My story with Melanoma began in August 2005, just after my husband Brad and I got married……one of the happiest days of my life was quickly followed by one of the darkest.
In the summer of 2004, just after Brad and I got engaged, he expressed concern about a mole I had on my arm. He told me he thought it looked weird, could be skin cancer and he wanted me to get it checked out by my doctor. Despite thinking he was overreacting, I went to my Doctor for a routine exam and asked her about the mole on my arm. She told me very confidently, that it was nothing to worry about….end of story.
Fast forward to the summer of 2005. Brad again brought up his concern about my mole. I reminded him that just the year before, my Doctor had said it was absolutely fine. However, he was very adamant about disagreeing with her and wanted me to get a second opinion. Literally to get him off my back, I went to a nearby drop in clinic and saw a Doctor that I had never met before. He seemed to share my husband’s concern, stating “I would want that off my arm” and immediately referred me to a dermatologist to have the mole removed. At this point I was slightly concerned but still thought it was nothing much to worry about.
A couple weeks later, I went to the dermatologist to have the mole removed, then back a couple weeks later to have the stitches out – still mostly unconcerned about the results. That was when it all began….he told me I had Stage 2 Melanoma.I had heard the word Melanoma for the first time that summer, when a well respected local MP lost his battle with the same disease. My life flashed before my eyes. I was 33, I had just got married to an amazing guy, I was starting a fantastic new chapter in my life and I had Melanoma. I also realized that my husband had saved my life.
Luckily, my treatment at the time was fairly straightforward. The Melanoma on my arm was only 0.72mm deep, so I had surgery on my arm to remove all tissue around and below the mole and followed up with regular dermatologist appointments for about 3 years. I was also very lucky to connect with an Oncologist in North Vancouver, who followed me for around the same period of time, with blood work, X-rays and ultra sounds. Eventually life got back to normal and Melanoma became a distant memory, although my sun exposure practices had been changed forever – now it was long sleeves, 60+ sunscreen, long pants and hats. Everything my mom always nagged me about…in hindsight, moms are always right.
Flashed forward to December 2009. It was a regular morning before work. I had come home from the barn, was having a shower and found a lump in my armpit. Initially, I thought nothing of it…I had a sinus infection at the time so I thought one of my lymph nodes was enlarged from the infection. However, a week later, I decided to follow up with my Doctor, as the enlarged lymph node was in the same arm that my Melanoma had been on.
My Doctor referred me back to the Oncologist I saw in North Van when I was first diagnosed….I saw him a month later (as it was over Xmas) on a Tuesday and he had me in for surgery that Friday. The node had grown quite large and painful and he was extremely concerned.
Diagnosis – Stage 3 Melanoma!!! However, out of five lymph nodes removed, only the enlarge node had Melanoma cells in it…the rest were clear!!! As devastating as the initial diagnosis was, it was the best of a bad situation, as it appeared not to have gone passed the initial node. I followed up with a PET scan, which was clear and because of the size of the lymph node, gladly completed 3 weeks of radiation.
It has now been 8 months since my 2nd Melanoma diagnosis and life is good but forever changed. I have my regular oncology and dermatology appointments and get myself in early to see my doctors if I have any concerns at all. The whole experience has reminded me how fragile life can be even without Cancer and how we need to embrace every day, live every moment, cherish the loved ones in your life and never sweat the small stuff. Because after this last year I have realized, it is all small stuff.