Strange and beautiful things happen when you’re awaiting a cancer (or cancer-free) diagnosis.
Firstly, the unfettered access to medical information (accurate or not) via the Internet becomes your best friend and your worst enemy. Such a formidable adversary, in fact, that many doctors advise their patients to steer clear of it.
Truthfully, after having a mole removed, I went into hyper-research mode. I never would’ve seen a dermatologist or thought much of the “little guy” if my sister hadn’t recently been diagnosed with melanoma, an aggressive form of skin cancer.
Unbeknownst to me, while two out of three skin cancers – basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma – are not life-threatening, melanoma can be very dangerous. It moves quickly to other parts of the body. How early it’s detected can literally mean the difference between life and death. It’s much harder to treat in the later stages.
Make no mistake about it – melanoma is the one you don’t want to have. Nevertheless, I’m fixated on it because it’s the form I’m more likely to have, now that I’m in a “melanoma-prone” family.
It’s nothing less than a miracle that my sister was in her dermatologist’s office for something unrelated on that cold, late-fall day in Western New York. She happened to be wearing a short-sleeve shirt, and the physician assistant spotted the small growth on her arm. My sister left the office unfazed and unaware.
A week later she got the diagnosis: stage 1 melanoma, which when treated, has an almost 100 percent cure rate. Cure rates are not nearly as promising for the later stages. It was still superficial; she was lucky, or blessed, which is how I look at it. The doctor subsequently removed it, along with surrounding healthy cells, to ensure that all of the cancer was removed. She now has to keep a very close eye on her skin and make routine visits back to the dermatologist; a small pittance to pay considering the alternative.
Now on to the beauty. I could have had just an atypical mole. But “ignorance is bliss” has never been my strong suit. Knowledge is comforting for me. I need to know the possibilities and the worst-case scenario. Knowing somehow makes me feel in control, even when I’m clearly not.
More aware of my own mortality, my kids’ giggles and groans are audible at a much higher volume now. My soul hears them. The socks and empty cheese stick wrappers, strewn about my living room, don’t bother me now. It’s a comforting reminder of my kids’ vitality. The mess no longer matters and there’s a freedom in that.
My faith affords me the luxury of not fearing death. But as I awaited the results, I pondered what my kids would do without me, even though they have a father who loves them, to take care of them. Regardless, children need their mother, and I’ve never been more aware of it.
But mostly, I have this euphoric appreciation for a life well-lived. I’ve traveled, laughed, tasted and, most importantly, loved. I’ve loved more than some people I know, double my age. That’s an amazingly fulfilling feeling.
This experience has changed me. It’s given me a greater appreciation for all that is my life. The hectic, the ugly, the messy, the noisy – it’s a beautiful mosaic now, along with the good. And I’m grateful for this new perspective.