December 30, 2009

(edit)ancer sucks

Who would have thought that "sucks" wouldn't be the word that was edited? My mission president would be so disappointed. But the C word is on the top of my least favorite words of 2009 so it got the title edit.

A lot of you know that I was diagnosed with Melanoma skin cancer a couple months ago in my leg. It's fine, I'm fine, it was in the very early stages and is fixed easily enough. If only the same could be said for my Grandpa who was diagnosed with an advanced stage of Melanoma and started Chemotherapy this month. I was tempted not to blog about it and not just because I'm a lazy blogger. I just didn't need any more people to bug me about putting on sunscreen. But it is one of the events that shape the future and deserves to be documented.

Back in May I saw a mole on my back that looked darker than it should be. I asked the following questions in my head "has that always been there? was it always that dark? did it change shapes?" And of course the answer to all those questions was "I have no freaking idea." So I called Beth in to look at it and she proceeded to ask the same three questions but I decided to answer questions with questions "how am I supposed to know? I mean, really? I've never measured and mapped and color coded my body, has anyone?"

I decided to at least bring it up with my doctor and set an appointment. He too walked through the same questions and I replied with the non-committing "maybe". He took an interest in the mole I pointed out but really focused on the birth mark on my leg. I wasn't even thinking about that because I see it all the time and no doctor has ever thought it a concern. But this time I knew that it had changed shape and color and it just never clicked. It looked like I scraped it on rose bush or something and left a little white scar in the middle. I didn't think anything of it until the doctor said it should be tested. So he laid me down, took off the mole and did a few stitches on my back, then did a punch biopsy from my leg with a single stitch . . . see photo.Those test results came back negative for cancer but were the ever popular "pre-cancer". The one on my back was moderately dysplastic and my leg was severely dysplastic. Both needed to have larger incisions and samples but since we were leaving soon for Asia for a couple weeks (continue staying tuned for those posts ;)) I didn't do it then. Then it was summer and I was busy and had races and didn't want stitches or holes. Plus I kept getting those annoying statements from insurance and the pathology lab "This is not a bill but you might get a bill so look out for a bill even though you shouldn't be billed but we might not be able to figure it out so this could be used as a bill."

September rolled around and I finally went to see the doc for more cutting. He took off a wider bit of skin on my back and then took off the discolored part of my birth mark on the leg. Each had 7-8 stitches but I didn't get those photo documented. When I went to get the stitches out the test results still hadn't come back. The doc said that was unusual but not necessarily bad. Two days later I got a call from his secretary saying the doc needed to see me and wanted me to come in on Monday. That was an annoying weekend. He broke the news that my back was fine but my leg was positive (which is actually negative) for melanoma, an invasive and aggressive form of skin cancer, but thankfully it was early and wouldn't require anything other than larger and deeper cutting. The lab originally diagnosed it as in Situ (stage 0) but further examination by a trained pigment pathology fellow said it was actually Clarks level II or stage 1a. More confusion found on Wikipedia.

My doctor referred me to a surgical oncologist in SLC that we went to see before Thanksgiving, Dr. Dirk Noyes. Apparently one of the differences between an oncologist and family doctor is not the questions they ask but the number of people they have asking them. First there was the secretary, then the nurse, then the nurse practitioner, and finally the doctor. The doctor looked at my leg and before he was done with the examination had me on my stomach and prepping my leg for more skin removal. I hardly knew what was going on other than the doctor rolled me over, give me a couple shots, broke out the scalpel, and then the blow torch. Beth was in the room and saw him remove the rest of my birth mark and then cauterize it. Since he knew he was going to have to eventually cut a larger amount he didn't close it up.
I often do or say something that makes me realize I'm turning into my dad. For example, I am always complimenting Jack on his haircut and asking who is awesome barber is months after the actual cut. But when I post gross photos of a surgery I feel like I'm turning into my Grandpa. You can see the horizontal scar on the bottom from the original removal. You can also see that it is the off season and my leg hair has grown back.

Further tests of the entire birth mark came back as good as we could hope, only the discolored white area was positive for melanoma. It has now been over 5 weeks and the wound has finally started to scab over. I go in to the Huntsman Cancer Center for surgery on the 8th so it should be close to healed at that point. Just in time for the doc to knock me out and cut a 1 X 3 inch area and go down a little deeper into the muscle but at least nothing to do with the lymph nodes. I don't think there will be any skin grafting going on but if so I'll be sure point out my problem areas as potential sources for skin.

I included this photo taken today of our sheets for context of how much this hole in my leg has been oozing. If you want you can look closely to see the mess I've been dealing with. I try to make frequent band aid changes to keep the mess down. The fact that my "owy" terrifies Jack and Lily is just a bonus. "Me no like yours owy! No take off your band aid!" Anyways these were spotless a couple days ago and like I said it has been 5 weeks and the oozing has drastically decreased, plus I wear band aids and sweats to bed.

I'll plan to update after the next and final surgery.