One thing I want to start with is that I will be saying we the entire time. My husband, John and I are a team in this adventure. He has been by my side since before day one. We have experienced some life-changing and shocking situations over the past few weeks/months, so it is only fitting to include him in all my writings. John is the most supportive, amazing husband and I could not get through this without him.
It all started with a look in the rear-view mirror.
Around the end of December 2016, I was driving and noticed when I looked at my daughter in the rear-view mirror a lump on the right side of my neck. I had never had a swollen lymph node, but my mother said that it is common when you have an infection – which I did have. I had a UTI and was taking antibiotics. I waited a good ten days after the antibiotics were gone and the lump had not subsided. I decided to call my primary care doctor, Dr. Tamburro.
Dr. Tamburro was the first of many to order tests…of many. He ordered an ultrasound – I have become quite familiar at SimonMed Imaging! The doctor also ordered a Complete Blood Count (CBC). During the ultrasound, the tech and I both noticed a second swollen lymph node that was not there in December. She scanned that one too and sent the results off to the doctor. Well, the results showed a mass in my right lymph node – DUH!!! I could have told them that without having to pay $60!!!! So…Dr. Tamburro referred me to and Ear, Nose, & Throat doctor. I didn’t really understand why, since it was a mass on my neck, but I found out that this doctor also specialized in neck surgery.
Doctor #2! Dr. Reidy took a few weeks to get in and see – I saw him February 1, 2017. Dr. Reidy did a quick exam and…ORDERED MORE TESTS!!! These tests were much more significant and detailed. He ordered more blood work and he ordered a chest x-ray, CT Scan, and biopsy of the mass.
Now…I have always been a pretty healthy girl for the most part. I rarely get sick, never go to the doctor – and except for giving birth to my two beautiful girls – don’t get poked, prodded, or scanned! So, this was all very new and a bit nerve-wracking to me. I wanted to knock it all out in one day, so I DID!!!
On February 6, I took the day off, took my daughters out to breakfast – which I couldn’t enjoy because I had to fast for the CT Scan – and set off to SimonMed! A word to the wise! ALWAYS get the blood work done first! I had some time to kill and went to LabCorp to see if I could make an appointment after my scan to get blood drawn, the woman said sure. I made an appointment for 11:30 and went to SimonMed for my tests. First was the CT Scan – I’ve never had one of those in my life and I no idea what to expect. The tech was very nice and OK at inserting the IV…he told me when the dye went in, I would feel like I was going to the bathroom but wasn’t really. And that is exactly how it felt!! So strange!!! They did an upper body scan and I went in and out of a donut looking tube. It was easy peasy. Next was the chest x-ray and that was a piece of cake. I had to go to a different location to get the biopsy, so I went to get my blood drawn. Guess what?!?!? You can’t get your blood drawn if you have iodine in your system! You couldn’t have told me this before Labcorp?!!? Geez! Oh well! Off I went to Scottsdale to get my biopsy done. The doctor took four different biopsies from the two masses in my neck. He just numbed my neck and clipped four times! I may have said the F’ word a few times, but it really didn’t hurt at all.
And then we waited. For nine days.
I knew. I knew as soon as the receptionist called to schedule the follow up with the ENT. I knew when she said I needed to come in so the doctor could go over the results. I knew. Why would he need to see me in person unless the news was bad? Why couldn’t he just tell me over the phone? I knew. No matter how positive everyone around me was trying to be…I knew.
On February 14, 2017, the ENT told my husband and I that all four biopsies showed malignant melanoma. This is the worst melanoma you can get. The order of skin cancer is basal, squamous, melanoma. Malignant means that is has metastasized (spread) from the skin to another part of the body – in my case, the lymph nodes. He looked around my upper body for a lesion, which is typical with skin cancer, but did not find anything. The doctor said he was going to refer me to an oncologist and there wasn’t much more he could do for me.
Needless to say I was in complete and utter shock! I started to cry as soon as we left the doctor’s office. I don’t know what I expected to happen, but I certainly didn’t expect malignant melanoma. I went home for the day and spent time with my husband and parents. It was quite a shock to all of us. At 11:30, the oncologist office called. I was able to get in the next day!
Doctor #3!! We met with Dr. Dhillon of Arizona Center for Cancer Care. It was almost a relief to be talking to someone whose job was to know cancer. Just like the ENT, Dr. Dhillon needed more information to give us a true diagnosis. He told us that there were a few tests he wanted to do to pinpoint and possibly rule out some things. If the cancer was only in one spot, there was the possibility of surgery. He mentioned a few treatments. All of this was very overwhelming to my husband and I. My husband recorded the entire hour-long conversation – which I definitely recommend. Doctors talk very fast and expect you to know what they are talking about. So do teachers – so I understand where he is coming from.
So, he ordered more tests! Blood work, a brain MRI, and a PET Scan. Back to SimonMed I went!!! Again…I have never had anything like these tests before. For the PET Scan, they put a radioactive dye inside my body to highlight all of the hot cancer spots I have other than in the lymph nodes they biopsied. It was a pretty simple procedure. It took about 30-45 minutes for the dye to process in my body and then I had a full body scan. It is a good thing I am not claustrophobic!! This took a bit of time – it was a slow process. The machine just moved my body back and forth through the scanner. It took about an hour.
Then it was on to the MRI. They put my head in this contraption and wrapped it in cloth so it wasn’t too loud. I also had earplugs. I had to keep perfectly still for about 20 minutes while these horrific sounds penetrated my ears. I just counted all the beats as they came across. I was in and out!
Then we waited for the results.
On February 28, 2017 – one day before my 40th birthday – I was diagnosed with Stage 4 Advanced Melanoma. The cancer has metastasized to multiple lymph nodes in my body, but at the same time were secluded to two sections in my body. Dr. Dhillon pulled up the PET Scan and showed us where all of the cancer was. I had cancer in my lymph nodes on the right side of my neck and I also had them in the lymph nodes in my upper chest by my lungs. Luckily for me the cancer had not spread to any organs. Still, WHAT THE…!?!?!? I feel fine. I am healthy, happy, and just going about my life. How the hell do I have Stage 4 cancer????
OK…now we know that this is pretty damn serious business. What is next???