A woman puts her arm around her younger self.

Dark Days Following Diagnosis: Thirteen Years of Things Left Unsaid

March of 2007 should have marked the beginning of a wonderful spring for me. I was almost done with my first year teaching in a different school and different grade, and it had gone much better than I expected. My son was about to graduate kindergarten, and my daughter was finishing pre-K. They both loved school, and for that, I was extremely grateful. It had been a wonderful school year for all of us, and we were all looking forward to summer vacation in a few short months. Then I was diagnosed with melanoma.

My melanoma diagnosis story

If it’s possible to process a thousand thoughts while at the same time drawing a complete mental blank, I was doing it. Question upon question passed through my mind the day of my diagnosis, but I was somehow simultaneously numb. To say I was a mental wreck was an understatement. Of all the maladies I assumed I would develop in my lifetime--I am a worrier, so there were plenty--melanoma was not on my radar. I checked out for a while, and I am not happy about that. My family needed me, and I wasn’t really there--not for myself or for them.

Worrying my life away

Worry can be absolutely debilitating, and if I had it to do over, I wouldn’t just worry less--I would redirect my anxiety into gratitude. I was being given a wake-up call, not a punishment. It has taken me many years to accept that as truth, but I finally believe it wholeheartedly. I would cherish the opportunity to look at my red, swollen, and guilt-ridden eyes in the mirror and say, “This is a chance, not chastisement. You aren’t guilty of anything other than not knowing better. From this, you will move forward and be more prepared.” I am not always the best at self-care, but I know I could do a much better job if given the opportunity to pick myself up following that diagnosis.

Understanding and accepting

I would love to give myself a piece of my mind. But this time, it wouldn’t be the piece that left me reeling and feeling guilty for my tanning transgressions. Where I beat myself up over the 15 years I spent tanning yearly from February to October, I would use that energy to yank myself back to reality. Where I lost touch for a bit, I would step back and look at the big picture. There was a reason for my diagnosis--a reason my melanoma was discovered when it was. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to tell myself that? To have that moment to say, “Breathe. It was almost beyond your control, but look at you now being strong, being a mom, and making changes.”

Knowing better and being better

Thirteen years have passed since I got the call that my very first biopsy yielded bad news. Like most people, there are many things in my life I would change given the shot. The time I spent wallowing in self-pity and hating myself after receiving that call is at the top of my list. The me who was 33 with two small children needed to hear she was going to be okay. She needed to be told she would move past her excision and put the really hard days behind her. I’d give anything if I could tell her that she would soon do better, be better, and soon start showing her kids what better decisions really looked like. She needed to know and, now that I think about it, maybe 46-year-old me needs her to know, too.

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