Melanoma: A Blessing
You did not read that wrong, my malignant melanoma was a blessing in disguise.
Let me start with a dream that woke me up at 2:00 a.m. on January 1, 2017 that filled me so much fear, I had cold sweats, a panic attack and was unable to catch my breath… You know the kind, the ones where you bolt up in bed, with your heart racing because you are terrified, yeah that kind. In my dream, I was told I had cancer. My 29 year old brother had died from brain cancer, my dear friend lost her fight to ovarian cancer and my dog was euthanized due to terminal nasal cancer. I hate cancer! It killed my brother Randy, my friend Gail and my dog, Koko…. cancer sucks.
Even though it was just a dream, hearing my name and cancer mentioned in the same sentence was terrifying to me. I am a God-fearing woman and asked the Lord if this was from Him and I heard that soft voice in my mind say, you have cancer, you need to get checked. I instinctively knew it was that stupid mole on my back. My husband had been telling me for quite some time that I should get it checked. Um… ok… I intensely dislike going to the Drs office for the simple reason it takes forever to get an appointment, you wait forever to get seen and rarely get the help you need… so, I postponed it.. again, and again, and again… for years. Told you I don’t like going to the Dr…
Making an appointment
Returning to work on Monday, January 3, I told my office co-workers about my dream, asking them for recommendations for a Dermatologist. Five phone calls later, I was no closer to “getting checked…” Before calling the next Dermatologist, I said a small prayer asking that if the Lord “really” wanted me to get seen, that I needed Him to help. The next call, the office had an appointment on Thursday, January 12, which was pretty miraculous given how it takes months to get in to see a Dermatologist in my area.
My biopsy was relatively uneventful.I say that tongue in cheek since I dislike needles more than I dislike going to the Dr. Other than the stinging of the needle to mask the slicing of my mole, I was fine… no worries, no concerns.
Getting the call
Monday, January 16, 2017, MLK, Jr. Day, my Dad’s birthday, the anniversary of saying goodbye to my Koko, was an otherwise normal morning until my cellphone rang. It was the Drs office. My mind went, there must have a question on my insurance, because it’s a holiday and most Drs offices are closed… “Hello, this is Dr So and So, can you talk?” My response, was that I was at work… “Ok… you have malignant melanoma, it’s serious and you need surgery asap…blah, blah, blah…” My mind went numb. I don’t really remember what else was said. My mind was screaming, “Wait!! What?? I have what? How bad is this? Am I going to die?” Google…don’t look at the pictures… I did. I felt faint. Tears were in my eyes, thinking, so this is how I was going to die.
I had seen just a small portion of what the people I loved endured. I had said, many times, that I wasn’t ever going to do chemo or radiation, no matter what… ever.
I’m just going to skip over telling my family. Too many tears, too many fears.
Fear of the unknown
The following morning, as I was on the on-ramp to go to work, I prayed, ok, more like, begged and pleaded with God that I was too young to die. I’m only 51, I wanted to see what my babies (college age 20 somethings) were going to accomplish. Sigh.. this is hard to write without crying, because I knew God was in control, but, I was scared about the unknown. All we knew was that it was malignant melanoma, nothing else.
Later that night, my husband, Rick and I were discussing my diagnosis and what we should do. I had mentioned Cancer Treatment Centers of America. I had told my brother about them, but, he never went, staying local with his treatments and surgery. Just then, a commercial came on, for you guessed it, CTCA. I called, expecting to leave a message when a sweet lady answered the phone. She asked a ton of questions and scheduled a follow up call the next morning.
Later the next day, after speaking to CTCA, I received the news, that not only did I get approved through my insurance, but, CTCA was able to get me in on January 30. I’d be there for a week, undergoing various tests and meeting a litany of Doctors who were experts in their field.
Getting another opinion
In the meantime, my husband and I decided to go to the local plastic surgeon that was recommended by the Dermatologist’s office who performed my initial biopsy. I’ve learned to always get another opinion, if not a third. He was a nice enough guy, telling me that I’d have a large scar in the form of a question mark, he’d do any plastic surgery at the same time as removing the cancerous area, but didn’t think it’d be needed, mentioned nothing about seeing an oncologist, additional testing, etc. There was no warm and fuzzies.. something just didn’t feel right.
Much prayer made us feel the Lord leading us to CTCA. After church, we packed the car and prepared for the 400+ mile drive. Upon arriving, I felt at peace. The personnel at CTCA are exceptional in what they do. One of things I loved about CTCA is the Drs came to me. One room with a nice comfy chair for me. The tests were sometimes brutal. Those stinking tracers shots hurt like … you get the idea. A lot of sucking wind and clenched fingers, hands and toes. Who ever those of those miserable things anyway? Test results were known before we left the office. Blood work, PET/CT scan… all of it. Same day, no anxiety of waiting for weeks.
Day of surgery
Fast forward to February 8, the day of my surgery. My nurses and Drs prayed for me. I left with a 7 inch incision down the center of my back between my shoulder blades and two 3 inch incisions under both arms were the node biopsies were done. Several weeks later, sutures on my back were removed! Looked great! Back to feeling normal! A real shower. Woohoo!
Houston, we have a problem
Then, I fell asleep. A rough night, tossing and turning. In the morning, just enjoyed being normal! As I was preparing to take a shower, I asked Rick to remove my bandage so that adhesive could get cleaned off. Things went from great to ‘we have a problem .’ The problem was, my incision opened up. All of it. All 7 inches… My recovery time just tripled and eventually had to have a wound vac. Dr appointments 3x a week… not a fun time.
I mention all of this because my journey was not pleasant, at all. It was a difficult time healing, it was difficult financially, in fact, it was brutal at times. I’ve undergone another surgery since then to help repair the nerve damage and am currently taking medication to alleviate the pain I have. I praise God because
I’m currently NED, No Evidence of Disease!!
The power of my faith
My scar is ugly, but I don’t care. I’ve had additional biopsies done and more tests done. Every time, there is that anxiety of “what if” and I have to consciously remind myself that God is in control and if He chooses me to take that journey, then I know He will see me through it. That whether it is on earth or at the foot of His throne, I will be healed.
My faith is so much stronger now. Stronger than it has ever been. I started Bible Journaling, introduced many ladies from my church to it, found numerous Facebook friends through Bible Journaling and so many new friendships with members of our church. Friendships that are directly related to my diagnosis. Without the dreaded Malignant Melanoma diagnosis, my husband and I wouldn’t have been refined by God’s fire. We are better for what we went through. We also know who we can count on and who we can’t. We also know that God is still in the business of answering prayers and He takes care of us. We also know that what was meant for evil, God made good. God IS good. We just need to trust Him.
For those starting in this journey, Mandisa sings a song titled, ‘Overcomer’ that spoke volumes to me. Plus, keep this close to your heart,
“9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9 (NKJV)
God bless you.