Ashley's story of melanoma and because I have personally seen all that she went through it has given me a reason to be a strong advocate of awareness of our skin and seeking annual check ups for early detection for anything suspicious. I think it's especially important to use social media to reach as many people possible when it comes to our experiences - although I must be honest, sharing someone else's story is much easier than sharing my own. When I shared with you last month that the results of my biopsy came back as stage IIa Spindle Cell Melanoma and that seeing a surgeon was my next step.
I think I should show you a photo of what that original melanoma looked like on my skin. It's nothing like what is shown online or in doctors offices of what melanoma looks like. It's just a flesh colored tiny bump that was a little tender if I touched it. It had appeared around March / April time frame of this year on my forearm (just below my wrist).
I had no idea how fast everything would happen. I saw my surgeon on August 10th and was scheduled for surgery the very next day. It was explained to me that I would need an additional centimeter all the way around my original incision removed and a few sentinel lymph node glands under my arm removed to see if the cancer had spread. Here is the outline of what the doctor said would be removed - the circle in the center was where they original tumor was before the first surgery.
My husband I showed up at the hospital early in the am and the first thing I had to have done, is to have dye injected for a scan into where the melanoma was originally removed, this is so that they could find and biopsy my lymph nodes under my arm - as these are the first set of lymph nodes my cancer would reach had it spread. The four very painful injections outlining the center circle. I am terrified of needles and all the numbing cream in the world did not help!!! It took about an hour to have the dye reach the lymph nodes under my arm....all the while they x-rayed my entire arm as the dye traveled upwards. Once that was complete I returned to my room and prepared for surgery. I had an IV placed and visited with the surgeon again and he marked where the lymph nodes would be taken, marked the surgery site on my forearm, and explained the procedure one more time to me. The anesthesiologist came in and prepared a 'cocktail' for me and that is the last thing I remember.
When I woke up I was in horrible pain under my arm however, I could not feel anything in my forearm because they had 'blocked' my pain - so I was somewhat numb from my elbow down (which was nice). I stayed in the hospital for a few hours and came home and slept...for days! My amazing family waited on me hand and foot and my mother came over and took care of me during the daytime while my husband was at work. The best phone call was the following week when I was told all margins were clean and the lymph nodes showed no signs of spreading! Just needed the follow up appointment with an oncologist to find out if any further treatment was needed.
My daughter wrote a wonderful post on Facebook about the past couple weeks to share with her friends about being an advocate about our own health - which I believe is worth sharing.
The last couple of weeks have been such a roller coaster of emotion for our family and I wanted to take a quick minute to share in hopes that everyone who reads it might be encouraged to see a dermatologist, pay attention to your body and trust your instincts.
About a month ago, Tracie - for those of you unfamiliar, she is the heart and soul of our family - went in for her annual appointment to have her moles checked. This is something she is super diligent about and is a huge advocate for protecting your skin, anti-tanning beds, and lost a really good friend to Melanoma after a very long battle. During her appointment, she reluctantly decided to ask her doctor to look at a small white growth on her arm. She felt a little silly because she thought it was a wart, it looked nothing like what you make sure gets checked out, but she knew it wasn't there before and she decided to mention it. Her doctor looked, breezed past it and went on with their appointment. At the end of the appointment, he decided again to take one more look at the small white bump and said that maybe they should do a biopsy. He said there is a very rare form of melanoma that shows up white and while he was SO sure that's not what it was, just to be safe, they should double check.
The biopsy was done a few days later. This is always a stressful time for Tracie because skin cancer is legitimately her worst fear and she always holds her breath when she has to have things like this done. Then she got the call from the Doctor and all she heard on the other line was that the results came back and she was stage IIA for a rare form of Melanoma called Spindle Cell Melanoma. He said "Don't google it, just come see me tomorrow morning and bring Darin." (you know she googled it...)
He explained that this form of Melanoma is rare, usually happens in fair skinned, blonde hair, blue eyed women but said he was very optimistic that everything would be okay but that they needed to do surgery and test her lymph nodes to see if it had spread, in which case, it would've been considered Stage III. At this point, Tracie was a wreck - skin cancer AND a surgery that would require needles (her 2nd worst fear) and more waiting for answers....you can imagine. I spent all of my hours reassuring her that she had done everything right, that her doctor had done everything right and that this was all going to be fine.
Tracie went in last Monday for a pre-op appointment and was scheduled for surgery the very next day. She was amazing, Darin was amazing, the kids were amazing - it was AMAZING watching our family come together and rally around her, make sure she was comfortable and protect her. I've never been more proud to be a part of this family. We were told it would be about a week before we got any results back, but on Thursday afternoon, Tracie got the call that the area on her arm they did the procedure on came back clean and her lymph nodes looked great! So as usual, I was right and everything was fine - but it was scary and traumatic and our weeks were full of anxiety that I would never wish on any family.
The point is, Tracie listened to her gut instinct and her doctor listened to his. She also made sure she went to her preventative care appointment and made the time to take care of her body. These are all things that I know I need to be better about and thinking about what could've been had she not been so diligent, is beyond comprehension.
So friends and family, go make your annual appointments for all your stuff, don't get too busy to take care of your bodies and never ever ever ignore your natural instincts. You are all too precious.
Tracie has been recovering like a champ this week and from now on will be considered a Melanoma Survivor. She has an appointment with an oncologist who will review her case and see if any further treatment is needed and will have to go in every 6 months to get checked and will have to continue to pay extra close attention to her body. I'm so so so proud of her for facing her biggest fears and for taking such good care of herself so that she can get back to taking care of the rest of us - God knows we would never be able to keep this big mess together without her.
(attached some pics so you can see what it looked like - not like any of the pictures you see so if something doesn't look or feel right, it probably isn't!)"
I haven't been able to use my left arm for the past three weeks and still have at least another week of healing - although I must say because of the help of my friends and family, I have been able to allow my arm to rest and heal. So many have many great friends and family visiting, praying, sending well wishes, bringing us dinners, flowers and sending cards! The outpouring of love and support is overwhelming!
I just saw my oncologist this past Tuesday and was told that because of the treatment (surgeries) that I already had on the 11th of August and that the results of those surgeries indicated clean tissue margins and that the cancer had not spread it dropped my percentage of reoccurrence from 85% to 5%. No chemotherapy and no radiation treatment will be needed. Like it was mentioned above i will see my dermatologist every six months or earlier if I see something unfamiliar. If this cancer reoccurs it would in the same exact location - so being extra watchful of this particular area is very important.
Like my friend Ashley said so many times, early detection is key! She gave me a beautiful gift and SAVED MY LIFE in the process of losing her own!
To see Ashley's story click here!