So been thinking how to start this and I have no idea how to so I’ll just come out with it – I have cancer. Melanoma to be specific. Superficial spreading melanoma to be even more specific. Stage 2a. It’s not ‘just skin cancer’.
I’m not posting this for any type of sympathy but I do want attention, for a very specific reason, and I’ve been thinking for a while now, firstly whether to post at all, and secondly how to post it if I decided to.
The reason I want to post about it and make it public is to raise awareness, and I think the best way to do that is to share my story, a little bit of information and some pictures of my journey so far. It’s a long one so you might want to grab a cup of tea if you choose to read on!
So here goes… early this year I noticed what I thought was a spot on my back, it was just annoying but I couldn’t see it and thought it would go away. It didn’t seem to go away so I luckily got Kris to take a pic of it, but it looked more like a mole to me, and again I thought nothing else of it.
Then fast forward to the end of June – it had grown considerably and was starting to feel itchy and annoying, so I booked a doctor’s appointment because I did the dreaded Googling and it said it could be skin cancer. Even though Google said that it was skin cancer I didn’t believe it because you shouldn’t trust Google, right? Had to wait ages for an appointment and got seen in July by an experienced GP. She confirmed what I thought – that it was nothing to worry about – it was just a wart. We agreed that it should be removed, though, as it sat right at my bra strap and was very annoying.
I cancelled my first removal appointment as I had work commitments and rescheduled for 25th of September because I was told it was nothing to worry about. It was a quick and straight forward removal at the GP surgery with a little local anaesthetic, they literally just cut it off (called a shave excision) and that was me on my merry way. Everything taken automatically gets sent to the lab as standard – luckily for me.
Then comes the 11th of October, a day I’ll never forget. I was doing a little extra day at work and I received a phone call from another doctor asking if I was able to come in – I couldn’t as I was too far away. She asked if she could share the results of my removal over the phone and I’m so glad she did. She said they found melanoma. I was devastated. She was talking a lot and I heard none of it – just that one word. I phoned mum and she was devastated but said it is what it is and that we’ll deal with it. I literally was on the floor on my knees crying my eyes out. Emergency referral to dermatology put through.
After the drama of all that I found out I had superficial spreading melanoma that was 2.4mm thick so done A LOT of researching on my good friend Google. I didn’t realise that firstly, there were so many different skin cancers, secondly that melanoma is the deadliest of all those skin cancers and thirdly that there are loads of different kinds of melanoma and so many different places you can get it (under finger nails, palms of hands, soles of feet, behind the eye and other body cavities!). It was an interesting read but also very scary and really made me think. Just getting slightly pink in the sun can cause the mutation that will give you melanoma. And sun beds… never going on one again!
I was referred urgently to the dermatologist who did a full skin check and lymph node check, noting another freckle/mole to keep an eye on, and then had a skin biopsy of the original area. That required more local anaesthetic and the nurse cutting out that section of skin, going as deep as where the fat begins. It was a little sore and I was told I’d have a scar. I didn’t care about a scar, I just wanted this horrible disease out of me. I waited almost 4 weeks for the results and finally found out they removed another 3mm. I also found out the cancer was in vertical growth stage with a mitotic rate (speed in which cells multiply) of 3/mm2. I’m told this isn’t a high number but the fact it was still growing, and growing down, was obviously concerning.
The next part of the treatment was to get a wider local excision – meaning they cut a larger area out (2cm out all the way round from my current scar, going as far down to just before the muscle), to get ‘clear margins’. This just means they want to make sure there are no little microscopic cells nearby that have detached and could grow. This means another procedure and a big scar. I was also offered a sentinel lymph node biopsy too, which I decided to get. Melanoma most commonly spreads through lymph nodes to other parts of the body so this procedure finds the nearest lymph nodes and cuts them out, checking for any cells that have spread there. I was told that if there is anything in the lymph nodes I will have to start immunotherapy, so my body can attack the cancer cells and destroy them itself. And if there wasn’t then I don’t go into remission until 5 years has passed, after having quarterly full skin and lymph node checks.
The confusing part for me was having the two different thicknesses – 2.4mm and 3mm. The doctors were flummoxed by this and don’t usually order a CT scan unless the thickness is 4mm or more but I’m obviously just unique (lol). Thankfully this was clear, which means there are no large growths over 1cm, as this is the thickness the scan can pick up. So next thing is surgery.
It was a lot to take in, in such a short space of time but all I knew was that I wasn’t going to let cancer beat me or get the better of me so full steam ahead with my surgery! A plastic surgeon does both procedures at the same time under general anaesthetic. I went in on the 4th of December with Mum and Megan by my side for moral support. I had to first get a scan to show where my nearest lymph nodes were before surgery. It was a very early start and this involved having 4 injections of radioactive liquid into my biopsy scar on my back and then being scanned for around an hour. The surgery went to plan and I, thankfully, got home the same day at around 8pm. I was lucky enough to be able to go private for this procedure (through my work) which meant only waiting 2 weeks for the results. And what a long two weeks it was. I was extremely (still am) uncomfortable and sore throughout – even with pain killers. Not being able to dress myself or lift my child was and still is very hard. It really knocked me as I have very little independence and that is really strange as I am not used to having to rely on others for literally every little thing.
Then comes today, the 19th of December. I received a call from my plastic surgeon with my results and burst out crying. Of the lymph nodes they took and big chunk from my excision there was NO EVIDENCE OF DISEASE (NED)!!!!! I am over the moon, this is one of the best days of my life!
I would still be posting my story today even if my results weren’t clear as I want to raise awareness and help take away stigma from this horrible disease. I also want to say a massive thank you to my family and close friends, as well as my fb support group Melanomamates, for all the support and listening ears – I’d be lost without it!
I am not finished my journey yet, however. I will be at the dermatologist regularly for the next 5 years, and if after that they are all clear, I will be classed as in remission. What I will never do again is get sunburnt, I will always be safe in the sun and ensure my family are too. If you get anything from this post at all please let it be to protect yourself from UV rays and check your skin regularly for changes or new moles or just anything unusual in general, please. ♥️