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My Melanoma Diagnosis at 17

My Melanoma Diagnosis at 17

i had a mole on my right lower leg since i was born. i never thought anything of it. the summer before my senior year of high school, my aunt started noticing it and suggesting i get it checked out. she said it looked as if it were getting darker and possibly bigger. i didn’t think there was anything to be worried about and never went to the dr. finally she told my mom one day, “if you don’t take her to the dr, i will!” that got our attention. so my mom took me to our family dr.

our family dr referred us to a dermatologist. i went to see her + she said they needed to do a biopsy to see if there was anything wrong. so she numbed my leg with a numbing shot + sliced a little piece of the mole off. we scheduled a follow up appt to get the results.

my dad took me when we went to hear the results of the biopsy. i was sitting on the exam table + my dad was sitting in the little chair in the room. the dr came in + had a piece of paper in her hand. she didn’t waste any time with small talk. she went straight to it. she said something to the effect of, “the results of your biopsy came back as melanoma. we’re going to need to refer you to a surgeon to go deeper + remove it all.”

she pointed to the piece of paper where the word “melanoma” was spelled out. i stared at that piece of paper + couldn’t look up bc i was afraid i’d cry if i did. it was one of those out of body experiences where i could hear her talking but it sounded like i was listening from afar. it sounded like i was underwater + she was talking to me from the surface. i was in a daze. i recalled just a few months earlier when my mom told me of two teenage girls who had died of melanoma. i felt suffocated. i never thought this would happen to me.

we went to see the surgeon, my parents and i. he told us how he would cut my leg open + stitch me back up. he also told us we had some decisions to make. we had no way of knowing if this had spread unless they removed a lymph node to see. in this case, the lymph node would have to come from my groin meaning another incision, more stitches, a permanent scar + a more involved surgery.

we didn’t have to do it. it was optional + of course, it would cost more money if we chose to do it. my dad looked at the surgeon + said, “doc, what would you do if it were your daughter?” he said, “i would do it.” that was it. we decided to do it to be safe + have peace of mind.

getting the dye injected in my leg before the surgery

leading up to the surgery, i was a wreck. as a teenage girl, it was very confusing for me. i didn’t understand it. i remember asking God if i was useless on earth + he was taking me away. on the day of the surgery, over 12 years ago now, i was nervous. first, i had to get dye injected into my leg 4 times. the dye would travel up to my lymph nodes so they could find where to take them out. i was tired laying on the table.

just to make sure they didn't operate on the wrong leg

after that, we had to wait to get to a room + get the iv going + everything. they had to write “yes” on my right leg so they would know which one to operate on. once they got my iv in, a bunch of emergency surgeries starting coming in + my surgery kept getting moved back. they gave me some medicine in the iv to relax me bc i was having to wait so long. i had so many family members + loved ones there in the room waiting with me, but i wasn’t talking much. i just waited quietly to be taken back.

waiting to be taken back to surgery

when i woke up, i could taste the plastic from the tube they had down my throat. i opened my eyes + saw my mom + dad standing at the end of the bed. my dad had a plastic bag in his hand pointing to it + laughing, saying, “look! they put your underwear in a bag that says biohazard!” i didn’t find it funny at the time. they almost immediately wanted me to get up + practice using my new crutches. “are you serious?” i was thinking. i don’t remember much about being discharged or getting home. i do remember when we got home, my dad picked me up out of the front seat + he couldn’t close the car door since he had me with both arms, but he couldn’t get to the house without the car door being closed. he told my mom to close the door + it slammed right on my leg that i just had surgery on. i just buried my head in his chest.

that was the worst of it. i did pretty good with recovery as far as pain. it was just extremely inconvenient bc i couldn’t submerge my leg in water, it had to remain wrapped up. but i couldn’t take showers bc i couldn’t stand up for that long on one leg. i was not to put any weight on that leg for at least 3 weeks. the crutches were terrible. they hurt my underarms + i was a senior in high school having to walk all over the huge school to get to my classes. i even went to football games with my crutches. i couldn’t drive bc i couldn’t put any weight on my right leg. so my little brother had to drive me to school everyday. in my car. those three weeks felt like three years but i finally made it. i remember the day i was cleared to not use the crutches anymore. i was so excited, i drove myself to school + parked as far away as possible. i started walking to the school + quickly realized it was a pretty long walk for someone who hadn’t really walked in three weeks. a friend drove by + stopped to say hey. i was like, “um, can you drive me up to the entrance?” so much for that.

the best news was when we heard that the results from the lymph node they took were negative. the cancer had not spread! they got it all out + i was clear! the nightmare was over, but the whole ordeal will never leave me. it was hard to go through as a confused teenage girl. + it effected me in more ways than just the physical. but i can’t imagine if we hadn’t listened to my aunt. what would have happened? would it have spread? would i have died? i don’t think i want to know the answers to those questions. i’m just so thankful it was caught early + taken care of.

if you have not been to the dermatologist lately, or ever, i would urge you to make sure + get your skin checked out. especially if you have moles or if you notice that any place on your body is changing in color or size. there is no harm in going + them telling you that there is nothing wrong. but there could be some harm if you don’t go. everyone thinks this could never happen to them. i did too. but it did happen to me.

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