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?