On New Year’s Eve almost six weeks ago, The Husband and I drank a bottle of champagne while raising toast after toast to both the prior and coming year. In our typical ‘we-are-our-own-party’ fashion, we played loud music, laughed, and counted our many blessings. My freelance writing was hitting a stride, doubling 2013 over 2012, and tracking to double again in 2014. Going into the new year, we both felt excited about where we were in life and that both of our careers were blossoming.
Within three weeks, I had a melanoma diagnosis and a surgery scheduled. (Cue the scratch of a needle across a record.)
I’m sorry, but this is terribly inconvenient. All of my efforts of the last two years to put myself out there as a creative, competent, reliable freelance writer was beginning to return to me. So much that I had actually assessed my commitments and begun to withdraw from or put on hold some long term volunteer activities until I found my footing in my new “busy-work-life.”
Change of plans. Instead of quoting new projects, I’ve spent the last few weeks navigating a cancer diagnosis. My melanoma began mid-November as what I thought was a pimple on the back rim of my left ear. It didn’t go away. In the week before Thanksgiving, I was meeting tight deadlines, getting over a cold, and preparing to host the big feast. December and the first days of the new year were devoured by several Christmas parties, babysitting my nephews, and a Polar Vortex. Finally, on the first Monday of January, I called the dermatologist for an appointment and got one for Friday. That’s fine, it’s not urgent.
The nurse practitioner took it off on the spot, thinking the flesh-colored bump was either basal cells or, more likely, some hormone-related anomaly where a blood vessel pokes up where it doesn’t belong.
Well, weren’t we all surprised when the pathology came back ‘melanoma.’ (Really, everyone was surprised, even the pathologist who asked another pathologist to review the results.) My non-pigmented bump was skin cancer. I was told the next steps would be to “re-excise the site and check lymph nodes.” Seems easy enough.
This is unexpected. Within a whirlwind of another couple of weeks, I had surgery to remove a one inch long and ½ inch wide crescent from my ear, reconstruct my ear, and remove 5 nearby lymph nodes. Wouldn’t you know it; one of those 5 nodes came back positive for cancer. The hits keep coming.
More tests, and likely more surgery, coming this week.
The rollercoaster of emotions has been epic. Once I emerged from that merciful Vicodin haze about a week ago, five days after surgery, I fell apart. My stitched and scabby ear stuck out from my head like an experiment gone wrong. I wailed and blubbered, fully grasping what had happened and what could (and, turns out, would) be coming. It was a bad scene. (Note: Vicodin really does not care.)
After dropping a few ‘F-bombs’ in the surgeon’s office when he delivered the news about the funky lymph node, I somehow pulled myself together. It was like a flip of a switch, and I really, really don’t know how it happened. All I want to do is focus on the next thing I have to do until they tell me “you’re cured.”
Again, this is a terribly inconvenient time for me. I have commitments to clients for recurring projects, and I intend to focus on fulfilling those commitments – even if it means that I may not quote on new work until I have a handle on my capacity deliver more as treatment progresses.
I’ve got work to do. Writing work will continue, and will double (again!). For now, I just need to re-direct some brain-energy into getting organized on what I need to do to get healthy. I actually feel fine at the moment and pretty much healed from surgery #1 twelve days ago. I’m surrounded by supportive family and friends, and feel tapped into something that can best be described as the energy of God/The Creator/The Universe. That’s a story for another time.
I sometimes thumb through my old journals. A year ago during the same January week as my diagnosis, I was working on a marketing campaign for myself and struggling with the first of what would become more than a dozen drafts of my article for Adirondack Life. I was assessing my progress almost a year into full-time freelancing, feeling the dull weight of winter pulling on me, but still marveling at my first glimmers of success. I closed that day’s entry by writing:
“A year ago, I could not have anticipated the list of projects I made on this page. And in another year – what will I be doing that is so unimaginable now?”
Public Service Announcement
I don’t know everything there is to know about Melanoma, but I will tell you this: it is the deadliest form of skin cancer, it likes to move around to other parts of the body, and diagnosis is on the rise. I have never been a sun-worshiper, never worked outdoors, and had exactly ONE beach vacation in my life. My dark hair, dark eyes and olive complexion protected me from serious sunburns my whole life. No one was worried about me in terms of skin cancer.
Melanoma is typically a black or brown spot that can appear anywhere on the body (even where the sun don’t shine), including under nails. HOWEVER, mine was non-pigmented. Very atypical. Believe me, even though I couldn’t really get a good look behind my ear, I could see enough that if my bump was brown or black I would have RUN to the dermatologist much earlier. I now know that any suspicious growth needs to be checked ASAP.
Get all of your spots and bumps checked. Don’t wait.