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Overcoming my fear of melanoma is not going to be easy. I dread every doctor’s appointment, and I have developed a terrible case of “White Coat Syndrome.” I want to be able to go into a doctor’s office and not have them recheck my blood pressure because it’s too high. I’d like to not jump out of my skin every time a doctor’s office calls with test results. I wish I could get over my fear of melanoma and not worry so much.
Losing health battles can happen in the blink of an eye, especially when you have no control over what happens to your own body. I can’t count the number of times I heard my mama say: “If you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything.” I know this to be true after watching my late father suffer from a very aggressive form of squamous cell skin cancer, chronic back pain, diabetes, and other health issues.
2016 was one of the hardest years I have ever faced health-wise. I landed in the hospital at the beginning of a new year with multiple pulmonary embolisms. The embolisms resulted from a combination of the immobilization of my leg after removing melanoma from my knee a month prior and birth control pills. It was the first time I had ever been in the hospital since birth. I didn’t quite know what was in store for me. Life can change in the blink of an eye. One doctor appointment. One phone call. One letter.
The phone rang on the evening of November 30th around 6:30 p.m. David answered the phone even though he didn’t recognize the number or know who it was. It was my doctor from the Melanoma Center asking if he could speak to me. Why was the doctor calling me himself, and why was he calling me so late? Once again, my fear of melanoma took over. My heart immediately jumped into my throat as I took the phone and anxiously said: “hello?”
My doctor greeted me on the other end of the line. He said he was sorry to be calling so late as proceeded to ask me to hang on for a second while he closed his office door. His hesitation in speaking to me with an open door just about sent me into a panic, and my heart began to pound.
I had gone in 2-weeks prior for my 6-month checkup at the Melanoma Center. I dread my appointments, and I get so worked up. I’m always worried they’re going to find something. I knew the chest x-rays, and blood work had checked out. However, he did a small biopsy on my ankle almost two weeks ago, and I had been awaiting the results.
After scaring me to death and causing my heart to jump into my throat, My doctor gave me the best news of the year. He told me that the biopsy was BENIGN!!! A melanocytic naevus, no excision needed. I thanked him for calling me to tell me the news, but I also told him he scared the hell out of me. I didn’t care about that anymore. Finally, a clean skin check!
It took almost a year to get a clean skin check. At this point, I have had eight biopsies, six moles were excised, and 2 of the mole were melanoma. The melanoma they took from my leg was stage 1B, a dangerously close lethal weapon. The melanoma the doctor took from the left shoulder was a stage 0 in situ, meaning it had the potential to be fatal if the mole had not been taken off. A person rarely has more than one melanoma. I’m in the statistical 10% that have a second melanoma.
At my last appointment, my doctor told me that I am what they call an “Atypical Mole Maker,” meaning that you could throw a dart at me, and wherever that dart landed, the nearest mole biopsied would more than likely be A-typical. Yay, lucky me.
The end of November brought me the best news I had heard all year, my first benign biopsy, but it was immediately clouded over with worry again when I received my very first mammogram a week later.
I had my annual gynecological visit in September. It was the last parts of my body I needed to have checked out to ensure melanoma wasn’t hiding somewhere. I told my gynecologist about my fear of melanoma at the appointment, and she understood my fear. In addition to my annual exam, she wrote an order for an ultrasound to ensure nothing was going on internally. She also wrote an order for a mammogram and recommended that I wait until after I turned 40 in October to go. Little did I know that order would cause David and I both so much stress and worry.
The annual exam checked out fine, and the ultrasound was normal, but my heart sank, and I could see the concern on David’s face when The letter said that I needed to call and schedule another appointment. There was a “finding” that needed to have more testing and further imaging. My fear of melanoma was back. I had come so far this year. All of my tests were clean, but now there was this “finding.”
I called the radiology department the next day and scheduled the first available appointment for a week later. There was no phone call from anyone during this time to tell me what the heck was going on. I was scared but was going to take it one day at a time. I’d been down this road too many times to start letting the stress and worry get the best of me.
The day of the appointment finally came. David went with me and anxiously waited with me in the crowded radiology office. We noticed a very rude woman babbling on and on, talking to someone on her cell phone as we sat down. We all had to sit and listen to the one-sided conversation. It was like she was at home sitting on her couch. Everyone in the waiting room was rolling their eyes and gawking at her. I almost laughed out loud when a lady sitting beside her trying to read a book finally peered over her glasses at her and said: “EXCUSE ME!”.
The rude woman never stopped her conversation. She knew she was rude. She got up and walked out into the hall, never missing a word in her phone conversation. I thought the whole office was going to stand up and applaud. Even the receptionist behind the desk thanked the lady because she was getting ready to say something to her. Even then, the lady continued to yap as she stood at the door with it cracked. Everyone was rolling their eyes. I welcomed the comical distraction.
The door opened, and my name was called to go back. I got up and went with the nurse, leaving David anxiously waiting outside. I was put into a small dressing room the size of a closet. She proceeded to tell me the “finding” was in the right breast. Being that this was my first mammogram, there was nothing to compare it to, so they were going to do a Diagnostic 3-D Mammogram, which would give the doctor more images and a better understanding of what they were seeing. She asked me to undress from the waist up and put on a gown opened in the front. When I was finished undressing, I placed my sweater and bra into a small plastic basket and opened the door. The nurse told me that the technician would come for me when the machine was available.
Minutes later, the technician came for me, and I received the diagnostic mammogram. It took 10 seconds!! The technician walked me down the hall with my belongings inside a plastic basket. We went into a small waiting room, where another woman was wearing a gown with her belongings in a basket. I was told to wait in the waiting room until the doctor had a chance to review the images.
I was so nervous, and it was so uncomfortable sitting there worried and distressed, trying not to make eye contact with the poor woman sitting across from me. You could cut the tension in the room with a knife. The woman was probably going through the same thing that I was. The nurse came and got me only minutes later, walked me down the hall, put me in another closet, and told me not to get dressed. The doctor would be in a few minutes to give me my results.
The closet-size room was better. I didn’t particularly appreciate having all this stress, worry, and panic, and I sure didn’t like being stuck in a small room with a stranger. My fear of melanoma was making my heart pound.
What if it had been hiding in there… what if it was back… what if…
Where was that damn doctor?!?!
There was a knock at the door, and the door slowly opened. A very attractive female doctor entered the room and closed the door behind. She immediately put my fear to rest. Everything was FINE! There was some overlapping tissue that caused them to want a closer look. Normal results and to come back in a year.
I texted David all the updates on what was going on the other side of the waiting room door. Each text I sent was reciprocated with encouragement and calming words from him. David has been my rock, my sanity, my laughs through my tears. I cannot thank him enough for being my husband. He’s taken care of me and kept me sane through it all. He understands my fear of melanoma and has faced it with me. He has stood by me even when I could hardly stand myself.
I could not text him fast enough to let him know that everything was fine and there was nothing else to worry about. I got dressed, and he drove me home.
My relief turned into anger, and I wanted someone to blame for making me go through all of this stress. Why the hell did I have to wait a week to find out what was going on and to be rechecked, and why the hell didn’t someone call me to let me know what was going on. I lashed out at the radiology department, writing them a complaint:
“Melanoma was removed from my leg last Dec. I’ve been through a rough year of biopsies and tests to ensure all was gotten. I turned 40 in October and scheduled my first mammogram. I had the test and was told that I would receive a letter with the results since it was a general screening. The letter came in the mail and stated there was a “finding” that needed more investigation and to call the number to make an appointment.
I got no calls from any doctors to let me know what was going on, and I had to wait a week and ½ to get back in to be rechecked (the soonest I could get scheduled in). I cannot believe there is no radiologist on duty to review each scan, ensuring that all is ok before leaving the first time. So not only did I have to make another appointment, but I also had to rearrange my work schedule once again to make the appointment. It took the doctor literally 3 minutes to review my test, and all was ok.
The whole mammogram process at this office was stressful and mentally torturing. No one should have to wait and wonder like that—a very impersonal and uncaring experience. You have got to do better than this, don’t make anyone go through this mental anguish. I do not want to come back here.”
I received a phone call a few hours later from the radiology department. They were not to blame for this mental anguish I had gone through. They did the screening as the doctor had written on the order. The doctor should have ordered a “Diagnostic Mammogram” from the beginning. The lady I spoke with on the phone told me that they had bumped me up in the screening process ahead of others because they knew from my forms that I had melanoma. I apologized for the nasty complaint, although I don’t think any woman should have to wait, regardless of their health, to get retested when there is a “finding.” It is just cruel, and to receive a vague letter that there was a “finding”…
This year when I have my mammogram, I will have the doctor write it as a diagnostic mammogram. The radiology department said that I could have one done without any flack from the insurance company due to the melanoma.
So that’s where I am now. I’ve got a major case of White Coat Syndrome, and it is no wonder. My fear of melanoma keeps coming back with every doctor visit, but I will go for my 3-month skin check in March and face that fear head-on.
So, why did I tell you all this? No, I don’t want attention. No, I don’t want sympathy. I’m not asking for your prayers, but I will always welcome them.
I’m sharing this journey with you to raise awareness. I hope that by sharing this journey with you, you can learn from my mistakes. All it takes is a couple of sunburns, a few trips to the tanning bed to increase your risk of getting melanoma. Still, there are many risk factors that can make you more vulnerable to get melanoma, such as age, family history, your complexion, even simply being a woman. My hope in sharing this with you is that you can keep your brother, your aunt, your daughter, your neighbor, or your friend from having to go through this. Most importantly, don’t let the fear of melanoma keep you from getting checked out.
I saw this quote that said: “Your largest fear carries your greatest growth.”
Overcoming my fear of melanoma saved my life!
2016 was my worst year ever, but in the same ways, it was my best year ever. Melanoma touched me in a way that has changed my life forever. I have a different view of this life of mine. I’ve stepped outside and looked into my life. I have faced the monster, let it breathe its cold, heartless breath on me. I eliminated it. I’ve been humbled, and I have been broken, but I am a much stronger person because of it. I am blessed; things could have turned out a lot differently.
Now I have to work on overcoming my fear of melanoma coming back. This is now my new normal.
Thanks for reading this.
Please protect yourself and the ones you love. There is no safe tan, and no, it isn’t “just a sunburn.”
Please read it. Learn from it. PREVENT IT!