A Different August Angst

A Different August Angst

I’ve moved this blog entry from my Blogger site to here … fall cleaning, sorting, and separating health posts from book reviews. So though the date is September, I had written this entry in August:
This time of year for more than half of my life I would begin thinking about the new school year ahead. As a student ~ thoughts of new shoes, socks, and classmates would keep me wondering; as a teacher~ finding out who my students would be, and making name tags for their desks in elementary school was a regular practice. When I moved on to middle school, and one hundred rather than twenty-five names were in front of me, I would begin to look for familiar family names, and flip through the previous year’s yearbook photos to get a head start on recognizing each one at the door.

Back to school shopping was simpler when I was a student in parochial school – one fall sweater, and two or three uniform blouses to wear with the daily jumper, plus those shoes and socks. In public school, new clothes usually meant new hand me downs from my older sisters, with at least one new outfit for the first day of school. The temperature might still be in the eighties, but new fall skirts and sweaters would be worn on the first day. And as a teacher, new school shoes still topped the list.

This year, August is different. That sense of excitement, of new beginnings ahead, is absent. This year, the expectations hold no allure, no welcoming back. Instead, health remains at the top of the list. Continuing surgery for malignant melanoma, squamous and basal cell carcinomas will occur, as they have since the summer began, interspersed with more biopsies and sutures following clear margins.

ImageThe dermatologist has biopsied five sites, and all five have come back positive for one of the three cancers. He has also performed cryosurgery on seven other sites, believing they are not yet cancerous but enough of a concern to want to remove them now. For the five cancer sites, he has sent me to a surgeon for removal.  The melanoma on my back was removed by a “Slow Mohs” procedure, removing some skin, sending it out for a biopsy overnight, and having me return another day for more skin removal, now directed by the second biopsy, and then home again to wait for the third biopsy results, then back again for either more surgery or for sutures. With over fifty sutures on my back closing a wound the circumference of a baseball, the surgeon was able to push skin together over the wound and stitch it in a Z-shape. A few weeks later, after excising and stitching two basal sites, we had the second melanoma biopsy, this one on my arm. That, too, was done through a Slow Mohs procedure, and was closed with a Z. I tried to wash off the yellow stain around the wound, only to find that it was the result of bruising while pushing the surrounding skin together over the wound. If the wounds were much larger, the surgeon might have closed with a skin graft. The one remaining to be dealt with is the squamous cell carcinoma on my calf. Whether he will do Slow Mohs or a simple excision will be determined as he begins.

Presently, all of these sites have been at the surface, no deeper than 2/10 of a millimeter. That there are two primary melanoma sites is of some concern, and one of my other doctors is encouraging me to work with an oncologist to manage any treatments ahead. I’m not sure I want to look ahead for any future sites or treatments.

A Teen with a burn, ‘Mark of Zorro’ may earn. ~ Terry Palardy

Having worked my way through the multiple sclerosis diagnosis and treatments, only to find later that the vague promises of slower progression were groundless, and proven false, I am reluctant to seek out the advice of a doctor who specializes in chemotherapy and radiation treatments. That is my assumption of an oncologist’s role. Until I meet with one, I will not know exactly how right or wrong that assumption is.

My instinct is to stay far away from such treatments. Instinct is an ability to self-protect, based on observation and research. My instinct was right during the multiple sclerosis testing, and about the existing treatments. I have gone for treatments that others have encouraged me to seek. I have the scars to prove it. I call the scar on my back “The Mark of Zorro.” The one on my arm is smaller and lighter in color, but still ‘of Zorro.’ I have no need of tattoos.

I’m not the only one leery of chemotherapy and radiation:  this video tells a story often not told. It’s a story of power, money, and medicine. It will take more than an hour of your time to watch it through to the end. It is time well spent. You are worth it.

The Cancer Report


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