09 Jun Pink Girl
Being diagnosed with any size, stage, form of cancer at the age of 23 can be one of the scariest days of your life. I always thought I was invincible and using tanning beds would not affect me. I started tanning everyday in tanning beds when I was 14 years old. This is definitely when the saying, “I wish I would have known then, what I know now” kicks in. Back in August of 2010, I started to notice this small mole on the back of my arm that itched all the time. I would look in the mirror at it and think nothing of it because that’s what it looked like, nothing. It had a very small red ring around it and it looked, for the most part, like any other mole. I went to the dermatologist for the first time in November 2010 and the doctor wanted to remove it as soon as she saw it. I still thought it would be nothing and didn’t think much of it until I received a phone call asking me to come into their office that same day to talk about the results. That’s when you start to rationalize things. You don’t believe that it could be anything important. As I sat in the office waiting for her, I just knew it was all going to be nothing. The doctor came in and bluntly told me, “Well, you have level 4 Melanoma and we are sending you to St. Louis University Hospital tomorrow to see the MOH surgeon.” I was in shock and couldn’t really process what I had just heard. What did this even mean? I wasn’t going to die, was I? The doctor really couldn’t tell me what the whole pathology report meant which was the hardest part. My Mom, just like me, could not believe what she was hearing. She took it very hard. We went to SLU Hospital on 11/10/2010 and met the MOH surgeon. He looked over my whole body and removed another mole which came back benign. He told me he really couldn’t tell where the cancer was until they removed the tumor and did a biopsy of some lymph nodes. He did tell me that the cancer was Stage 2 and level 4 meant how far the tumor had penetrated the skin. Level 4 meant that the tumor had gone through the epidermis, dermis, and some of the fatty tissue. That whole week I had to wait for the surgery was so hard and I had to tell all my professors why I was going to be gone from school for awhile. 11/18/2010 finally came and it was time for the surgery. This was the scariest day of my life. We got to the acute care unit and they had my bed set up for me. I had to get completely naked and wipe myself down from head to toe with wipes. Then I had to put on a robe, socks, and a hair net on. Since I had never been in a hospital or had surgery, this was all so horrifying to me. I laid down on the bed and the nurse came in and gave me an IV.
I waited for a long time and then was taken to Nuclear Science to have for the Lymphoscintigraphy done. The doctor told me it would hurt and this scared me of course. They had four shots of radiation already set up. He told me he was going to inject them all the way around the tumor and then they were going to take a picture. The picture would show them which lymph nodes the tumor was draining to first and if the cancer had spread, where it was going. This is where I felt like such a baby because I had my Mom hold my hand and I cried while he injected the radiation. This was a pretty painful procedure but I made it. Watching the lymph nodes pop on the screen was pretty cool, though. They wheeled me back to the ACU and we waited and waited. Finally many different doctors came in and said it was time for the surgery. I was so nervous and the worst thing was is that it was time for my Mom to leave me. They put some medicine into my IV and I started to feel very loopy. When we got into the operating room, there were so many people and they were all talking but no one was talking to me. They then put a mask on me and it felt like I went right to sleep and woke right up. I woke up on the way back to the recovery room and I was in intense pain. I begged for pain meds but I was trying to be as calm as possible. This was probably the worst part of all, especially since I felt so nauseous on top of the pain. They had removed a larger area than expected and took more lymph nodes than they told me they would. One of the residents tried to keep me company and take my mind off the pain. They then took me back to the ACU but I could not sleep because I was in so much pain. They brought my Mom back in and I was so happy to see her. All I really wanted to do at this point was go home. We got dressed and did the two and a half hour drive home and I was nauseated the whole way home.
I go back to SLU Hospital on 11/24/2010, the day before Thanksgiving, to see if they got the entire tumor and to find out whether the cancer has spread. Right now, I have to focus on recovering. I want to educate young people and share my story. This does not have to happen to others if they stay out of tanning beds and are smart about being in the sun. I was not and this is what happened to me. I am so glad I found Miles against Melanoma and that I am lucky enough to get my story out there. This cancer is one of the largest growing cancers and it is so important that people are being educated about it. I will always be an advocate against tanning beds. This will change my life forever and the lives of my family.