It was March 2009. My son and I had completed renovating one of the bedrooms upstairs into a nursery for my first grandchild. On March 11th, my grandson was born. I was feeling really good. A recent PET scan had shown no sign of disease.
***It was time for my regular routine quarterly visit to the dermatologist for a skin exam. I did not expect there to be any findings.***
During the exam, the doctor had one of those “uh-oh” expressions when looking at the inside of my left arm. There was a place on my arm that both my wife and I thought was just a “bruise”. It looked something like the picture below:
Well, the doctor decided to do a biopsy just “to check and make sure there isn’t something bad going on”. I watched the procedure as best as I could but this time couldn’t quite see the tissue when it came out so I asked the nurse if I could take a look at the specimen.
***When I looked at the specimen, it reminded me of a round dark blue pea with “roots” coming out of the bottom. Those “roots” gave me pause to be concerned.***
As I really was expecting, the doctor called me the next afternoon with the pathology results. He told me that it was a malignant metastatic melanoma and that I should schedule an appointment with my surgeon to get it fully removed. I made appointments with both my surgeon and my oncologist so that I could discuss options for treatment.
***Again, I was devastated. I had been on top of the world. A new grandchild, working on projects at home, hospital work going well – really nothing to warm me of this outcome.***
The surgeon recommended a wide excision to remove tissue from around the site of the tumor.
***The oncologist told me not to have the lymph nodes removed. He said that it really didn’t matter at this point because we knew the disease had spread to a distant site from the primary tumor. Removing more lymph nodes would provide no more information to develop my treatment plan.***
So, I had the surgery. This surgery was not so bad. Went in and had it taken care of in the Day Surgery Unit at the hospital. No problems with anesthesia and the wound did not hurt very much. Two days later I was back at work.
Here is a picture of the wound almost five years later (January 2014). A lot of tissue was removed and malignant melanoma cells were only found at the site of the tumor. Tissue surrounding the site was melanoma free.
My oncologist told me that he would look for a clinical trial for me.
***With the metastatic tumor at a distant site (a different lymph node basin than my original primary melanoma), it meant that my cancer had progressed to Stage IV.***
I knew that average prospects for survival were not good but I was going to fight it with all that I had. After a couple of weeks, he thought that he had found an appropriate trial with vaccines that was underway at the National Institutes for Health in Bethesda, Maryland.
***Little did I know at this point in time that my health struggles were only just beginning!***