My New Year Starts Today

One year ago today, I went in to see my dermatologist, and with Ferris wailing in the background, she cut off the small, suspicious looking mole on the outside of my right thigh, and sent it off to the lab for the diagnosis that would upend my entire life.

From surgery and resulting issues with breastfeeding Ferris, to the financial upheaval of all of it, to the mental impact of getting a cancer diagnosis at age 34, it was a bumpy ride. But, I’m happy to tell you that today, one year after it all began, that I am finally starting to figure it out.

It took me a long time to realize that the bad things that happen to you in your life are not the hardest things you have to do. After all, you are still here, you have survived the bad things. The hardest part is taking the new person you are after they are over, and figuring out how the rest of your life will be for that new person. People (myself included) are always waiting to “get over” the bad things that happen. But I finally figured out that you never get over anything, you simply move on. You are changed, maybe even damaged, but you have the rest of your life to live. It’s really, really hard, but you have to forge a new road for yourself, the old one is gone.

We recently paid off the significant medical debt we had accumulated, both for my melanoma (surgery, office visits, tests, lab work and biopsies, oh my!) and also for my time in the hospital having Ferris, which had happened just 5 months prior. Looking back at the year, I don’t have a clue how we managed, but we did. And it is like taking a huge breath of fresh air every time I remember we don’t have medical bills saddling us down anymore.

I also followed through with one of my plans for the new year and found myself a therapist. I’ve always been a pretty anxious person and a worrier, and so, as I mentioned recently, the whole experience shook me to my core. I’m having trouble dealing with all of that in itself, but also in conjunction with the whirlwind of other major events that happened around the same time (registering Bowie for Kindergarten, having my 19 year old cat put down, appearing on Good Morning America) that I think kind of distracted me from mentally handling the cancer, and I thought it might be a good idea to talk to someone about that. I’ve been to see her three times now, and it’s been really good. Right now I leave there feeling wiped out. Just drained. Maybe that’s how therapy goes, I don’t really know, I’m new at this. Or maybe over time it will be easier. I can feel things lifting, getting lighter and lighter, little by little. I think it’s working out.

A year ago, I didn’t even know that thing on my leg was cancer. All I knew was it didn’t look right, and a doctor should probably look at it. I am SO GLAD I made the appointment. Or I might not even be here today!

Today it feels like the actual start of my new year. I’ve been in kind of a holding pattern since 2014 started. Glad that 2013 was finally over, but not quite sure what comes next. Today feels significant. Today is what comes next. Today and the rest of the days. I’m changed, but I’m still me. And I can do this.

 

The One Where I Kinda Bum You Out

I suppose if I’m going to hog this domain name, that I could actually blog once in a while. Thing is, along with all the hubbub and running around and preparations we make for the holidays, I’ve also got this looming dark cloud over me lately.

I am really out of sorts right now because recently, one of my favorite teachers from high school passed away at age 52 from breast cancer. I was a student of hers for many years, and she was a warm, wonderful woman and a great mentor. I had always meant to pop into the school and visit her, but never did. Something beat me to it: CANCER.

I think her death reopened something inside of me about my own cancer that I had locked up and buried deep, deep below layers and layers of myself. All of a sudden it hit me like a brick to the forehead: I have had cancer.

Living in the online world, cancer touches you from far and wide. I was reading that a blogger that I follow who was treated for stage 3 melanoma only to find out she had stage 4 ovarian cancer, has had her ovarian cancer return for the third time. And her story now has me really worried about the BRCA gene mutations. These mutations are commonly known as increasing a person’s likelihood to develop breast cancer, but can also mean increased likelihood of other cancers, including malignant melanoma. I don’t know if I’ve been tested for this mutation or not, I plan to ask my dermatologist if this was part of the blood work I had done in March. But, I would make it my (uneducated hypochondriac)¬†guess that if you get cancer under the age of 35 then you might have the mutation.

So cancer has been on my mind lately. REALLY been on my mind. Not just because of these things, but also because I’m looking back at the last 10 years of my life and thinking of all the abuse I put my body through. I didn’t really take care of myself at all. Junk food, diet soda, alcohol, no regular exercise, heavy anxiety, all of this takes its toll. And only NOW am I realizing this.

I’m afraid I’ve done things to my body that I can’t take back, and can’t fix. Because my lymph node came back clear last spring, they ended up not giving me a full body scan. I did have a chest X-ray, so I know my lungs are clear. Which is a good thing. I also had a physical with my gynecologist over the summer, who said everything looked and felt fine to her. But I have the nagging, nagging, NAGGING feeling that they’ve missed something, overlooked something. Because I’m so young, they’re not looking hard enough, not taking things seriously. Of course, I’m way too chicken to go in and ask for the scan. Not only can we not afford it, with $3,000 left from our $15,000 owed out of pocket from the past 2 years, but also I’m afraid they will find something. Which, yes, of course, it’s better to be informed. But being informed means not living in ignorant bliss. Though I would not call my current state of being “bliss” either.

I think when they told me I had cancer, even though they had caught it in time, and it hadn’t spread, I’ve been treating that diagnosis as the beginning of the end. I am now headed to the end of my life. Rather than treating it as the new beginning that it should be. I know that kind of thinking isn’t normal, but I can’t really help it. I need to figure out how to change how I view life and death.

After the cancer diagnosis, there was the actual surgery, which was pretty much the beginning of the end of me breastfeeding Ferris (which if you’ll recall, I had to stop doing when he was 8 months, because he was confusing me with the bottle and biting me until I bled). And there was the false alarm, where the surgeon told me the melanoma had spread to the lymph node, only to call me a week later to say, “No, whoops, sorry about that. You’re good.” That was very difficult. And I’m still wondering, “Are you sure? ARE YOU ABSOLUTELY SURE?!”

I’m trying to focus on 2014. A new year brings new hope, new promise, new life. But, for a person with anxiety issues, a new year also brings new challenges, new problems, new struggles. I barely¬†made it through this year. What if next year is worse?!

I have some changes in mind for 2014, things I can do to better myself and my life, and hopefully help the year not be worse than this one was. I’m trying to be optimistic, and I’m trying to dig myself out of the dumps, if only to not be such a bummer. I want to get the anxiety under control, I want to change the diet a LOT, I want to get past this depression, or whatever funk I’m in, so I can enjoy every day. Every hour. Every minute.

I knew a blogger that found out she had melanoma, and died just months later. I’ve been given a longer time than she was given. Knowing that I need to do more with my time is obvious, but actually following through without feeling so down and so sorry for myself is another game. A game I plan to OWN.

Thanks for sticking with me, folks.

 

 

 

YOU GUYS!

What’s got two thumbs, slightly less of her leg, and is CANCER FREE?

THIS GIRL!

Friday afternoon, I was just doing my thing. Taking care of the boys, cleaning up around the house, waiting for Brien to get home. And out of the blue, my surgeon calls me.

He explained to me that while preliminary testing of the lymph node showed some cells that were a “red flag”, more in-depth testing determined that those cells were NOT from my melanoma, and were also NOT malignant in any way.

I asked, “So…that’s it?”

“That’s IT.”

No more cancer, no more surgeries, I’m in the clear!

Of course, I will still need to go back for checkups and do frequent skin checks, but that’s a small price to pay.

I will be more diligent about looking at my skin, about getting to the dermatologist regularly, and about getting scary looking things taken care of right from the get-go. And I encourage everyone reading this to do the same. And to tell all of their loved ones to do the same. Even if you just have one funny looking mole that you think “is probably nothing.” Go in, get it checked, it could SAVE YOUR LIFE.

Thanks a million times over to everyone that got in touch with me to show support, offer help, give encouragement, say prayers, all of it. I’m grateful and truly touched. The past 8 days of my life would have been a living hell had it not been for all of that love coming my way. Thank you thank you thank you!

Here’s to many more bloggy years to come!

This Melanoma Thing

Since I first told you all about my melanoma, I have been back to the dermatologist, and I have had meetings with a panel of doctors at the hospital’s melanoma center, and I’ve learned a lot of things about my case.

The first thing I learned, and the most important thing I learned, is that I have Stage 1B melanoma, almost as good of a prognosis as you can get. My melanoma was less than 1mm thick, and not ulcerated, a couple of very good things.

The second thing I learned is that one of the “bad cells” was in the middle of mitosis, cell division, so they’re mildly concerned about that. In a few weeks, when I go in to have more skin around the area removed for biopsy, they will also take a lymph node to dissect and biopsy that, to see if it has spread to the lymph node. They really don’t think that it has, but since I’m only 33, they want to make double, triple, extra sure that everything is clear.

After surgery, I will need to return to the hospital every six months for the next 4 years to get a full work up–skin check, blood work, chest X-ray–to make sure everything’s still good.

And I had a long conversation with the head of the melanoma center about my grandfather (who died at age 39 from advanced melanoma). Her best guess is that his melanoma probably developed when he was around the same age as me. But, they knew so much less about it back then, and clearly he had put off having it checked, that he may have been saved had he gone in. Which is both very difficult and very good to hear. On the one hand, I might actually have gotten to meet my grandfather, had he not died of cancer before I was born. But on the other hand, I can take comfort in the fact that I did go in and get checked and had the cancer removed, and it won’t take me the way it took him.

I won’t know anything FOR SURE-for sure until after my surgery, which is slated for March 4. But, things are looking pretty darn good for me as it stands right now. Thanks so much to everyone for their love and support.

Get the Tissues

I don’t recall where I read it, but someone has said that when you have a child, you feel like your heart is in their body. If they’re happy, you’re happy. If they’re hurt, you’re hurt.

But, what they don’t tell you, is a little piece of you is with EVERY kid on the planet. You can’t see kids who are sad, hurt or disappointed without your heart aching. You imagine if that were your child, and then you know how that parent must feel (or some idea of it).

Three days ago, I did not know the little girl named Layla Grace. But I saw many people offering prayers, good vibes, good thoughts and support, so I took a look at her profile.

YOU GUYS. A 2 year old girl dying of cancer. Rips your freaking heart out, I don’t care who you are. I was feeling a lot of self-pity since last week, but this wiped that all away. I have my health. I have my son. I have my son’s health. That’s about all that really matters.

This morning, she passed away. And I am sitting here in a puddle of tears for a little girl I only know about because of Twitter, and have only known about for 3 days. Because it’s unfair that terrible people get to walk this earth day after day, spreading their hate and evil around, while innocent 2 year old babies have to suffer and die.

Rest in peace, Layla Grace. You were so brave.

http://www.laylagrace.org/