I was driving south, when I received “the phone call” from my doctor. My three children were nestled in their car seats in the back and I did not want them to hear the news, so despite my safety concerns, I turned off the speaker option and picked up my cell phone. I did not even consider pulling over to the shoulder of the road. I was a couple hours from my mommas’ front porch, I wanted to be home.
I was prepared for the results from my two biopsies. I was already 100% convinced that I had cancer. I did not demand the emergency dermatologist appointment to be tested for cancer; I made the appointment to find out how comfortable the tumor made itself inside the flesh on my back. Still, nothing prepares you for the statement:
You have cancer.
There are two phases in my life now, BC and AC, (before cancer and after cancer).
I am an avid story teller, whose vivid details recounting personal adventure now began with the phrases, “before I had cancer, I…”and “after cancer, I…” These phrases had unfortunately become precursors to my once no strings attached tall tales.
I was diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma on my face and malignant melanoma on my back. The basal cell cancer was normally non-life threating and completely removed during the biopsy procedure. My fight against the deadliest form of skin cancer, melanoma, was just beginning.
The only knowledge I was privy to( before my cancer escapade), concerning melanoma, was that it spread to legendary musician Bob Marley’s brain and killed him when he was only 36 years old. I was two days shy of my birthday, I kept thinking, for my 39thbirthday; I received the dreaded gift of cancer, nice.
Melanoma develops in the cells (melanocytes) that produce melanin, the color pigment that gives your skin its color. Melanoma accounts for 75% of all deaths related to skin cancer. Melanoma is an asshole!
My big sister was relaxing in the passenger seat of my car while I was discussing the details of my pathology report with the doctor. I was glad to have her company on this road trip even more so, now. I asked her to get a pen and jot down the numbers in my cancer journal. (I know, you all are thinking that I doomed myself by purchasing and labeling a notebook, “my cancer journal”.) I didn’t understand my cancer equation. Stages, phases and Levels…percentages, treatment options, survival rates…names of oncologists at UK Cancer center and then the final question, “am I going to die?”
“Not today,” was her only clear cut response.
I wasn’t instantly relieved but I guess that would have to do. I had so many thoughts racing through my foggy brain. I had drummed up emotions that were unfamiliar to me. I couldn’t believe that I actually had cancer. Cancer…real…live…cancer. I felt so icky, tainted and violated.
When I hung up the phone, I glanced at my sister who said non-chalantly, “it’s just skin cancer, and you will be fine. Wanna stop at McDonalds for lunch?”
When we finally arrived home, I found the comfort and concern I so desperately needed. I found my village. My friends and family overwhelmed me with their love and support. They came out by the dozens, like an army, prepped and ready to help me battle cancer. They made phone calls, showed up at my doorstep with hugs and sent wildflowers. They treated me to lunch, shared bottles of wine and more importantly, spent quality time with my children while I recuperated after surgery. I couldn’t ask for a better tribe. I have never felt so loved.
Not everyone knows what to say or do when a loved one shares their cancer news. It is not their fault, nor do they mean to come off insensitive or callous. Everyone processes and grieves differently. Everyone should be given care and consideration when dealing with your illness. My sister meant no harm, she was in denial. She stayed in a state of denial for a long time. She wasn’t ready to face cancer with me and that is ok. Learning and accepting everyone’s role in your life’s journeys is a vital component to success.
It required a village to help me battle cancer successfully. My friends, who are my family, and my family, who provide me with some of the greatest friendships, did a beautiful job helping me navigate through the storm. As I mend and learn to live with the cancer cells in my body that may never fully dissipate, they continue showering me with love and support.
It takes a village. My village rocks!
P.S. Wear sunscreen, check your spots and know your body.
Author: Heather Podnar