JerseyGirl474's Journey with Skin Cancer - Melanoma

Patient: Skin Cancer - Melanoma

Patient Info: Currently in active treatment (initial surgery, receiving chemo rounds/radiation), Diagnosed: about 9 years ago, Female, Age: 41

  1. 1
    about 9 years ago
    JerseyGirl474's Avatar


    Oh No

    I lost the love of my life and the light of my world to melanoma in 2008; he was diagnosed the day before Thanksgiving 2005. We thought he had the flu, and noticed he had a swollen lymph node under his left arm. It was swollen for more than a week, so, as doctors tend to do when a lymph node is swollen that long, they did a needle biopsy on it. 11/23/2005, we got the call - Stage III melanoma. Yeah, because they couldn't have waited til AFTER Thanksgiving to tell us?? It's not like they were gonna bring him in for surgery on Thanksgiving Day. Way to ruin the holiday. He ended up having the lymph node removed and undergoing chemo and radiation. Melanoma, being the bast*rd that it is, came back with a vengeance in November 2007; this time, it was Stage IV. Second verse, same as the first, a whole lot louder and a whole lot worse: more chemo, more radiation, throw in some immunotherapy and a clinical trial this time around for good measure … The cancer responded very well to all of that -- until it didn't anymore. One day in March 2008, he had a routine MRI done to see how things were going. Other than a Parkinson's-like tremor he had in his left arm, he was feeling better than he had in months … looking better, too. Never in a million years did either of us expect what happened next. Doctors came back and told us that the MRI revealed he had 10 tumors in his brain; they gave him 4 weeks to live. 3 weeks to the day, he was gone. I've never been a sun worshiper; in fact, I loathe the sun. I'm born and raised in Jersey; I'm the girl who's always walking under the awnings on the boards down the shore. I wear SPF 100 year-round. I avoid the sun like the plague. I have NEVER set foot anywhere near a tanning bed, much less IN one. I've gotten exactly ONE bad sunburn my entire life -- and I was wearing sunscreen at the time! I was 16, had on SPF 30, and fell asleep on the beach in Wildwood. Got sun poisoning so bad I was wishing for death. That was the last time I have ever laid out on the beach without an umbrella and a MUCH higher SPF. On Thursday, November 10, 2011, I was diagnosed with melanoma. My husband died at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in NYC. I was getting checked out by a dermatologist @ Sloan in Basking Ridge, NJ from head to toe since I'm neon white and you can pretty much map out all the constellations on my arms and legs. (Yay Irish skin!!) I had had full-body photo mapping done in December 2009. In October 2010, I moved to NY State, and my insurance wouldn't cover me being seen at the NJ location anymore. I couldn't bring myself to set foot in the building where my husband passed away, so I kept making appointments there, chickening out at the last minute, rescheduling them, canceling them, making, chickening, rescheduling, canceling … this went on for the better part of a year until I moved back to Jersey in October 2011. The first thing I did was call my old dermatologist at Sloan and tell them I needed to get in for my annual head-to-toe check that I was almost a year overdue for. She checks me out, comparing me to my photos from 2009. Everything was going smoothly … until she got to my left calf. She looked at my calf, then at the computer, then at my calf, then at the computer … calf, computer, calf, computer … I finally said, "what the h*ll are you looking at???" She said there was a spot that had gotten much bigger than when I had the photos done. It wasn't a very big spot at all - it was 2mm wide, not raised, not a strange color … it basically had NONE of the typical signs of melanoma. I took a photo of it with my cell phone to see it up close; magnified, it looked like a U shape, but the U appeared to be symmetrical. I figured, OK, it's been 2 years since those photos, and it's normal to get new spots as you get older. My dr said that she wanted to follow up with me in 3 months, and if it had changed at all, she was going to remove it. I agreed, made the follow-up appointment … but something was nagging at me once I got home. I don't know if it was Danny trying to tell me to get this thing checked out now or what, but my gut told me that I needed to have it biopsied ASAP. I called the dr the next day and told them I needed to come in. The receptionist said, "you were just here yesterday. You mean you want to move your January appointment up? When do you want to come in, December?" I said, "No, NOW. She needs to do a biopsy on that spot on my leg." Biopsy was done on November 2nd. I also had another spot in my left groin removed that the dr said looked "interesting." She said it was most likely a congenital mole, in which case it was fine, but if it wasn't, it had some concerning features. I told her to kill two stones with one bird and remove them both at the same time. The spot in my groin hurt like H*LL afterwards, and I had told her that. November 10, 2011. 5:38pm. Cell phone rings. I'm upstairs, phone is downstairs. I knew exactly who was calling the second I heard it ring. I answer. "Hi Jen! How are you doing?" "Fine." "How's the spot in your groin?" "It hurts like h*ll." "Is it any worse? Is it red?" "No, it's fine. WHAT ARE THE RESULTS OF THE BIOPSIES???" "Got a few minutes?" Deep breath. I knew exactly what that meant. I've had biopsies done before by her, and she's always started off with, "good news, they're benign" and then gone into the details. "Got a few minutes?" My brain replied, "which one is it?" My mouth replied, with a sigh of resignation, "yeah …" The one in my groin was a dysplastic nevi. The one on my calf was melanoma. My first 3 thoughts, in order, were as follows: 1) "Oh, SH*T." 2) "Hey, now I get to wear one of those cool shirts at Relay!" (WTF?? Where the h*ll did THAT come from??) 3) "Dan? I know we had a LOT in common, but did we REALLY need THIS, too?!?!?!" She proceeded to say a bunch of stuff that I wrote down. I guess because I knew in my gut what it was before hearing her say it, it didn't hit me like a ton of bricks. I've been told I'm going to have a "pity party" - hasn't happened yet, and it's not gonna. I've had Type 1 Diabetes for almost 22 years now and not once have I felt sorry for myself with that, so this isn't gonna be any different. It is what it is. You take what you're given and you deal with it. As Danny used to say, "nobody's guaranteed to wake up in the morning or make it to the night, so just be thankful for today." The way I see things, I'm either gonna die from diabetes, melanoma, or get hit by a bus. You don't know. None of us do. So raise a glass to life and enjoy it while you got it.

  2. 2
    about 9 years ago
    JerseyGirl474's Avatar

    Wide excision surgery

    Procedure or Surgery

    On 12/12/2011, I had a wide excision done on my left calf. They removed a 2.9cm x 1.1cm chunk out of my leg, and while I knew that the recovery was going to be painful, I wasn't ready for exactly HOW painful it was. I had to use crutches for the first 2 days (who would have ever thought I'd be thankful for breaking my leg in 3 places when I was 13? Sometimes it pays to be a pack rat); after that, whenever I would get up out of bed, I had to sit with my leg hanging off the bed for a good 5 minutes to let the blood rush to the incision site, then stand bearing all my weight on my right leg for another 5 minutes before I could even tolerate putting the slightest bit of weight on the left leg. Codeine didn't even make a slight dent in the pain. It's been 10 days since the surgery, and while the pain has lessened a bit and I can get up out of bed without the rigamarole now, I still have my moments.

    Went as Expected: Strongly Agree
    Minimal Recovery: Agree
    Minimal Side Effects: Agree
    Minimal Impact to Daily Life: Disagree