Friday, April 27, 2012

The Phone Call

I recently read a short essay about a woman describing her feelings about being told she had skin cancer.  It wasn't a brilliant piece but it captured some of my similar feelings and it got me thinking about my own experience.  I am coming up on "the date" of being told I had cancer, so I thought now would be as good as anytime to write about my experience.   It might be good for me.  And, it might be good for others.  Because my story is somewhat long, I plan on writing this in three parts.

First, the phone call:

It was approximately seven years ago I got the phone call.  It was my OB's nurse saying, "We got your biopsy results back and you have melanoma.  The doctor says to call your dermatologist and make a follow up appointment."

Being fair skinned and growing up in the high altitude of Colorado, my mom took me regularly to the dermatologist.  It was always a sterile environment with me wearing a hospital gown and a doctor looking at my skin.  I would hear him say things like, "Keep an eye on left shoulder nevus" and "Let's remove that one."  I never thought much about it except when people would occasionally ask about the small round scars that were left behind from the mole removals.

In my adulthood, I went to college, got married, started having kids, moved many times and never thought about my moles or going to a dermatologist.  But, shortly after my third child was born, I started having a nagging feeling.  My memories of going to a dermatologist came back to me.  I realized it had been years since I had seen one and recently, I was concerned about one particular mole on my arm.  Let me clarify the word concern.  It was never, "I might have skin cancer."  It was, "I need to go and just be told this is normal".

I made an appointment with a dermatologist.  I opened the phone book and just picked one.  He was in the same building as my OB.  I knew how to drive there.  It made sense to pick a doctor who was close.

Because I am horrible about getting babysitters, I went with a nursing baby and two toddlers.  Maybe this colored how they treated me but even in the waiting room, I knew something wasn't right.  It was a room full of pictures of woman's faces, ads for botox and laser skin treatments and "How to Look Younger" fliers.  I was taken back into a beautifully decorated room with a water feature.   The nurse asked me why I was there, which seemed very strange since when I made the appointment, I said I wanted to have an all-over mole check, and she left the room.  No gown was given to me to put on.  About 10 minutes later, a heavy-cologned doctor walked into the room and asked me what I wanted.  I said I had some concerns about my moles.  I showed him two on my arm to which he said, "Those look fine."  I said, "Well, I was hoping for a complete skin exam."  He said, "That really is unnecessary."  I said, "But this mole, based on the ABCD chart (the E was added a few years after this) has all of the characteristics of something I should be concerned about.  Shouldn't you remove it?"  He said, "No, that is why you come to a doctor.  I am a specialist.  I know that mole is fine."  I was ushered out of his office.

I'll be honest with you.  I was relieved.  That is why I went to his office.  I was told it was normal.  I walked out and thought, "Good.  I don't have to go back for at least a year."  Except, I still had this nagging feeling that I never got that complete mole check.  And, the mole on my arm itched.  Sometimes I would find myself holding my arm away from my body because that mole felt "off" to me.  So, I asked around and got the name of another dermatologist from a friend of mine.  I called his office and was told they couldn't see me for several months.  I remember repeating, "Really?  There is a mole that I am concerned about.  Can't you see me earlier?" I was told no.  I called another dermatologist from the phone book and was told the same thing--two months until they could see me.

Being Mormon, I was raised with a strong belief in a loving Heavenly Father.  I was taught He loves me and watches out for me and I know it is true because what happened next could only have happened because of divine intervention.  I found myself calling my OB's office.   The words I used didn't feel like my own.  I asked if there was anyway they could refer me to a dermatologist.   I knew dermatologists had long wait times but I needed to get in right away.  Could they please help me?  I explained my concern over this one mole and said I wanted it off, regardless if they thought it looked normal.  I needed it gone.  I can still remember the nurse's words, "Come in this week.  The doctor will remove it and send it to be biopsied.  It will go to the same lab any dermatologist would send it.   Then, you don't have to worry about it."

So with three kids in tow, I went immediately into my OB's office.  I was taken back into one of the exam rooms.  I started nursing my baby son.  The doctor walked in.  I showed him the mole on my arm.  I heard him go out in the hall and tell the nurse he was going to do a bigger mole removal than he initially understood.  He needed the "surgical kit".  His nurse came in with animal crackers for my toddlers.  This was no "shave biopsy" (a term I learned later) but a full excision.  While he cut, we chatted about my kids, my toddlers looked over my shoulder and commented how how much blood was on my arm.  It took about 20 minutes for him to finish it all.  I left his office with a big gauze taped on my arm.  I took my kids to the local mall where we ate at the food court and they rode the carousel as a reward for being so good at the doctor's office.  I was relieved it was finally off.  It was like a huge weight had been taken off my shoulders.  One week later, I got the phone call that changed everything. "You have melanoma."

Next week: Part 2:  Oncology

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