Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Other Thing Going On

So I've been pretty occupied with something lately, which kind of accounts for my lackluster blogging. But I wanted to do a post about it because it is something that could impact each of us at some time in our lives. Or one out of four of us, as Google tells me. Anyways.

The day before we left on vacation, I went to my mom's dermatologist to get a mole removed off my back that was getting irritated by my bra strap. Instead, when she walked in, she zoned right in on a mole on my face.

Some background: I had seen this dermatologist last summer and she had suggested I get a certain mole on my face removed. It had started growing when I was pregnant and had irregular sides.

At the time, I wanted someone more skilled in plastic surgery to remove it, since it was my face and all. The dermatologist I saw in Richmond, however, disagreed with her that it needed to be removed and told me to just keep an eye on it. He said it was normal for moles to grow during pregnancy and it would be a shame to scar up my face. I'll get to what an idiot this man is here in a minute.

She was able to tell when she walked in the room that the mole had grown. I was surprised - I guess it grew so slowly I hadn't noticed. At any rate, she was alarmed, gave me a list of plastic surgeons she recommended and told me quite seriously not to wait.

Well she did a great job at scaring me - I went back to my mom's house and scheduled the removal with a plastic surgeon on Monday morning after we got back from Puerto Rico. Charlie and I weren't flying out until Tuesday.

All during vacation it was at the back of my mind. Sometimes I couldn't sleep and would research melanoma on my iPad. What I read was very scary. It is such an aggressive cancer and is killing women in their 30's and 40's who have young kids all the time. Once the cancer gets below the epidermis it can spread like wildfire, popping up in lymph nodes and other organs. The survival rates once the cancer has metastasized are very low.

I am in a very high risk group for melanoma - I have a lot of moles and had some very bad burns as a child and teenager. I spent a lot of time in the sun as a kid. I was on the swim team and we went to the beach almost every summer. Some of my relatives have had skin cancer, though fortunately not melanoma.

I was mostly scared because the mole had been there for over two years and had been growing the whole time. I was ready to call up the Richmond dermatologist who talked me out of removing it and give him a piece of my mind. What was I thinking? Why did I not insist on it being removed? How could I let something as stupid as vanity affect my health like this? Did I wait too long? Would the year I waited be the difference between a cure or not?

I think Brad was glad when my iPad battery ran out because he hated to see me worrying so much. I tried to just forget about it at that point and focus on having a great vacation. Surgery and the biopsy results would of course be waiting for me upon my return.

I had surgery first thing in the morning - Brad and I got to the surgery center at 6am. By 7am I was put under and wheeled in to have the procedure. The plastic surgeon was very reassuring, explained to me exactly how he was going to remove it and what the scar would look like.

When I got out of surgery, I had about a 1 inch incision stitched up on my cheek, designed to fade into a "laugh line" and was just kind of groggy and hungry. The medicine they put me under with wore off by lunch time and by that night I felt fine. Charlie and I flew home as planned on Tuesday.

Thursday evening I checked my phone and there was a message from the surgeon. He called me himself. In my experience, when the doctor calls personally, that means something bad. I was in a scared panic. Their office was already closed. I called my mom and Brad to kill some time. Finally, I left a message on the surgeon's voicemail and told him if he has bad news to please call me that night, that I didn't think I could take waiting until the next morning.

He called me back around 9 and told me the biopsy had come back as melanoma in situ. I breathed a huge sigh of relief right before I got scared again. The mole was melanoma, but it had not grown beyond the epidermis. There was almost no chance the melanoma had spread. However, I needed to come back to Dallas ASAP to have the margins around the mole removed.

I called my mom and Brad again. My mom was great, very calming and reassuring. Brad was shocked. I don't think he ever imagined this could actually be something real. We decided that since Brad was going to be home the next week, he would stay with Charlie and I would fly back to Dallas and have my surgery July 5. My mom would go with me.

Thank goodness Brad still had some airline miles after our vacation - the last minute ticket would have been so expensive. It took a lot of miles to make it happen, but we were able to do it.

The second surgery was later in the day so I was starving by the time I got there! No food before anesthesia after all. The Casey Anthony verdict was read as they were prepping me and all the nurses were chatting about it with my mom and me. Everyone seemed to know that I'd flown in for the surgery.

Unfortunately, the result of the second surgery was a bit harder to look at. Just over 2 inches I think, with raised areas at the top and bottom of the incision. The skin in the middle, where the mole was, was stretched tight. The whole thing kind of made me look very angular and odd and scary.

My mom and I decided a junk food and reality TV day was in order. In n Out burger for lunch and Taco Cabana for dinner - YUM! It was all very comforting and took my mind off things.

I flew home the next day and besides the flight attendant, nobody has really asked what happened. The left side of my face swelled up and the stretched skin gave me headaches. It was a harder recovery than the first surgery.

Unfortunately, due to the timing of the surgeries, I had to give up going to Miami with some friends. That was pretty heartbreaking. I had been looking forward to it since May and was so excited to have a few days to cut loose with the girls. I didn't feel well enough for it and my mom thought I was insane to even consider it after 2 surgeries in a week. I still feel mopey I had to miss it.

Brad and Charlie were so sweet when I got home - they picked me up some roses and just showered me with hugs and kisses and love. It felt great.

I got a call later in the week from the surgeon with mostly good news. The margins didn't show any melanoma. There was a term in the pathology report about how my skin is producing cells that could become cancerous and that was scary to hear. My new dermatologist here said not to worry about it, though - it is evident my skin produces moles because I have so many!

I have to go to the dermatologist every 3 months for body scans. Google tells me I am more likely to get melanoma again because the first instance was on my face. I take that with a Google grain of salt.

My new dermatologist is great, very thorough, and did a wonderful job removing my stitches. She did find a couple of moles on my stomach she wants to remove, though, so I'm going next week to get that done. Who knows if I'll ever have another appointment where we don't remove something.

Overall this whole thing has left me pretty unsettled. I feel scared that melanoma is coming for me, that it could eventually kill me, pop up somewhere we can't see it, or so aggressive it grows before we catch it. Something like that. So many doctors along the way have told me how extremely lucky I am. I feel like I dodged a bullet. I don't like thinking about how lucky I was because who gets this lucky more than once?

These are the thoughts that go through my head as I process all of this. I'm sure I'll come to a better conclusion at some point after I get past some of that kind of bad thinking. It has definitely made me focus on all my blessings in life - I have many, especially my Charlie. And to not focus on the things that just aren't that important or are negative influences. After all, life is short.

This has fortunately been a wake up call to my family to be better about getting checked by the dermatologist. My sister Megan has already been and Meredith is going to go twice this year to get checked. I hope anyone that reads this will consider going to get a body scan. Sure, it's invasive and kind of embarrassing to have every square inch of you looked at, but you have to do it. I hope you will.

Thanks for reading all of this long post. It was cathartic for me to write it. One more step in moving on from this and not forgetting it, but not focusing on it so much either. To trust my doctor and the process of getting checked every few months to keep me healthy. And just live my life.


Soña said...

Oh Kara, how very scary. I'm so glad to read that it has worked out alright and that you're spreading the word about full body scans. So so important. Really even now it's hard for me to admire my pale skin but I know it's for the best.

Lindsay said...

Definitely scary, and I'm so glad you got it taken care of! Bryan and I have both been doing full body scans for a couple of years. I had a couple of suspect spots off that were labeled as "pre-cancerous." I figure, after having two kids the non-C-section way, I have no shame. =)

Megan Willis said...

KK, you are a rockstar. This was a wake up call and will help us all stay safe in the future. You are far from doomed as far as melanoma goes. God is watching over you and will protect you. I know you are scared but I'm so proud of you for staying positive. The Willises are sending mad love up your way!

Katie said...

Sounds like such a scary, horrible, frightening, crazy ordeal! And I'm so sorry you missed a girls get-a-way! I'm glad you are diligent at getting your body checked and staying healthy! XOXOXO

aichiba said...

I'm so sorry but glad you are on the mend. I have a millions moles too and have been getting a few off every year. Gotta take care of ourselves for our sweet babies!

Lakshmy said...

Such a scary experience and yet, such a blessing that the right doctors came into the picture at the right time. It is wonderful that you are sharing your experience with others so that they can understand the importance of early dectection via full body scans. The Mahons love you, and we are always sending positive thoughts your way.