Cancer Free, yay!


Today I had my 4-month dermatology and oncology appointments at Kaiser Permanente Mapunapuna and Moanalua locations, respectively. At dermatology, I was ready for every spot on my body (from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet) to be more melanoma. My right thigh is still numb from the surgeries in the fall of 2015, and I get a tingle in the back of my right knee whenever the top of my thigh is touched. That’s where the lymph nodes came out.

Well, I was wrong. Every spot on my body was no big deal. My dermatologist didn’t once reach for the CO2 can to freeze something suspicious. No part of my body was punched out and dropped into a specimen cup. She went over every inch of me and it’s like I don’t even care. Look, find something, get it off me. Wherever it is. But no. So, Yay!

Then I drove over to the hospital for my oncology appointment. My doctor was busy with another patient he had to admit, which takes time. So I saw my physician assistant instead. The two of them tag-teamed me throughout my treatment, so I’m OK with either of them. She walks in and congratulates me for being cancer free.

“I am?”

“He didn’t tell you?”

Men and women seem to always have different approaches. I would have liked to have known sooner, but I also tell myself that if there were a problem with my PT scan, I would have heard from them right away. But I didn’t, so I was optimistic.

Tonight I showed up at Boca Hawaii for our cycle training. I brought along a fresh new sound track peppered with old school rock for the geezer set (which, I guess, includes me). It was going pretty well, but when Bohemian Rhapsody came on, the coach said “Paula, I need something faster…” So just as he turned it off, the crowd moaned and then started singing the song. Crack me up. Nothing like a little Led Zeppelin with your Ed Sheeran is what I always say.

I decided that I wanted to tell my Boca Hawaii coaches and teammates first about my good news. They really made me feel amazing. I love them all.

Two years ago, after I finished my third Ironman 70.3 Honu triathlon, I made an appointment with dermatology because of this freakish mole at the back of my right knee. It turned out to be melanoma. After my surgeries to remove the area around the already extracted mole and the lymph nodes at the top of my right thigh, it was determined I had melanoma stage 3a because it was found in one of my lymphs.

From December 2015 through December 2016, I was treated with interferon as part of an immunotherapy program. Every other night I injected myself in the stomach with the meds and go to sleep. My reaction wasn’t that bad: chills early the next evening, my skin would hurt, I sometimes couldn’t move because my body ached so much. I also got very depressed.

I had to stop training for an entire year with my Boca Hawaii family. It was very painful for me to see their fun updates on Facebook! Fear of missing out! I did start up with substitute teaching because most of the time the after effects of my shots didn’t kick in until after I got out of school. The only thing that was a drag was losing my curly hair. It came out in patches, so I was very uncomfortable, especially around the students. But they were very gracious and if anyone said anything about it, I didn’t hear it. Now my hair is straight and short. I’ve never had straight hair before so at first it was a little difficult to get used to it, but I truly love it! I’m enjoying it while it lasts, which is supposed to be about a year. Then the curls are supposed to come back.

As for my body, I lost 40 pounds and gained seven back. I started with the bicycle clinic in January and it appears that the gain is muscle. Prior to this, my skin showed signs of atrophy and crinkliness. That’s just about all gone.

So now I’m almost finished with my teacher certification program and I feel as though I’ve been given a new lease on life. I am eager to become a teacher and I hope I end up at a school where┬áI will be most comfortable.

The only thing is this: I have to tell myself I am a cancer survivor. I just feel like plain old me. I tell people to wear sunscreen and a hat and stay in the shade. That’s not easy to do when you like to ride a bike all over the place, but I wear sleeves and sunscreen and just make all that part of the new me.