and pies. My visit with the surgical oncologist was somewhat anticlimactic as she told me what I already knew. I need to have my ear cut, more than just a notch and also the lymph node biopsy in my neck. My first experience with that almost killed me as it turned out I am deathly allergic to the dye they used. Anaphylaxis while under anesthesia is no joke. We discussed the allergy , my need to get an ultrasound and schedule surgery asap. They could have done the ultrasound there that day but my insurance wouldn't cover it done there. I had to g to my small local hospital for that. I called and they told me the first available appointment was 4 weeks away. That's when I started crying. I pleaded with the scheduler to please try to get me in sooner and I guess my desperation moved her, she made some calls and scheduled me 8 days out. Another week of fear and now 7 weeks since my dx. The surgical team meeting was scheduled for a week from the ultrasound and my urgery 10 days out from then.

I feel so drained from all of the stress and fears I have been through and th prospect of possible spread and losing my ear or a large part of it is turning me back into that zombie I had been all the year past. The loss of my beloved niece almost killed me and I guess the potential loss of my ear and time in treatment, reconstruction etc is putting me right back in that grieving frame of mind. I can't concentrate, my memory is shot, I am misplacing things, and finding it hard to care about anything, all symptoms of grieving and loss.

I know I should stay in the moment, take one day at a time etc, etc but I feel so overwhelmed and frightened. And if I hear one more person say" Well, it's only an ear" I am going to lose my nut and slice their's off . I am trying to keep busy, I am an artist and a gardener and a baker and those things take up my time but I am exhausted and feel wrecked. How do I cope? How do I shut my busy brain down and not let this fear make me weak? Is there even an answer to those questions? Thanks for taking the time to read this. I am grateful.

  1. Thank you for your thoughtful reply. I am sorry for what you have gone through. Skin cancer can be so hard to manage emotionally. I wrote my thoughts in this article. I am sorry for the loss of your niece as well. Please keep us updated on how you are doing. Being involved in this community has been great for me. Scott moderator

    1. My ear has been " excised" or more to my way of thinking mangled. I had a horrifically painful experience from start to finish with this surgery and I think I have a long way to go yet. The nuclear imaging dye injections were the most painful things I have ever experienced..4 shots, 3 people holding me down, barbaric. Lymph node removed ( parotid lymph node, the one side by side with your nerve that controls all the muscles on that side of your face) 2/3 of ear removed and excruciating post op surgical pain due to the use of versed which has no effect on me (as I told EVERYONE) a nightmare overnight stay for an outpatient procedure at a top tier cancer hospital. I don't know quite how to process this experience. My meeting with the oncologist gave me no new information ; it was the anesthesiologist who dropped the versed ball. I barely remember what we spoke about as she took the bolster off my ear, I was still shell shocked from the first procedure. I am at a loss as to how to move forward. We have no path results, no idea of what the margins hold, and feel an enormous sense of disappointment in my " team" at the lack of cogent explanations and the callous disregard of my horrendous experience. I am between the rock and the hard place. I may have more cancer, may need more excision, radiation, etc al, will need plastic surgury- but do I do this there??

      1. I am so sorry to hear about what you've been through. I can't even imagine how traumatic all of this must have been for you. It can be incredibly frustrating and devastating when our healthcare providers don't make us feel safe and properly cared for. May I ask if you've considered getting a second opinion or seeing a new doctor? It may relieve some of the fear you have to hear from another source. What do you think? Also, I wanted to share our featured collection on mental well-being and skin cancer: It includes some great articles about how to cope with skin cancer and all of the mixed feelings that come with it. Please know I'm thinking about you and that our community is always here for you! -Alexa ( moderator)

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