Editing the Cancer Experience


Melanoma timeline. Who knows how long I had it before it was discovered in March 2015?
Melanoma timeline: Discovered March 2015; dermatology photo July 7; Punch biopsy after one week July 16; Full surgical removal July 30. Planned skin graft was not necessary.

It occurred to me that I’ve been making it easy for everyone to read about my cancer. There are a few things I’d like to share that might make you wince, like this melanoma photo timeline. I realize I’ve made light of my situation, I’ve admitted I’m afraid, and I’ve shared my heart-breaking revelations and the small victories.

Everything has been given a protective coating to prevent certain realities from seeping into my text, for fear I’ll lose our connection, that readers will cringe and leave for good. There’s no joy in no audience. And to make these photos a little more palatable, I’ve given them the Andy Warhol effect. You’re welcome. Still, I hope they are cringeworthy enough for you to cover up in the sun.

Below is a photo that was taken the day after my recent surgery at Kaiser Permanente Hospital Moanalua. It shows the catheter tube, the tape covering the incision where the eight lymph nodes were removed, and a pad covering the drainage tube to remove excess fluid and to help prevent lymphedema.  When I first found out about this cancer, Melanoma Stage 3a, I searched for similar experiences.

Catheter. Stitches over lymph node removal. Bandage holding drain in place.
Catheter. Stitches over lymph node removal. Bandage holding drain in place.

I am still looking for what to expect from a year of immunotherapy with Interferon. I am intrigued by people who’ve done the first month of Interferon, which is quite intense, but failed to complete the next 11 months of fewer and easier treatments. I need to know what made it so hard. I want to read how people suffered with Interferon and still completed treatment. What will I be up against?

Drain for the groin lymph node area. A tube is in place to remove excess fluid to prevent edema. I measure it twice a day and dump it out.
Drain for the groin lymph node area. A tube is in place to remove excess fluid to prevent edema. I measure it twice a day and dump it out.

The next photo is a close up of the hand-grenade like drainage bulb and the log to record how much fluid being extracted. You squeeze the bulb and close the plug to create a vacuum to syphon the liquid from my body.

Like many others, I’ve had quite a few biopsies scraped off my body and sent to labs. All of them came back benign and non-malignant. Five years ago, I wrote about the treatment I had to undergo to recover from years of sun damage on my arms (see the last photo). The doctor told me not use the carac lotion on both arms at a time. I’m glad I listened. It was painful and lasted several weeks on each arm.

The patient.
The patient, positively patient.

Doctors say the damage we are taking care of now was done in the 70s when we kids worked on our tans and spent the entire day in the pool or the ocean. That’s why it’s important to make sure our kids wear the right sunscreen.

My next year of immunotherapy will be a test of patience and resolve.

Is my arm red!
Back in 2010 I had to rub Carac on my arms to remove the sandpaper-like actinic keratoses on my arms that were precancerous.