I brought something home from my six month internship that I hope will get resolved in the next week. At some point during the latter part of my six months at White Violet Center, I noticed a spot on my left shoulder that seemed similar to a basal cell carcinoma that I had removed in 2007, before we hit the road for our new gypsy life. When I talked to Linda at one point, I told her to try to remind me to show it to her when I would see her again in February. Since it was in a spot where I couldn’t see it straight on, I could only feel it and it seemed scaly, but with a little thickness to it.
When Linda did come to get me and things weren’t so crazy, I showed it to her. We decided to take a picture of it and monitor whether it changed or not. We knew, that as busy as our work schedule was, we weren’t able to get our annual check-ups until we got back home in September. From what I could feel, it had the scaly feel of the spot I had in ‘07 so I didn’t think much about it. We worked the upper portion of Texas from Mid-March until the beginning of May, moving every week or less to a new campground. When we finished that assignment, we had planned to stop and visit friends in Alamosa, CO on our way to Breckenridge for our next job. I had tried to schedule an appointment with a doctor in Alamosa, when we knew that we’d be heading that way, but the doctor was booked up and I couldn’t get in. While we were visiting our friends in Alamosa on May 9th, we were driving around town, taking pictures of Flat Stanley with local attractions. Flat Stanley is a paper cut-out of a little boy that was sent to Linda by her grandson, in Norfolk, VA for a class project he was doing. We took Flat Stanley to the train display in town, the display of the Great Sand Dunes and other things we thought would be cute to photograph him with. As we drove down one of the streets, on the way back to our rig, we went by a Community Clinic and Linda said “hey, a clinic…let’s see if they can take a look at your spot”. I went in and there was no one at all in the waiting room. The doctor came out and I showed him my spot and told him I thought it was probably basal cell, like I had before and told him briefly my history with basal cell. He said he didn’t think it was basal cell but looked more like melanoma. I think my heart stopped for a minute, then rose to my throat, because I knew that melanoma was a much nastier cancer to deal with than basal cell. Basal cell typically doesn’t reoccur, once it’s removed, and it doesn’t spread in your body. Needless to say, I was a little scared.
At this point I think it important to know my history of sun exposure. I grew up on a dairy farm and most of my summers were spent sitting on a tractor seat, raking hay in the fields or working with my brother to unload the hay wagons. I don’t recall that we used sunscreen but I do remember getting burned many times as a kid. Later on, when I was no longer working in the fields, I did like to go to the beach on summer vacation and lay in the sun. I’m sure this history of sun exposure is what has lead me to this outcome. Melanoma is the 2nd fastest growing cancer for women, with lung cancer being number 1. It’s number one for men and a cancer that is really getting out of hand.
Back at the doctor’s office, Dr. Ed removed the spot with a 6 mm punch and sent it away to be analyzed. Knowing that he thought it was melanoma, made the next week a long one for the diagnosis to come back. On the 15th we learned that they thought it was melanoma but they had sent it on to the Univ. of California for more analysis. More waiting…..This past Friday, the 23rd we got the pathology report and it is melanoma…Clark Level 4. When we got the initial report on the 15th, the doctor who called us with the news said that we needed to make a decision on where we wanted to go for surgery (they will need to make a wider excision to make sure they get all the cancer out of my arm) so we started researching facilities near us and called our friend Cindy, who also has melanoma. She was a great source of information and strength for us, as we were pretty scared at this point.
I know this has been a long story about the whole process but where we are at today is that we have an appointment tomorrow at the University of Colorado Cancer Center. They are one of 41 premiere cancer centers in the country and they also specialize in melanoma. Tomorrow’s visit will be to generate a treatment plan. We’re hoping that we can get the surgery scheduled for early next week. In the meantime, our work continues but we’re really up in the air about what happens over the coming months until we know how extensive the melanoma is. If they cut it out and get everything, we’ll hit the ground running and keep on keepin’ on. If there’s something more extensive, that involves more treatment, we will head back to PA to get those treatments done.
For all my sun loving friends out there, please use sunscreen but more importantly check your skin for spots that don’t look normal. Over 80,000 people will be diagnosed with melanoma this year. Go here to get the signs of what abnormal spots look like. Finding those spots and getting treatment can mean the difference between life and death. I debated about whether to share my health scare on our blog, since I’m a pretty private person and don’t put my health stuff out there for all to see. But I also feel that if my story can help one other person to take better precautions in the sun or to get a funky mole checked out, then it’s worth it. I’ll post what we find out at the doctor tomorrow and what the coming weeks entail. In the meantime, I’m asking for a positive collective conscientiousness for a good outcome. Whether that means prayer, good vibes, well wishes or whatever in your book….send them my way.