I'm not sure if I'll ever post this, but I've heard it's helpful to write one's thoughts down. It is quite possible that this is the beginning of a long journey - really, it's the middle of my running journey, but now, it's the beginning of my cancer journey - and so this becomes the first document in what will hopefully be a large collection of thoughts on the subject - it is equally as possible that the journey will be a short one, and it is with this fear in my heart that I write.
I have had a red mole (I've tried to google image search and can't really find something similar) on my right jawline for about three years (as far as I can tell from past photos). It has only been recently with an uptick in my dating life that I became self-conscious about it. I also - for the first time since moving to Tampa - visited the doctor because of my upcoming marathon - and he mentioned working outside means I should "...see a dermatologist, they're on the 6th floor of this building, make an appointment." The subsequent week, I did; the mole was removed in seconds; and sent off for a biopsy. A few weeks later, I'm back in FL for two days having spent Christmas home in MA when I get a call saying I need to come in for my biopsy results. ??? I did not feel good right away - despite friends' attempts to assuage my worries, I still felt it was bad news. And it was. It remains to be seen how bad, but I am still at DEFCON 1.
I have malignant melanoma - aka skin cancer. From the biopsy, they can tell the depth of the melanoma and it is Level 4 - "deep" - it is almost through the dermis. I was told that a doctor would be calling me to schedule an appointment and then surgery - they are removing the tissue beneath and around where the mole was and also probably taking a biopsy of the nearest lymph nodes to see if it has spread. I have done some online research (need to cut that out) and they do this because the presence of cancer cells in the nearest lymph nodes is indicative that it has spread to other parts of the body. The absence of them does not disprove the spread of them (it can give a false negative in terms of metastasis). So, waiting is fun.
I am a worrier. I am an overanalyzer. My mind is at a mile a minute right now.
My first thought when I heard was of my grandmother. She was an amazing woman, having battled four types of cancer throughout her life, but did not make it through the second bout of lung cancer. My second thought was denial - I couldn't believe it. I have cancer. Shit.
And then I thought of having to tell my parents, and I cried. The PA was very nice, but I had a hard time concentrating. I asked her to repeat things several times, a few questions...but I really won't know much more until I see the oncologist. I keep thinking...and that is a problem...is it Stage 4? - there are no treatment options - how much time do I have? - I have treatment options - clinical trials - my life is an episode of Grey's Anatomy - losing my hair - sterility? - will I have kids? - how will I find someone with whom to spend the rest of my life? - is there even a point in looking? - will I run this marathon? - I need to write a Will - I need to plan my funeral - who will take care of my cats? - should I renew my Disney pass? - should I stop going out in the sun? - I need new work clothes to stay out of the sun - how do I tell everyone? - is it too late? - why is this happening to me?
I've seen the stories on CNN, on Ellen, through facebook - kids with cancer, BatKid, teenagers, college athletes - and I thought, "That must be fucking terrible. I have it easy." My life is cake. Boyfriend breaks up with me, wah. No hot water in the shower, wah. That asshole cut me off in traffic, wah. I complain all the time, but I also realize constantly how amazing my life is. How lucky I am. How privileged a life I have just being an American - a white male, for that matter - electricity, clean water, plumbing, police, paramedics, pharmacies, hospitals, roads, grocery stores. And now I feel as if every moment I spent complaining was a complete waste of time. And yet I still complain - about cancer worries (am I entitled? this is confusing) - and I still feel guilty complaining, because there are people dealing with worse. Worse happens every minute. One of my best friends died three months before we were to graduate high school - I have lived twelve years since then! Almost 5,000 days! I have been to Australia and Italy; I've seen Brad Pitt in person; I've run half marathons; I've cuddled with baby anteaters, giraffes, okapi; I take care of rhinoceros for a living! I wish I could do it all again - I'd do more, spend more, talk more, dance more, laugh more. Every moment is precious - I shouldn't have wasted a single one. Why didn't I wear more sunscreen? Damn it.
I would gladly re-live the worst day of my life over and over than have terminal cancer. There's just no describing this feeling. It's surreal.
Update, written right now!:
Well, I have since re-aligned my way of thinking to its more positive state. It's no surprise - part defense mechanism, part who I am. I have talked to a few people at work, and their stories about dealing with skin cancer were reassuring. I'm fairly sure it was caught it time - a little part of me is still worried, but I can't do much about the past. Cancer is a scary word, and I was scared. I've had time to adjust to the thought of it, and I really don't feel much different. All that is changed is that I know, and that is a good thing. I also have realized that skin cancer (while still sometimes terminal) is not the most serious (by far) cancer I could have, and I'm thankful for that. I am focused on January 22nd - that is the date of my first appointment with the oncologist at Moffitt Cancer Center here in Tampa. Fingers crossed - I will post as soon as I know more.
P.S. I'm still raising money for rhino conservation! :oP That is this site's main purpose. ;o)