10 Things I Learned From Having Melanoma

10 Things I Learned From Having Melanoma

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Well, folks, I’m afraid I have to go back to the dermatologist today to have a small in-office procedure done to remove more skin cancer. At my 3-month skin check appointment last month, my dermatologist biopsied two places on my back. Both came back showing A-typical cells, but one of the two places was worse than the other, showing severely abnormal cells with a wider margin. If they had stayed, they would have developed into Melanoma.

Today’s visit will remove more of the affected tissue and hopefully will get rid of it. Your positive thoughts and prayers are always welcome.

Without sounding like a Public Service Announcement, did you know that
May is National Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month

One in five people will develop skin cancer in the course of their lifetime. Many of you reading this don’t realize how serious skin cancer is. You’ll never really understand until it happens to you, and God forbid it does. I know this because I didn’t think it would happen to me either and it could have cost me my life. I shared my story and told you about the complications that followed a couple of months ago. If you haven’t read the story, I really wish you would. It could save your life or the life of someone you love.

Now that I’ve had time to process all that has happened to me, I’ve realized some things that I learned from this whole experience, and I would like to share them with you.

10 Things I Learned From Having Melanoma

#1 Melanoma is not “just skin cancer”

Melanoma is less common than other skin cancers, and it is one of the most dangerous forms of skin cancer. According to SkinCancer.org, one person dies every 57 minutes from Melanoma. It is curable if it is caught in the early stages, but timing is of the essence. Melanoma is aggressive and it can spread throughout your body and attack your vital organs.

If something looks suspicious on your skin, don’t wait it out. Get a skin check out right away. I waited too long. I thought they would just cut it off and dig it out. Bull shit! I went through a lot. My lymph node biopsy results and screenings came back clear, but that doesn’t mean I’m not out of the woods. I have to be diligent with follow-up skin tests and lab checks. There is a small chance that the melanoma can recur. I will be monitored closely for the next 5 years. Melanoma is now a fact of my life.

10 Things I Learned From Having Melanoma | One in five people will develop skin cancer in the course of their lifetime. I've realized some things that I learned from this whole experience and I would like to share with you. | TheMountainKitchen.com

#2 Be assertive and take your health into your own hands. 

I finally got my head out of the sand and made an appointment with a dermatologist. The first dermatologist office I called was not seeing new patients for another 3 months. That’s 3 more months that the Melanoma would have time to grow under my skin! I decided to seek a dermatologist who was further away from my home and could take me in. I researched possible dermatologists online and picked one that specialized in dealing with cancers. There are a lot of “spa” type dermatologists out there. I didn’t need a spa; I needed a board-certified dermatologist—one with a history and experience in dealing with cancer.

Thank goodness the day of required referrals for health insurance is a thing of the past. It saved me a lot of time by researching and finding the right dermatologist on my own. I knew what my body was telling me, and I didn’t need one doctor to refer me to another. I needed a doctor that was going to take care of the issue at hand. Don’t sit around and wait. Every day counts!

#3 There are still good doctors in this world.

I’ll be honest, I don’t like doctors, but I know that I have to rely on them for care. There is nothing worse than a doctor that treats you like the next patient instead of a human being. I’ve dealt with some of them, and I usually don’t go back to them. If you sit around in a waiting room for long periods of time or if they can’t even come into the exam room, say a genuine hello and shake your hand; Don’t go back! Find someone who treats you like a person, not like a patient.

I was so fortunate to have found the group of doctors that treated me for my skin cancer. The original dermatologist went above and beyond the call of duty to treat me. After my initial visit, she came in before normal office hours the next day to perform my biopsy right away. She also got me into the Inova Melanoma and Skin Cancer Center by calling dermatologists and directors of the Inova Melanoma and Skin Cancer Center on his personal cell after office hours.

I didn’t even know that doctors took the liberty of making appointments for referrals. Most of the time, the patient is responsible for that. I was blown away. Every doctor that treated me was “my kind of doctor.” There really are good doctors out there. You have to seek them out.

10 Things I Learned From Having Melanoma | One in five people will develop skin cancer in the course of their lifetime. I've realized some things that I learned from this whole experience and I would like to share with you. | TheMountainKitchen.com

#4 My husband can multi-task.

During my recovery and during the time off of my feet, I learned that David really could multi-task house chores. He may not do all of the things exactly how I would do them, but when he does the main chores at hand, he does a pretty damn good job. Not that I ever doubted him for a minute, but he really meant in sickness and in health. He came straight home from work many nights and started making me supper without even changing out of his work uniform. I couldn’t have made it through all of this without him. He has been my rock through all of this and has taken such good care of me. I am truly blessed to have married such a wonderful man. ♥

10 Things I Learned From Having Melanoma | One in five people will develop skin cancer in the course of their lifetime. I've realized some things that I learned from this whole experience and I would like to share with you. | TheMountainKitchen.com
My Sweet Atchee

#5 Cats get confused when you switch sides of the bed.

Normally, I sleep on the left side of the bed, but since my right leg has been a straight as a chimney stack. David and I switched sides of the bed for a little while to be easier for me to get in and out of bed. His Royal Highness was terribly confused.

He usually sleeps on his “purr-pad” down at the end of the bed by my feet. The first couple of nights, he jumped up on the foot of the bed, looked at his “purr-pad,” then looked at David and then turned and looked at me. You could tell he did not understand, and a few nights, he let us know how annoyed he was by singing about it throughout the night, mainly when David covered up his “purr-pad” by accident during the night. We’ve returned to regular positions now, and he is back in the rhythm again too.

#6 Flexibility and thigh gaps may not be so overrated after all.

I’ve always had short, stubby, muscular legs. It runs in the family. Over the years, I’ve accumulated some fat over the top of those muscles. I wish I had known that I needed to be more flexible after surgery. Having a straight leg, it is almost impossible for me to touch the bottom of my foot when my leg is straight. I’ve had to rely on David to do things for me, such as washing, putting on lotion, socks, and shoes. I almost couldn’t get my leg in the car.

I also thought thigh gaps were overrated, but I sure wish I had one while recuperating from surgery. My right groin was very sore from the biopsy incision. Perhaps if I had a thigh gap walking wouldn’t have been such a challenge…

#7 No matter what you are going through, somebody else is dealing with much worse.

While we were at the medical complex in the waiting area for my labs, we saw a pretty young woman about the same age as me, if not younger. She was also in the radiology department when I was there for my chest x-ray. She was called up to the front desk by the receptionist about her insurance and labs. Her mother was sitting across the waiting room from where David and I were seated. We couldn’t help but hear her mom on the phone talking about tumors that were found and how she had to get off the phone before she lost it and couldn’t stop crying.

I watched the pretty young woman from a distance. She was very thin, and her diagnosis was much more serious than mine. One of the doctors from my earlier appointment told me that out of the 7 new cases they had that day, I had the most straightforward treatment plan. I was called back for my labs, and we didn’t see them again.

When my results came back clear, leaving the doctor’s office with such relief. Finally, after weeks of not knowing, I could take a full breath. I could relax and breathe again. A huge weight fell off of my shoulders. On the way out of the driveway of the Melanoma center, I could help but think about that poor woman getting x-rays and labs the same day I did. I teared up a little and told David: “You know, I’m leaving this place as one of the lucky ones.”

I am so blessed. One of the lucky ones. Some people have to endure so much more, and others may not come out of it alive.

#8 Don’t be afraid to feel.

Waiting for the full diagnosis is the hardest part. I tend to push my feelings down inside until they are triggered to erupt. From the day I was told I had cancer (November 12) until the day I received the results from the surgery and biopsy (December 16). I lived in fear.

When I was told I had cancer, the fear set in, I became numb. My mind went to places it hadn’t gone before. Expect the worst – hope for the best – and accept whatever comes in between. I let fear into your heart. It crept in sunk its claws around my heart. My natural spirit was held hostage.

I’m sure David will tell you at times I was very difficult to deal with. I wasn’t allowing myself to feel. Then one day while at home alone, I broke. I cried and got out all of that anxiety, frustration, and fear. For the first time in days, I had allowed myself to feel again.

That got me through until I got the results. Fear of the unknown will make you crazy. Once you know what you’re dealing with, you address it and move on. No matter what the outcome. David and I never discussed the what-ifs. We didn’t discuss anything negative. We treated this situation just like any other, and we deal with things as they come, not before.

10 Things I Learned From Having Melanoma | One in five people will develop skin cancer in the course of their lifetime. I've realized some things that I learned from this whole experience and I would like to share with you. | TheMountainKitchen.com

#9 You learn who your true friends and family are.

Some friends and family are just there. They always are and they always have been, but when I was looking cancer in the eyes, it became very clear who my true friends and family are. Some checked on me almost every day, even folks I haven’t seen in years and a few I have never even met at all. I also received multiple cards and some floral deliveries, while I have been recovering. The most powerful words and gestures are the ones not made at all.

#10 Life is full of junk and noise.

As my boss pointed out, on your list of really important things, this is a minor one. Life takes on new meaning when you have serious health issues. You tend to concentrate on the really important stuff and let some of the junk go. She referred to all the unimportant things we deal with in life as junk and noise. She went on to quote the bible. “separates the wheat from the chaff.” This world we live in is filled with so much unimportant junk and noise. Many get caught up in it and miss too much of the real things life is about.

I feel I have let a lot of things go through the years. I’ve done my best to eliminate stupid, stressful things. When I get worked up over things I take a step back and try to look at the big picture. Having Melanoma is a life-changing experience. I am letting a lot more junk and noise go these days. Looking cancer in the eyes gave me an even clearer picture. I’m still processing all of what happened; my story is still unfolding. One thing is for sure, I’m not the same person I was before Melanoma. I have learned a lot in the short amount of time since my diagnosis. My life is clearer and I’m a much stronger person because of it.

Please protect yourself and the ones you love. There is no safe tan and no it isn’t “just a sunburn”.

Here is a Prevention Guideline Handout from SkinCancer.org

Read it. Learn from it. PREVENT IT!

Thanks for reading this.


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15 thoughts on “10 Things I Learned From Having Melanoma”

  • Awesome post! So sorry that you have had to go through it but I’m glad you have been diligent withit too! Good luck with your next visit!
    You’re a tough cookie!

  • As this week is my second Blogiversary I am reminded you and Sarah (www.sarahnspice.com) were my early followers. Yes that’s right so I am most fond of the both of you as well as all my readers/followers. I was hesitant to email you when my SIL had her April (6 month) dermatologist check-up (last month) something was bothering me?! One to never sugar coat anything because I live in the real world you did on several occasions enter my mind Debbie. Now I know why my friend. As for my sweet Sarah her Mom has endured breast cancer, chemo. etc. (unbeknownst) too me until recently when Sarah wrote about it on her blog. My heart sank is all I can say. Its that oh man NO syndrome-at the pit of your stomach that aches. Sarah’s Mom is a trooper and fighter as you are Debbie. My SIL has been cleared for 6 more months (She had basal cell-most common form of skin cancer on her face). The relief in her eyes well…you can imagine Deb. Positive thoughts your way! xo Cheryl

  • Thank you for being willing to share your experience with us, along with the lessons you’ve encountered along the way. Best wishes to you!!

  • All good tips. I’m a 2 time Melanoma Caner survivor. I lost my left leg to Melanoma back in 2001 and was stage 4. Always stay a step ahead of it. and stay positive!

  • Thank you so much for sharing your story. It’s so important to talk about and so many people still don’t realize the risk. I hope your appointment goes well and I hope your next visit is nothing but good news. And that you can find peace in the time between now and then.

    I know from my own brush (nothing too serious, all told) with melanoma that once you experience it, you never look at your skin – or caring for it – quite the same way again. I can’t imagine how much more that is when it goes deeper than that. So I hope you rest and peace within your body, as well. <3

    • Thank you so much for the kind words, Lea. You’re right, about never quite looking at your skin the same. Being that mine went a little deeper it makes more even more in tune with my body. Sometimes it may be on the verge of paranoia, but I know I cannot help that with all things considered. I’m glad you caught yours early. Thanks for taking the time to stop by and comment.

  • Thank you for sharing your experience with Melanoma. I didn’t really know much about it until I read your post. I’m glad to hear, you have the most straightforward plan for treatment. I shall keep all my fingers crossed for you and of course put you in my thoughts and prayers. I wish you a speedy recovery and all the best in future. Take care and my warm wishes to David and of course, His Royal Highness.

  • Yes, yes, yes to all your points! #8, #9 and #10 are SO powerful and SO true. While I haven’t been through this exact thing, I have felt a lot of these same emotions and a-ha moments. Thanks for sharing your journey – it’s powerful to not feel alone in these moments. I wish you continued health and strength. Sending lots of love! <3

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