Monday, April 30, 2012

Part 4: The Aftermath

I did go in for one final surgery and I now have a 2-inch scar on my arm.  Fortunately, no cancer cells were found in any of that tissue.  I see the scar every day (it is on my left forearm) and it is a reminder to me about how lucky I am to be alive.  After seeing my oncologist for a few follow-up visits, I started going to a regular dermatologist again.  I see him every six months without fail.  He checks everywhere I have skin because melanoma can be found anywhere, even those places that don't see the sun.  The peace of mind I get from those visits is always wonderful.

When I was eight months pregnant with my fourth (and last) child, he found a mole that concerned him and it was removed.  That was a miserable week for me as we waited for the pathology report.    I thought, "What have I done?  I've had cancer.  Why am I having another child?  What if this is melanoma?"  It came back "abnormal" but not cancerous.  I think for me, it was a major factor in deciding to be done having kids.  (My husband always wanted four, so we were likely going to be done anyway but for me, it made the decision easier.)  I LOVE being a mother and there are times I am sad I didn't have anymore kids but I look at the scar on my arm and am grateful for each day I have with my four kids.

In the year after my diagnosis, all of my siblings and my parents went in for dermatologist appointments.  Sadly, one sister did have a melanoma removed.  Her cancer was much more advanced and she went through a very hard year of radiation and chemotherapy treatments.  Gratefully, all is going well for her, but it was very emotional to watch what she went through and what easily could have been me.

Since my diagnosis, I have been part of a melanoma research study, where I was examined and prodded by various nurses and doctors.  I joke about it now but being on an exam table with nurses and doctors looking at my skin and saying things like, "Oh fascinating!"  "Have you seen this mole?  Her sun damage is nothing but her moles are impressive" was somewhat unnerving.  At one point I said, "You know I can hear you right?  I'm laying right here about two inches away from your magnifying glass."

And, to answer a few questions I get from people when they find out I had melanoma:   No, I have never been to a tanning bed--thankfully.  Statistically, chances of skin cancer but especially melanoma go way up if you have used one, even one time.  No, I didn't have a lot of sunburns growing up.  My mom always applied sunscreen and I often wore long-sleeved shirts in the summer.  No, I didn't have a summer job as a life guard or spent hours laying out in the sun.   I was told my skin has the sun damage of zero, meaning, they couldn't see any significant sun damage on me which is almost unheard of in a person over the age of 30. So, statistically, I was not supposed to have melanoma.

But, because my children have a mom who has had a melanoma, their chances of having it, have gone up.  So yes, I am religious about them wearing sunscreen but more importantly, covering up.  They all wear rash guards in the pool, we all have our hats that we wear when we are outside, and I rarely am outside with a short-sleeve shirt on.  We spend a ton of money on sunscreen year round.  I put it on my face and arms daily and my kids regularly, even in the winter.

I try to not to take it personally but do find it hard to hear friends say, "Oh, I just hate my pale skin.  I have to go spend some time laying out."  I recently learned of a friend who went to a tanning bed in preparation for a trip she was going on.  This person sat next to me at the pool one summer (with me in my 3 inch-brimmed hat, rash guard, and towel across my legs) while I told her of my worry about my last mole removal, hoping the pathology came back normal.  I thought she "got it" but obviously, she didn't.  I do think I make people uncomfortable at our local pool.  We do go almost daily but my kids and I are in our hats, long-sleeved rash guards and always sit under a sun tent.  If I do make people uncomfortable, I am sorry.   I will not be "afraid" of the sun or prevent my family from enjoying the pool, the beach or playing sports outside but I will exercise caution when I am in it.

I am a huge believer in personal freedom and I don't want to ban tanning beds, or force people to do things like pass laws about requiring hats on kids, etc.  I do hope my experience has made people more aware.  It certainly has made me more aware and for that I am grateful.

I am now more aware and sensitive to people who are afraid when they get "that" phone call.  I am more aware of the kindness of others--family, neighbors, friends, doctors, front desk staff at medical offices,  and strangers who open doors, etc.  I am more aware of my Heavenly Father and his love for me and all of His children.  I can't look back on this experience without seeing His hand throughout it.  I am more aware of what a solid rock my husband is during stressful times and what a wonderful man he is daily.  I am more aware of my children and what a blessing they are in my life.  I am more aware of how I spend my time and try to use it well.   I am more aware of the need to take better care of myself and my family.  I am more aware of the sun and ways to get vitamin D without sun exposure.  The aftermath of this experience has been good to me, very good. One phone call did change everything but fortunately, the changes have been good.


Mark and Heather said...

I am going to have my moles checked in a couple weeks. :) I love that you cover up, safe and modest.

Kari said...

This is such a good heads-up, Janice. Thank you. I missed the timing, though: what year was this?

Anonymous said...

In the past few years, I have developed a kind of "sun rash" where if I'm out in the sun for more than about 1/2 an hour, I get this itchy, red rash, mostly on my neck and chest, a little less on my arms. I have started plastering on the sunscreen, and when I don't, I'll be in pain for the night.

I should probably ask my doc about it.

Pale is great, right? Although I do admit I use sunless tanners, and if I had a big event where I wanted to look tanner, I would maybe use a spray tan.

love.boxes said...

Thanks for sharing Janice..