Monday, May 5, 2014

My cancer story

I have wrote and rewrote this post a hundred times in my head. I wondered if it was something I could even share or wanted to share. Most people who know me have never heard this story. Learning you have cancer isn't something you feel like shouting from the roof tops. I didn't tell many people outside of our immediate families because I could never find the words. I didn't want people to think I wanted attention or was feeling sorry for myself. 

As May grew closer and closer I knew I wanted to share because May is skin cancer awareness month and my hope is to help spread awareness about melanoma cancer.

When I was eighteen I started using tanning beds not a lot but occasionally. My family also had a pool and I would spend my summer days laying out. Fast forward 21 years and I no longer used a tanning bed, but still spent summer days in our pool or outside with my kids. 

In summer of 2013 I noticed a weird spot on my back that was itchy and flaky, I ignored it! My husband also noticed a mole on my back that had grown larger, I ignored it! I went on with my life even though my husband urged me to see a dermatologist. I know I was stupid, but I hated going to the doctor and always found an excuse why I couldn't go that week.

I don't know why but in February of this year I sat down at my computer and looked up a local dermatologist. I made an appointment for February 14th...Valentines day. I think deep down inside I knew something was wrong, the morning of my appointment I was a nervous wreck.

I went in thinking they might want to do a biopsy to check for skin cancer, I wondered if it would hurt. I was in no way prepared for that appointment. My dermatologist took one look at the two spots on my back and her first words were "this isn't good", she said they were both melanoma and needed to be removed immediately. They scheduled me to come back in later that afternoon for surgery. The nurse gave me a booklet on skin cancer and I left the office in a state of shock! I remember walking to my van with tears running down my face and driving home sobbing. 

Later that day my husband drove me to my appointment. I wasn't sure what to expect, but my dermatologist explained that she would be removing a 1 cm. margin of skin from around each site. The surgery itself wasn't painful, but the shots in my back for numbing weren't pleasant. 

Six days later I received the call from my dermatologist, my pathology report was in. Melanoma #1 which was between my shoulder blades came back with clear margins, she believed all of the cancer had been removed. Melanoma #2 on my lower back was deeper and would need further surgery, she gave me a list of tests I would have to schedule and even mentioned chemotherapy. I'm surprised I was able to keep it together on the phone. I was a mess, scared and afraid.

I spent the next week going from appointment to appointment. I had to have blood work done, a chest x ray (to see if the melanoma had spread to my lungs), and an eye exam (for melanoma in my eyes). Luckily all of those tests came back fine. On February 25th I had my first appointment with my surgical oncologist. He scheduled my surgery for the 27th as well as a sentinel lymph node biopsy. The sentinel lymph node is the first lymph node the cancer will most likely spread to from a primary tumor. 

I don't like going to the doctor so I was especially nervous about going to the hospital to have surgery. I was glad to have the surgery scheduled so quickly though so we could just find out what we were dealing with. I was honest with my kids about what was going on, but reassured them that I would be okay. We prayed a lot.

On the 27th I was admitted to the hospital for outpatient surgery. My husband as well as my parents were there. My oncologist removed more skin from melanoma #2 and he also removed 5 lymph nodes from under my right arm. 

The waiting was the hardest part. I spent every free minute on the computer reading everything I could find on melanoma. I tried to put on a brave face for my family but I was scared to death. I worried that the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes or to various organs. I worried that I had waited too long to see a dermatologist. 

On March 6th I got the news that my pathology results were in. The nurse told me over the phone . The skin from my back was benign and my lymph nodes were all benign. NO CANCER. My husband was with me when I got the news and I was overwhelmed with emotion after the call. All of the stress and worrying was finally over with. 

I spent the next few weeks recovering from my surgery. My back wasn't too sore, but it felt (and still feels like) I had a face lift, like the skin is pulled tight. The first two weeks after surgery I was extremely sore under my right arm. I had swelling due to lymph node draining and it hurt to raise my arm. 

It's now been two months since my surgery and I feel great. I have to see my dermatologist every three months for skin checks and I will see my oncologist again in September. I will always wear sunscreen when I'm outdoors and I'll be sure my children are protected as well. No more tanning for me, lesson learned!

My hope in sharing my story is that it will encourage other's to get their skin checked. Sure you might be a little embarrassed at getting undressed for a stranger, but the alternative is much scarier! When melanoma is detected early the survival rate is nearly 100%. I also want to encourage other's to protect themselves from the sun and avoid tanning beds!

Thanks for listening.



  1. Amy, I was so shocked to read your post. I can't imagine how scared you were and what you had to go thru. I'm so glad to hear that you are cancer free now! I know that sharing your story will help others facing the same thing.
    When I was a teen I never used sunscreen and went to the tanning bed too. I also don't like going to the doctor and make excuses for not going. You have motivated me to make a doctor appointment and start taking care of me! Thank you for telling your story! : )

    1. Thanks Lori! It was an extremely scary month for myself and my family, but feel so blessed that everything turned out okay. I know this was God's plan for me and I want to make the best of it. Because of what happened to me my kids will always be protected in the sun, I've even taken them to the dermatologist for skin checks as well. I've also encouraged my brother to get checked out (his appointment is actually today).

      Thanks so much for your encouragement. Glad to hear your going to get checked out as well that really makes my day!

  2. Thank you Amy! I just completed my all body mole check. I met a woman at a fundraiser and she shared her husband's story. I kept putting it off because of the fear of being pretty much naked and having every inch scrutinized. Thank you for this post! laura

    1. So happy to hear that you got checked out. I know I was extremely nervous my first appointment and when I look back on it now it just seems silly. I wasn't sure if I was going to share this story, but hearing from other's that it has encouraged them to get looked at makes it worth it!

  3. *hugs you tight*

    My mum had breast cancer when I was 16 and it was so hard to see her suffer. She thankfully recovered and now has been cancer free for ages. Thank you for sharing this. It brought tears to my eyes.

    1. So happy to hear your mom has been cancer free! Thank you for your sweet comments!