Thursday 20th February 2014 is a day my family and I will never forget; hearing the words “you have cancer” are life changing. I was diagnosed with stage 2 malignant melanoma, an aggressive, reoccurring form of skin cancer.
If I’m honest I didn’t realise how serious this form of cancer is, like many, I thought “it’s only skin cancer, I’ll be fine” sadly this is not true.
I went to the doctors in September 2013, as I was about to leave I asked the doctor if he would mind having a look at a mole in the middle of my back, just above my bra line, fortunately for me he measured it and asked me to keep an eye on it, any more problems I was to go back. I had a follow up appointment with my usual doctor about 6 weeks later about another matter. My mole was itchy and I asked her to have another look at it. As the previous doctor had measured it she could quickly tell it had grown; she said she would refer me to see the dermatologist as a precaution as it looked ok.
I had an appointment through quite quickly, I saw the same nurse I had seen in 2002 who checked the very same mole. She looked at it through the dermascope and again said it looked fine, but, as it was sat on my bra line and causing a bit of irritation, she would get it removed. I had an appointment for 19th December to have the mole removed, due to a gruelling work schedule and that no one was concerned I cancelled the appointment and re booked for 20th January.
I went to the hospital to have the mole removed; the consultants final words were “I will be very surprised if there is anything wrong with that”; I left feeling a little light headed and woozy. I went into Boots the chemist to get a few dressings on my way back to work, while I was stood in the queue to pay I passed out, splat on the floor! It was so embarrassing; the staff in boots were amazing and the paramedics who were called to check me over. My husband came to the rescue and took me home to recover. I should have known then that things were amiss!
It was February half term and I was enjoying some time off with my girls, I’d missed a couple of unknown number calls on the Tuesday, Wednesday morning I received another call and fortunately answered it. It was consultant’s secretary and asked me to attend an appointment the following day at 9.30am. I knew then it was bad news. I felt sick, called my husband and made arrangements for my mum to look after my 2 girls overnight so I didn’t have the worry of getting them to her early the next day.
Thursday 20th February 2014 is still a day that I remember every detail and feeling I went through, I can’t remember all of the conversations; as soon as I heard the word “cancer” and “stage 2” I zoned out. My husband was with me and in a state of shock too, all he could do was hold me, which he did to comfort us both.
During the next month I had many tests and follow up appointments to prepare me for surgery where I had a large amount of skin and tissue removed from my tumour site on my back. My surgery went well and I recovered at home with the love and support of my friends and family, I was literally not able to do anything for 3 weeks due to the risk of bursting my stitches; for those of you who know me this was incredibly frustrating!
4 days after my surgery I turned 40, not quite how I had imagined spending my 40th birthday, but hey I was alive!
A CT scan at the end of March showed irregularities on my lung, liver and ovaries, there were concerns my cancer had spread. I was told that I would have to have another scan in 6-8 weeks to see if any of the irregularities had grown indicating that the cancer had spread. If the cancer had spread to my organs, at this time there was very little in the way of treatment options and currently there is no cure for melanoma.
In the only way I felt able to cope, I began putting my life in order. I started planning my funeral, writing birthday cards for my beautiful daughters (my husband is useless choosing a birthday card, standing joke in our house) buying special gifts for my girls for their 18th, 21st and their weddings and of course a list of things to help my husband bring up our girls as a widower.
A lot of tears were shed and a lot of honest conversations were had (usually in my kitchen with a glass of wine).
After more tests over the next 6 months I finally heard the words I was dreaming of, the irregularities that had shown up were not cancer; such a huge relief, I cannot put into words the emotional rollercoaster journey having a cancer diagnose is.
I took the decision in August 2014 to move my care to The Churchill Hospital in Oxford, they have a specialist team who are at the cutting edge of trials and new treatment therapies, due to the experience I had with my initial hospital trust, I lost faith and trust, this, for me, I felt, was so important.
3 years on from my diagnosis I am still NED, no evidence of disease. I had 3 monthly skin checks up until my last appointment in April 2017 and I am now on 6 monthly checks ( BTW – yes you get naked, but hey I’m sure they’ve seen it all !!! any excuse to buy nice new underwear J) continue to have blood tests and scans where required to check nothing has grown and investigate any new lumps and bumps. I have also had a couple of other moles removed that looked suspicious and these have turned out to be dysplastic moles, they have the potential to turn into melanoma. But, I’m healthy and I’m very much alive.
My cancer diagnose has changed my perspective in life, and has changed me as a person; the last 3 years have taught me to never take things for granted, cherish the things you love and have hope that one day a cure will be found.
If anyone reading my story has a suspicious looking mole, blemish, lump or pain please go to your doctor, you know your body better than anyone; if you are not happy go back. I am glad I did, if I hadn’t it would be quite likely my children would not have a mother and my husband would be a widower.
I dedicate my story to the angels that are now flying high, looking over us, who were taken by this dreadful disease.
Melanoma in not “just” skin cancer, please protect your skin.
Thank you for sharing your story Michele and you’re so right – if in doubt get it checked out.