Melanoma KO

I’ll admit I underestimated the power punch of surgery’s right hook. I’ll admit trying to go back to work the second day after surgery wasn’t my best idea followed only by driving home from the office that day when it was hard to focus on breathing. Not my brightest, most shining moments, but then again, I intended to charge at cancer full force, not shadow boxing or dodging punches.

However, when post-surgery pain brought me to tears and sent me to the emergency room, I conceded. After yet another round of tests – I think I’ve gone through almost every scan available and thank my engineering friends at GE for their fine, stellar work – blood clot, pneumonia, pulmonary embolism and other scary post-op problems were ruled out and I went home to my pain prescription. All illusions of bouncing back from surgery quickly disappeared and I humbly surrendered to my humanity with the explanation for the pain coming as over-compensating since it was on the opposite side from the surgical site. I still question how much the anesthesia messed with me, since I am a light-weight with any drugs, and the toll laying still on that hard table for an hour took on my body.

What matters though, is recovery and that is where I focused my attention, accepting my role as patient and realizing daytime naps would no longer be a desire but a requirement. I’m not a still person. Slowing down, let alone stopping, is a challenge. Yet, illness has a way of changing one’s perspective drastically. Pain has a way of refocusing one’s attention.

When the surgeon, Dr. Bartos called though, my focus shifted as I listened to the biopsy results from surgery. Out of 25 lymph nodes removed, only one contained melanoma – that one just kept getting bigger. In amazement, I envisioned that one, strong node, taking on the punch of death, protecting everything around it. I raised my eyes and said a prayer of thanks.

What this means in regards to further treatment, I won’t know until I see the oncologist, Dr. Hake, again, but I am continue to be hopeful. Even if treatment is recommended, I have been blessed beyond measure by God’s grace (through some tough nodes). In this round, with the expertise and skill of Dr. Bartos, we delivered a knock-out punch to melanoma. As soon as I get rid of this post-op pain and am back to normal I will dance around the ring holding my shiny, championship belt.


Kill the beast

Since I was first diagnosed with metastatic melanoma, one of my favorite sweatshirts to wear was from the Mukwonago High School musical “Beauty and the Beast,” which I had done production pictures for earlier this year. Not that I’m claiming to be a beauty – I guess we are all a beauty in our own way – but it seemed to describe what I was going through at the time. Along with being black, the color designated for melanoma, it pointed to the beast within me.

As I headed to surgery yesterday, the refrain, “Kill the beast,” from the musical rang in my head. I am thankful that Dr. Bartos and his surgical crew had better luck killing the beast than Gaston did in the Disney movie. I was still snoozing off the anesthesia when Dr. Bartos talked to my family, but from what he told them, it looked like only one lymph node was affected (strong work nodes!). We will find out more after the biopsy report comes back; however I continue to be reminded how blessed I am.

The husband of one of the ladies preparing me for surgery had melanoma 11 years ago and is doing well, “Praise the Lord,” she said. I learned the choir teacher at the high school had melanoma 20 years ago. One needs only go to a cancer fundraising event to see and hear survivor stories, yet cancer still heartbreakingly claims too many. How is it that I was chosen to be a survivor and tell this story?

One of the first thoughts that went through my head when I heard my diagnosis was “but God, I’m not done here yet;” however, I know all to well who is truly in charge and I knew I had to give myself up to that destiny, despite all my fears. Now I know for certain that I am not done here yet, not only for my family’s sake, which is my largest, most rewarding and honorable role, but for another purpose I have yet to discover.

As I continue to say, I am blessed, not only by a supportive, wonderful family and a large network of friends, but mostly by God who showed me my mortality and then said, go forth for I have killed the beast.

After shock

I met with the surgeon, Dr. Steve Bartos, yesterday and listened carefully to his explanation of the surgery and recovery. They will take the affected node and all surrounding nodes, fatty tissue and any nerves running through the mess out – a pretty good chuck, as he described it circling his fingers around an area slightly bigger than a tennis ball. Joking with a friend, I said I would be lopsided now, but it is still a small price to pay for living.

There are times when I feel like this is all happening to someone else. Out in the yard on beautiful spring nights like tonight, throwing the Frisbee for the dog, I feel perfectly fine. How can something so ugly be hiding inside waiting to spread roots and take hold? Yet other times, when I am tired, more tired than normal it seems lately, I don’t know if its the emotion draining me or the battle waging inside.

They keep asking me if there was a mole or lesion on my skin somewhere that disappeared. No, not that I can remember, but in some dark crevice in my mind, I vaguely recall watching a spot on my back, looking for it at some point and not finding it. Brushing it off as bad memory, maybe there was no spot there and I am remembering it wrong. I honestly don’t know, but something nags in my mind.

I wish I had known then about monthly full body scans. Due to my history of sun exposure, I was watching markings on my back, making sure they didn’t fit the description of basal or squamous cell carcinoma. I never learned about melanoma. I didn’t know about the ABCDE features, nor about the Ugly Duckling sign (

Remind me to thank my lymph nodes for an outstanding job of corralling these wild cells and saving my life. Off and on for a long time I’ve felt like I had been fighting something. How would I ever have guessed it could be something as dangerous as melanoma? It still doesn’t seem real that I am a “cancer patient,” yet I look at my wrist with the black “kickin’ cancer” awareness band and I can’t deny, that’s exactly what I am doing.