A Look Back
Last updated: September 2019
At a conference in late August, I was asked by a colleague about my Stage IV melanoma diagnosis. He was surprised, maybe a little dismayed, by the calm and almost detached manner in which I discussed my diagnosis. I understood his astonishment. It’s been six years since that horrible day in late July, so, for me, living with cancer is normal. My normal.
Our conversation, however, brought back a flood of emotions. July 24, 2013 is a date that I’d love to forget.
The routine had been the same
My oncologist walked into the exam room to meet with me about the results of the PET scan from two days ago. My wife, Vicki, is with me, as always, to hear the report. Vicki and I had a routine: every 3 or 4 months, I get scanned – either a CT or a PET – we get the results, which so far have been negative for any metastases, and we move on for another 3 or 4 months. This routine had been the same for the past year-and-a-half following my Stage IIB surgery in late 2011.
After that surgery, I was told I would have to see an oncologist and get routine scans for the remainder of my life. Unfortunately, melanoma can find its way into your lymph nodes or your bloodstream. If that happens, the news is typically not good.
The Earth stopped spinning
The doctor settled himself in the exam room while looking down at the results. What happened next is still a bit fuzzy. Shock will do that to you. He cut right to the chase. The recent scan showed several tiny lesions – mainly in my right lung. In all likelihood, they were cancerous and melanoma. All those clichés about hearing devastating news are true. I immediately saw everything in front of me in tunnel vision. Outside noises and voices went silent. The Earth seemed to stop spinning – at least for the next several minutes.
Vicki asked an obvious question: If we did nothing, what would happen? The doctor responded that without treatment – if we did nothing – I would likely die in 9 to 12 months. I can still hear Vicki gasp and see the absolute terror on her face. I don't ever want to see her face like that again – ever.
It was all a blur
Everything else was a blur. A biopsy would need to be performed. Results sent off to labs for analysis. Drug therapies and clinical trials would be explored and researched. I don't remember any of it.
What I do remember was exiting the oncologist’s suite of exam rooms and walking out to the waiting area. It was crowded and congested, as always. There was an older man standing near the checkout desks. He was in sorry shape and he looked confused. I said out loud, "Can someone help this gentleman?" I couldn't believe he was there all alone. Finally, one of the volunteers helped steer him to a seat at one of the checkout desks. I'll always remember that. I was moving in slow motion with complete tunnel vision, but, at that instance, the old man's situation was my only concern.
The hardest thing
The hardest thing that afternoon was giving the news to our children and my immediate family. I honestly can’t remember how the conversation went or what I said. I was still in a state of shock and tried my best to keep a stiff upper lip as the English would say. Most of what I said had to do with not making any assumptions until we knew exactly what we were dealing with.
I let myself cry
Later that evening I stood in the vanity area of our downstairs bathroom and cried. It was the only time after my initial diagnosis that I cried. Vicki came in to comfort me. I told her I was not crying for myself but for her and the kids. I vaguely remember saying over and over, "It's just not right...It's just not fair to you and the kids."
My Stage IV melanoma journey began on July 24, 2013. Six years later, I am fortunate to still be here to tell my story. The emotions of that day are still very real.
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