But I Feel Fine!

Walking along Haupuna Bay, my favorite place on the Big Island.

Walking along Haupuna Bay, my favorite place on the Big Island.
Walking along Haupuna Bay, my favorite place on the Big Island.

Except for the hole in the back of my knee and a leaky incision where my lymph node was extracted, I wouldn’t think anything was wrong with me. I feel great! How can I be sick? How can I have Cancer? How can it be stage 3a?

I went back to see my surgeon on Tuesday and as she was checking and redressing my melanoma golf-ball sized scoop, I asked if there were any results from the surgery a week before.

“We have a lot to talk about,” she said.

My heart sank. I kept my composure as she finished wrapping my leg. She left the room and I had a moment to look in the mirror and tell myself to keep it together. She returned with the paperwork.

She said it was very surprising that there was no melanoma in the surrounding skin behind my knee. I’m pleased about that, but man, that site is fugly! It hasn’t healed yet so we are waiting even longer to proceed with the skin graft.

Then she said that melanoma was present in the sentinel lymph node removed from my thigh, putting me from stage 1 to stage 3a just like that. Huh? Is this really happening to me? I feel fine!

She told me what was to happen next: PET, CT and MRI scans. These will determine if there is more cancer in my body and where. We will also take out more lymph nodes in another surgery that will require a hospital stay. That surgery puts me at risk of lymphedema.

I asked her: “Is this when people cry?”

She told me that there have been great strides made in melanoma research in the past five years, more than in the prior 50 years combined. She said: “THERE’S HOPE!”

I shall cling tenaciously. I have raced in three 70.3 Ironman events on Hawaii Island that were hotter than hell. I have swum in three Waikiki Roughwater Swims and walked back to the start to drive home. I have had my tendon burst and three miscarriages. I think I have the tenacity to get through this, too.

I will face many decisions to proceed or not. Through tearful discussions with my husband, we’ve pretty much determined that each decision will be toward prolonging my life.

I wasn’t expecting that at 56 I’d be having these conversations, and then breaking down at the prospect of not seeing my girls grow up. I don’t know if I’ll be able to observe them from a parallel universe or from a cloud in the sky, but I do know that right here would be best.

I always thought that as a life-long athlete who swam, went on hikes, surfed, rode a bike and managed a half-assed run, that I’ve been adding years to my life bank. I expected to be a Blue Zone girl, who in her 80s-90s could paddle a surfboard and pedal a bike, and maybe achieve some new PRs. Don’t I have another 40 years to be a feisty fun force?

Since melanoma is a sneaky bastard, my medical team is moving things along as quickly as we can. I’m getting the PET tomorrow, the CT on Tuesday.

About two years ago, when my unemployment ran out, no one would hire me, and I had to do cart rodeo at the local big box as a short-term hire (read: piece of meat), my sadness was so deep that I sometimes had wished I were dead. It wasn’t just those things, it was so much more. I’m a sensitive person, I take too much too personally and it isn’t a good way to be. I sought counseling. When I met my therapist, she said that I looked like someone who was beaten down, enveloped in my own sad cloud world. None of these feelings were because of my family. No matter how bad it got for me outside our door, they never let me down. I even felt guilty about how hard they had to work to pull me out of my personal pit. Antidepressants don’t make you glassy eyed and oblivious. They keep you on an even keel. You can still be hurt, you can get irritated at other drivers, you still worry about your bills, and you think people are stupid when they talk loudly or smoke. Antidepressants do not put wings on your back and make your heart unbreakable.

So I want to erase all those times when I wished I were dead. I’ve told the universe that I really didn’t mean it. Imagine if such thoughts were to come true for all of us? What a mess this world would be.

So many of you have reached out in love and offered me your time, your thoughts, your prayers and companionship. Thank you for being such a fine safety net. My husband and my girls will need that, too. They are so very strong for me, but I worry.

My new challenge. Am I pedaling fast enough? Am I pushing a hard enough gear? Triathlon training makes you dig deep and fortifies you to stick to it through the finish line. Maybe this is the race I’ve been training for all this time?

By lavagal

Hawaii Kai wife and mom. Melanoma Stage 3a Cancer survivor. English Language Arts teacher, English Learners Coordinator, and Paraprofessional Tutor. Super sub teacher. Dormant triathlete. Road cyclist and Masters swimmer. Gardener. Mrs. Fixit. Random dancer. Music Curator. A teenager trapped in an aging body. Did you know 60 is the new 40? It is.


  1. You are the bravest, strongest woman. If there is anything I can do for you or with you, let me know. You WILL get through this. I believe this with all my heart. How can I not believe that after reading your story today? My thoughts an prayers are with you and your family. XOXOXO

  2. My sister-in-law is post-surgical stage 4 ovarian cancer. She had her surgery about a month ago following 6 months of chemo. The tissue removed showed no active cancer. After a full hysterectomy, they found no spread. All this despite scans that showed pervasive cancer in her abdomen. Her cancer marker, which had been over 6000, is now 24. Less than 34 is considered cancer free.

    Yes, there IS hope. Good, aggressive medicine, aggressive prayer from friends, family and strangers, and an aggressive positive attitude made this happen.

    The “C-word” is no longer code for terminal.

    As far as lymphedema, my wife has primary lymphedema, meaning it’s not a result of cancer surgery, though the mechanics are the same. She was diagnosed in 2003. She has some mobility limitations, but is not an invalid or bedridden by any means. Compression is the only truly effective treatment. For that, there is no cure (yet), but it is quite manageable.

    I’ll be praying for you, and you know where to reach me.


  3. I know what your doctor says is true. There has been a seismic shift in recent years as to what they know about melanoma and how they treat it. Thank goodness this isn’t five years ago, even. However, I feel hollow to hear your news. So sorry to hear.

  4. You keep pedaling faster and pushing a bigger gear in life and I’m confident you’ll come out on the right side of things. Your positivity and cheerfulness will get you through these times. Your BOCA family is ALWAYS here for you. Atta Girl!!

  5. Thoughts & prayers are with you as deal with the tests & procedures & cancer fighting measures. My heart goes out to you from across the miles!

  6. So sorry that you are facing this medical battle. Sometimes in our fight for life we just need to rest. Know that I’m keeping you close to my heart and will think and pray for your health constantly. I believe even we have more in the reserve tank than we ever realize. All the Humphries are with you and your precious family in your fight for health. XOXOXOXOXO Jen, Steve, Alise and Ashley

  7. You’re a scrapper, Paula Paula! I really feel this is a challenge you can overcome, and when you’re through safe and sound I’ll start pressuring you to do a full ironman!

  8. Hi Paul a – you don’t know me, your friend David J sent me this blog and suggested maybe I might want to comment. As a healthy and fit non-smoker, I was dxd with Stage IV lung cancer last year. At 54 years young, with a then freshmen in high school and a junior in college, many of the same thoughts that are racing thru your head went thru ours too. I’ve been in this for over a year now and have come to realize and learn so many things. One of them is that your doctor is right – there is definitely hope in the melanoma world – in fact, many of the breakthroughs in lung cancer are coming as a result of breakthroughs in the melanoma field first. The medical world knows so much more now with ‘targeted treatments’ (analyzing the genetics of the cancer and then giving you the correct med to disrupt the tumor but not the normal cells); immuno-therapy (kick starting your immune system to recognize these cells are bad! and to fight them); better chemos and more. I hope you will one day be able to get to the point where we are now: we see this as a gift, as it has really put life and what’s important and what’s not into pretty clear perspective. (It took me about 6 mos to get to that place tho!). Allow yourself the time to grieve, yell, be angry, cry – take all the support for dinners, rides, house cleanings, what have you that may be coming your way – and hug the hubby and those girls every day.

    I joined an online support group thru cancercare.org, which also has some great webinars on all kinds of cancers – and they post all the old seminars on line as well – I am sure there are some on melanoma, and the support groups are divided by cancer type. I’ve found the lung one very helpful, so you might want to take a look?

    All the best to you and your family – Love and Aloha, Dot

  9. Mahalo, Dot! I am so hopeful and grateful. There are so many encouraging people like you who are pouring evidence of hope into my life! I believe and receive! I am mulling another blog entry. I’m more accepting of what has happened to me, and actually grateful for what is shows me. I appreciate your taking the time to encourage a stranger! Thank you and Aloha, Dot!

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