6 Things You May Not Know About Melanoma

Breaking News

Some of you may remember a time when breaking news meant something intensely serious was happening. When J.F.K. died I was watching some morning show while my Mother ironed (another concept that dates many of us!). I remember it vaguely as I was young; my mother was crying and that felt like breaking news, like something had broken because it had.

Breaking news today, well that’s an occurrence that we no longer pay attention to as it has lost it’s earnestness. Breaking news is everywhere, everyday and no longer has any significant value. That leaves each of us to determine what to watch, what not. Like the friend who is never quite honest, I’ve tired with the uncertainty of the news and the shortage of information, and the lunacy is abundant.

BUT…

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Watch for spots

There are things you may not know about metastatic melanoma, a type of skin cancer, and I feel it is breaking news to inform you with a few short hits on what we know at this point. I save the most interesting for last so keep reading! There are many misconceptions about melanoma, so here’s a basic list of health information:

  1. Melanoma is deadly so be sure to be aware of the abcde’s of melanoma. Do skin checks and be #sunsmart.
  2.  Basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma are considered non-melanoma skin cancers. Read about them here at Web MD. While they are skin cancers, they do not turn into melanoma.
  3. Cancer resources for skin related disease can be found in online resources such as the American Academy of Dermatology Association. The photos may help but don’t let that be your guide. Like the shirt that you bought online that turned out to be a completely different color, your skin cancer may not look like digital photos.Be wise and see a dermatologist in person.
  4.  Depending on the staging, melanoma is not a quick surgical removal. Possibilities include excision, plastic surgery, nuclear dyes (the most painful thing ever) to find lymph node drainage, radiation, and a plethora of scans and tests.
  5. Pay attention to the UV Index – the sun is powerful!

And Here It Is…The REAL Breaking News!

   6. Melanoma does NOT react positively in chemo treatment.

Yeah, that’s the big news. it may be used to relieve symptoms of this aggressive disease, most commonly for Stage IV patients. Cancer treatment is equated to chemotherapy and guess what? That’s not always true! I’ve had people say things like:

  • “Wow! You must be getting a light dose. You haven’t lost your hair”
  • “You look really healthy compared to other people I know who’ve been on chemo”
  • “Why are you fatigued if you’re not receiving chemotherapy?”

My cancer-related fatigue is from a clinical trial that I participate in and I receive the drug Yervoy. The study compares Yervoy to other drugs such as Keytruda used for metastatic melanoma. At this time, there is no cure for melanoma and I hope that in participating in this immunotherapy research, that someday there will be a drug or series of drugs that can reduce the death rate for others, and not be filled with risks and side effects.

Visually, I do look like myself and I believe I will heal. Fatigue is intense at times; not that I need to nap but I feel like the a horse pulling thousand pound weights most days. Aches are challenging me more over time, and I’ve been offered steroids to alleviate the pain. I’m not ready to put more drugs into this soupy/saucy mix but I’m close.

Every day is a great day. I only mention some of the melanoma cancer tips because there are many misconceptions. There’s a lot going on inside some of us though it may not show! I’ve learned to not judge a book by it’s cover in a medical sense now that I have medical turmoil within. Inspiration also comes from within, so look beyond all the cancer craziness, find your courage, and bring that to the surface and let it shine! #melanomatheskin #getnaked #melanoma #cancer #yervoy

Thanks for signing up and please do share your thoughts as this is how we learn, grow, and find hope!

We can-cer vive!

Janis

 

 

Creepers and Stalkers and Trolls, Oh My!

troll-1916370_960_720.jpgWriting today is mostly therapeutic and I apologize in advance for my anxious thoughts. You see, I’m on a clinical trial for metastatic melanoma and due up for my next visit at Dana Farber Cancer Institute. I’ve done well to get on with life, take breaks as needed, and think like my pre-cancer self.

Without Exception

Today the thoughts creep in, a bit more than the usual cancer stuff. It’s always there, the c-word stuff, but I believe I’m exceptional! Exceptional at keeping thoughts at bay, exceptional at ignoring thoughts, and exceptionally exceptional at creating an aura of life is good. Other cancer patients can relate to this!

Three months without my melanoma team, free to push myself through fatigue heavy days and achy joint night. Samplings of joy, love, and life finely sift through my new colander of life. Every moment is rich, alive, and mine for the living.

Whither Shall I Wander?

Prisoner in my own mind, my desire to stay in-the-now wanders down the path of next up. Next up means scans, tests, appointments with oncologists, dermatologists, and the infusion staff. These thoughts are like stalkers in my mind, no longer allowing me the freedom to be.

Plans for the trip to Dana Farber unfold, questions to be asked are written in THE notebook, the medical backpack is unpacked and repacked. Stalker thoughts are unavoidable and while this is not the travel adventure we anticipate, having the blue print in place becomes the norm.

Lost in Thought

Inching closer to the big medical day, it’s more of a challenge to ensure that my health information is current, that all pieces are in place. Racing toward a date that I’d rather avoid, troll-like nasties invade my head space. Ugly, worrisome thoughts greedily take up residence, regardless of how I attempt to evict them.

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Stay the course!

Feelings of balance and ideas of inspiration are mislaid; moments of hope are obscured as medical melee overrules. The unknown of the next medical segment may leave us feeling lost and filled with fear. Forsake those feelings as best you can as solace comes from love and understanding.

In The Know

The best cancer tip I can offer is that being organized helps. It may not sound like much but a medical backpack, a notebook, a caregiver…any or all provide cancer support. Know your schedule and print it. You will learn how to find all the offices, labs, and treatment areas; though it sounds odd, there is comfort in having a routine for your cancer trips.

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Words of encouragement found on my fridge magnet from Dana Farber Cancer Institute.

Days and hours leading up to your next appointments may be fraught with worry. Organize ahead of your appointments, shoo away thoughts of the unknown to make room for thoughts of courage. #braverthanyoubelieve  #melanomatheskin #melanoma #cancer

We can-cervive,

Janis

Seeing Spots

In the Beginning

Start, stop, start, stop. I began this blog post two months ago and basically, haven’t been able to get past the title. Melanoma is a game changer for sure. All types of skin cancer are formidable foes, and how do you do skin checks without letting it rule your life and your mind? I’m delving in to a bit of my cancer history here…the beginning and a tougher place to bring myself than I realized.

My first diagnosis was in 2015, after noticing and watching an area on my left cheek for a few months. It didn’t look particularly “stand-out, hey I’m different” and comparing my spot with online photos, well, don’t bother is my advice. Use your sunsmarts and get screened for anything worrisome; digital diagnosis is virtual, not real.

Another day, I’ll talk more about surgeries, treatments, radiation, clinical trials, and all that “fun” that is how we live now.  Today’s blog is about looking for unusual spots. That little area on my cheek wasn’t all that different than all the other spots. I mean, we all have our spots, right?

For me, the area felt different to the touch, an internal hmmmm that left me wondering “IF” something was going on. Going for a routine physical, I mentioned it to my doctor.  She felt it was nothing but worthy of a biopsy, so off to the local dermatologist I went.

X Marks the Spot

The call, the one we never want to get, never ever…came less than two weeks after the punch biopsy. The doctor, grave and concerned, informed me of the melanoma and that he could set up appointments with an oncologist and surgeon.

Yes, that was the start of my journey with cancer. We cancer patients all have our stories, our moment of truth, that one conversation.  The c-word that turns so many of our worlds upside down. Health information came from all directions. Phone calls and appointments were quickly scheduled. The dreaded health insurance queries ensued.

A lifetime of sun was now encapsulated in a tiny spot in my left cheek or possibly racing through my body; the belief that I would never have skin cancer stared me down in the mirror every day with a small,  purplish spot. Grateful that the carcinoma was right there staring at me, I wonder if I would have found it if it had been in a less obvious place?

Learning the Alphabet

A basic guideline, the Melanoma Research Foundation lists the ABCDE’s of melanoma with photos. Again, I would note this is not the gospel of diagnosis.  My spot looked nothing like these photos and only minor areas of note in the listing of ABCDE’s:

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I do think the guideline is just that, a guide to start your understanding of skin cancer. Cancer tips can be sketchy so go with your gut. The one thing I would note is that my first spot was purple, just a faint purple color-enough so that I noticed it was not like the freckles, skin spots, or scars. So the letter C was relevant for me.

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In hindsight, the letter C for Color and the letter E for Evolving were relevant with my first melanoma diagnosis. However, I wasn’t even aware of the guidelines.

The letter E, evolving, became present over time.  It was very slight but my spot was changing. I noticed it sometimes, again, a slight feeling in my cheek. Indescribable, something just felt different.

Blind Spot

Because I was always healthy and had no concerns. I was quite sure I didn’t have skin cancer; it really wasn’t possible. Until, it all was possible and not only did I have skin cancer, I had the deadly kind, melanoma. Courage came later.

Have a spot that looks different to you? Know that you have skin damage? Have you spent a lot of time outside? Get a skin check done by a dermatologist. Many people do this annually now. Don’t wait because melanoma is not just on the surface; it buries deeply into your tissue.  The deeper the cancer, the more challenging the treatment.

Spot On!

Ending on a positive note, a dear friend and another freckle face, was very concerned and supportive at my first diagnosis. As a retired nurse, it also turned out she was a bit concerned about her own bespeckled self. In talking one day, she confessed, “I’m looking at every friggin’ freckle and mole I have, thanks to you,  Janis. That’s a lot of work for a retired person!” Gotta love her!

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Yes, give those spots due diligence and #getnaked.  Screening and early detection matter for all skin types. Leave paranoia behind and enjoy life sensibly. I’d love to hear how often you do skin checks and what you use as your guide? #melanoma #melanomatheskin #cancer

We can-cer vive!

Janis

 

Reading Matters

Reading matters!  It matters a whole lot to me and as a former library director, I had a newsletter called “Reading Matters”!  Read important documents, great novels, and non-fiction that impassions you. Speak your language(s) ardently and with effervescence. Compose silly soliloquies, sing a pretty ditty, and be sure to take time to rhyme with that four-year old in your life!

Digi-death

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Cancer patients and caregivers have a lot of serious information in our day, in our lives.  Reading about the clinical trial that you may be eligible for, signing off on radiation side effects (with no idea what this means for you), filling out medical forms, and searching online for information about your cancer diagnosis…

Uh-oh, online research can be a killer, in itself.  Wondering what the life expectancy is for Stage III melanoma?  Or who is most likely to get this deadly skin cancer?  Or information about how other patients are adjusting to life with cancer? What about the  details about the drug that is being suggested?  And who is this doctor, anyway?head.png

Let’s face it! There’s a lot of digital misinformation.  We’ve all learned how to ignore, choose, and create online data.  What’s real?  What’s not?  Often information is gleaned from different sites and snowballs, taking on a life of its own, albeit false. Finding real data is tricky when oft times there is no verification. Don’t we already have enough mortality concerns, without drowning in medical untruths?

The Real Deal

Get back to the basics and be wary of just googling your health concerns.  Go for the legitimate, avoid the questionable. Here are a few cancer resources that I find useful and why:

American Cancer Society – basic cancer information and resources

Dana-Farber Cancer Institute – my hospital and melanoma team

Mayo Clinic – a good overall health site for answering health questions or looking up symptoms

National Cancer Institute – a department of U.S. Health and Human services, there’s a lot of data and resources here

Skin Cancer Foundation – international organization seeking to educate and prevent skin cancers

U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) – useful resources and up to the minute data for health, nutrition, medication, and regulation

Obviously, each of us need to find the online data that best represents our cancer diagnosis.  Ask your professionals what they recommend as you learn about your disease.

Screen Shot…or Is It Shot Screen?

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So yeah, connect those dots using valid information.  Seek information integrity and beware of the less scrupulous websites. Just a few more thoughts about seeking medical information:

  • Ask your oncologist and medical team-they’re the experts
  • Step away from the screen
  • Don’t believe everything you read
  • Use sources that you know to be reputable such as Mayo Clinic
  • Online information is general information and may not pertain to you
  • Step away from the screen
  • Learn how to use your medical facility’s website and individual patient information platform
  • If something you read concerns you, write it down and ask your medical professional
  • Uncertainty with validity of information is counter productive
  • Did I mention step away from the screen?!!!

Be sensible.  Use your digital time wisely.  Look up metastatic for the umpteenth time if you still find it hard to believe that this is part of your diagnosis. Then, remember that your medical team knows you and your cancer diagnosis.  Reading matters but so does living your life. Close out the screen, breathe, and enjoy the view.      #melanoma  #melanomatheskinwerein #cancer

We can-cer vive!

Janis