Tuesday, June 12, 2007

“You’re kidding…”

The first sign of something amiss came in April, five years after my initial encounter with melanoma.

In 2002 there was surgery to remove that awful invasion of my skin. Pathology tests of the lesion and sentinel lymph nodes revealed no signs of lingering cancer at that time. The oncologist who’s been following my case ever since has prescribed annual follow-up CT scans of head, chest, abdomen, and pelvis. For four years, my appointments with her have bordered on giddy. She’s been thrilled to see me remain cancer-free, and I’ve been secretly delighted to know myself as the healthiest patient in the Cancer Center.

Until year five.

“We have to talk about your scans,” she said soberly. “There’s something in your lungs that wasn’t there last year. It could be nothing, but we can’t ignore it.”

She sent me for a pulmonary biopsy to get more information about a condition I convinced myself was nothing. I was cancer-free, after all. I had a serious bronchitis about three years ago, and seasonal allergy-type symptoms ever since. The lung crud must be related to that. Maybe it was asthma, or TB. I’d worry about what it might be when I got the news it wasn’t cancer.

Instead I got the devastating report from my oncologist this evening. The results were a long time coming. The pathologist had sent my cells out for “additional staining”, clearer delineation. It was nearly three weeks before they came back with a verdict.

“They say it’s melanoma,” she said.

“You’re kidding,” I said, disbelieving.

What a stupid thing to say! What doctor would call and joke that her patient has cancer? Where is my head?! I feel myself sliding into numbness.


j in ohio said...


Isn't it amazing how we wish it could be _only_ asthma or TB. In my case it was pneumonia. Just like you, I wished it was anything but cancer again.

Ceil said...

Point well taken: any of those diseases actually bring a whole set of their own scary possibilities. Cancer, however, is the one that's most considered a "death sentence."

Or at least, it used to be. What I'm learning since my diagnosis is some of the many nuances of cancer. It's not the one-dimensional disease I saw when I was growing up. That, and it's possible to live with it; with vigilance of course, but it is possible to get beyond it being a costant life-threatening event.