This particular Monday was the day a lot of things changed for me, the reason I have decided to put 'My Melanoma' on my blog is to help both myself and others understand what's been going on, to communicate how I feel and how I got to this point. My diagnosis was 7 weeks ago and I have come along way since then.
Countless people have told me to write about it. If this blog helps just one person affected by melanoma, be it someone I know or not, then it is worthwhile me writing. My story does get better in time, so bear with me.
Monday 14th October was the day I realised things weren't right with the lump I had found under my left armpit. I was referred to Bath RUH Breast Clinic by two very alarmed looking nurses two weeks previous. Once I arrived at the clinic I was called through to the examination room for an ultrasound. During the ultrasound the Doctor reassured me there was nothing she could see within my breast to worry about, but as she moved across to the lump beneath my armpit the ultrasound showed 2 large black lumps beneath my skin. The nurse to my right held my hand and told me how well I was doing; then the Doctor said "I need to rule out the chance of lymphoma, You see these lumps are prominent, these are your glands and they are very swollen, it could be infection but we must check." With that a biopsy of the lump was taken to be sent for testing, she numbed the area with local anaesthetic and warned me of a sharp prick that was fired into the centre of the lump. The nurses sent me home with a letter stating that I'd had a mini surgical procedure and I was told not to drive, that I may experience some aching or pain.
That night I went home and researched lymphoma and its symptoms, but these symptoms where not like mine, perhaps the Doctor was just being extra vigilant. I researched some sites to learn that tumors don't usually hurt to touch, while this olive shaped lump I have in my armpit really aches, so no, it must be an infection and that's probably why it hurts. Ten days passed and I go for my 9am follow up on the biopsy. I tell my boss Tom that I'll be in work by 11am as it's probably just an infection and it won't take long. I also tell Mark my boyfriend not to worry about coming with me to the clinic, I'll be fine.
I'm sat in the waiting room at 8:45, the whole room filled with people, each person was called in to see the nurse, but not me. It was at this point I stopped to think about how life changing this waiting room must be, one minute you're you, then the next minute you could possibly have breast cancer.
I'll be OK though, I thought to myself, because my previous ultrasound showed no lumps in my breast, so that won't be me. I can't have breast cancer and I don't have the symptoms of lymphoma. The nurse appears from around the corner and calls for me, she smiles and turns before looking back and asking,
"Are you on your own?"
"Yes, just me." I replied.
She looks puzzled and continues down the corridor as I am met by a doctor holding a clip board, he looks at me and before even asking who I am, he asks...
"Are you by yourself?"
For goodness sake, I think to myself, I'll just pull my plus one out my back pocket shall I?
"Yes I'm by myself." I reply.
With that we walk around the corner and in front of me reads a door named 'Quiet Room' he pushes the door open slowly like it's the door to my new life, it's here I realised things were about to change, whatever is written on that clipboard is not good. We sit down in the pale yellow and blue painted room, as this doctor who I've never met before says the words I never thought I'd hear...
"I'm afraid it's not good news and I'm sorry to have to tell you this, but you have malignant melanoma."
I don't remember much from this point apart from a lovely Macmillan nurse called Lynne squeezing my hand, tightly. The doctor informs me that it's a form or skin cancer, but he cannot tell me anymore as this isn't their department, so I am to be referred to the skin clinic to meet Dr A, a plastic surgeon at 1:15pm tomorrow (Friday). The doctor tells me he is sorry and leaves the room. I start to cry to Lynne like she is a friend, hoping she will tell me this is all a mistake and I don't really have skin cancer.
"You're not going to work now Jen." Says Lynne firmly, shaking her head.
My phone battery is flat so Lynne lets go of my hand and goes to get the phone, telling me I need to call someone and tell them I am on my way home, with that I called Mark, my boyfriend. I take a deep breath and tell him it's not good news, that I have melanoma and I'm on my way back, but first I need to go to work and tie up some things. Mark's voice was in complete shock. It doesn't look like I'll be working for a while, I think to myself. I don't know what is going to happen to me until tomorrow lunchtime, this was the start of many waiting games. I sit in the quiet room thinking how am I going to pass 24 hours knowing that I have cancer and nothing is being done about it? My stomach hurt and my head was frozen, like nothing was in it, just empty. Lynne hands me a Macmillan card with a number to speak to the RUH skin cancer nurses before I come back to meet with Dr. A tomorrow; she tells me not to read anything on the internet apart from the Macmillan or Cancer Research website. With that she offers me the 'tradesman's exit' out the back door of the clinic, I step outside and make my way to my car.
"What stage are you?" Mark asks as I call him from the car. I tell him my lymph node biopsy showed positive for melanoma and that is all I know, he translates this mildly as stage 3 melanoma, from what we understood so far. In fast terms, stage 1 melanoma is found on the surface of the skin, like an abnormal mole, it is also called the primary. Stage 2 is found below the skin and stage 3 is where the melanoma cells have spread to the nearest glands from the primary. Stage 4 is where it has spread to your organs and/or other parts of the body. Mark must have frantically read every melanoma-related article online in the space of about 20 minutes, yet he appeared calm on the phone as not to worry me, but he knew his life was about to change too.
Next comes the 'thing' no-one expects to have to tell their parents. First I rang my Mum and slowly told her that it wasn't good news, asking her not to worry, ensuring her I'll be OK. I knew she had been waiting for my call all morning, her voice was still, slow and she paused a lot, replying OK after each of my sentences. I told her I'd call her back as soon as I knew more, she said loved me and she would tell my Sisters Jo and Vicky, we said goodbye and I reassured her I would be OK once more before we cut off. With that I had two texts come through from both my little Sisters telling me how sorry they were, no one knew what to say, including me.
I live 30 miles from my family at home and I have never felt more torn, do I go home to Mark or home-home to Mum and the rest of my family? Instead I just drove to work in Bristol, where I knew no one was there, just to hide and think about how I'm going to deal with this.
Next up, I have to tell my Dad that I have cancer. I drive from Bath to Bristol reciting how I'm going to tell him, completely lost in my own head, so lost I couldn't even cry, I just felt numb. I dial Dad's number for the 3rd time and he answers, the whole conversation is a bit of a blur. It was mainly Dad reassuring me I'll be OK and offering to come to the meeting the next day in Bath. My Dad is a 'do now, think after' type of person, so his main focus was to get me to the surgeon, but we still had 24 hours to wait. In the meantime Dad said we must hang tight and be positive, and so like many others, I left him feeling useless and hopeless, waiting and wishing.
Sat in work alone I call my boss to tell him what I've been told, my best friend Chelle has run around the corner to try rescue me from this mess, she like everyone else is shocked and beside herself, but tries to hold it together for my sake, she sits with me for a while before I head back to home to Mark. I arrive home and by now Mark has pages of printouts full of information, he must have practically taught himself everything about Melanoma from cover to cover, little did we know we still had so much more to learn.
I kicked off my shoes and walked into his mum's lounge, both Mark and his mum looked at me reassuringly, like I was still the same Jen, regardless of the fact I didn't feel like Jen anymore. I sat down and ate, while we discussed what was to happen next; it was at that point the conversation turned to where the skin cancer could have started. I recalled visiting the doctors 2-3 years ago with a mole on my arm that had changed colour, bled and eventually disappeared. I was told not to worry about it by my doctor at the time, and so consequently I didn't. Since the mystery mole I have developed stage 3 melanoma in the lymph glands next to where the mole once was, to this day I am convinced that is where is my melanoma began, but with no visible mole left to see it now referred to as an 'unknown primary.'
That evening in a moment of slight desperation I called Bath RUH and asked to speak to a doctor, or nurse, anyone that could reassure me I was going to be OK. I reached a Dr. P who spoke to me with a great deal of respect, ensured me my attitude was right, to just take things one step at a time and to remain positive; however the slightly reserved tone in his voice told me that he could not inform me of anything specific because melanoma works differently in everyone. What he did say was that he will be sitting down in a multi-disciplinary meeting with every doctor and nurse who will be looking after my case, to decide on the best treatment for me going forward; he also assured me Dr. A was a fantastic surgeon, who frequently deals with melanoma within the lymph glands and for that reason, I am in safe hands. I called my parents once again to update them both with the little information I knew, all I did know was an operation was on the cards, but at this point something was better than nothing.
My phone continued to bleep all evening as friends and family learned about my diagnosis, it is at this point you begin to realise just how may people you have that care for you, I had an immense amount, which provided me with a lot of hope and confidence. Needless to say my sleep that night was pretty limited, hoping to wake up in the morning and be told this was all a big mistake, unfortunately for me this wasn't the case.