MELANOMA MOMMA

I was 39 standing in line for the Haunted Mansion ride in the hot Florida sun in Disney World. It was our summer vacation that year for our small family…my husband, daughter, and myself. We were having a great time. Lots of laughs. And even with the heat and sore feet, we were making memories. As we made it under the cover so we’d get a bit of shade, my daughter pointed at my left arm and asked what that spot was. I hadn’t noticed it. Since the age of 29 I’d been going to the dermatologist for annual skin checks and had multiple suspicious spots removed. But all of them had been caught early and weren’t diagnosed as skin cancer. So I didn’t think much of this one either. I had my annual skin check coming up in a month or so. I’d get it checked then. That was the extent of it and we went about enjoying the rest of our vacation.

Returning from vacation my daughter had something she needed checked by the dermatologist. She always had sensitive skin. I made her appointment and took her in. She saw the same dermatologist I did, so once my daughter was squared away I asked the doctor as an afterthought before she left the exam room, “I’m sorry to ask you this, but I have a skin check in a few weeks or so and I just wondered if I should try to move my appointment up. There’s a spot on my left arm.” The doctor was kind about my tacking this on and took a quick look. She said, “Yes, go ahead and see if they can get you in sooner.” I was surprised but dutifully changed my appointment on our way out. 

When I returned a few days later, the dermatologist said it was concerning and took a biopsy. Within a few days of that appointment the doctor called me personally. This isn’t a good sign. Doctors don’t typically call personally to tell you how great everything is. What she said next was that I had melanoma and needed to come in as soon as possible to have it removed. I asked if I could come in next week. She said she was uncomfortable with my waiting that long. That got my attention. I made the appointment to return and was back to have her remove a pretty good chunk of my upper left arm and she stitched me up. She would know for certain after lab results if she had been able to remove it all. She then gave me orders for a chest x-ray and bloodwork that she encouraged me to get done right away. And, I did. Off to another floor in the building for the x-ray. Off to another building with a lab where I could get the blood drawn. I had flashes that at 39 my doctor was making sure the melanoma had not metastasized. 

Once home, I followed her directions to take care of the stitches. Showering was a challenge. But otherwise I tried to put it all out of my mind. This shouldn’t be a blur but it is. I don’t remember if I was back in the doctor’s office getting the stitches removed or if she called me, but she delivered the good news. All of the melanoma was removed. My chest x-ray and bloodword were good. I was put on a three month skin check appointment routine. After a year I went to the six month skin check appointment routine, and that will be my routine for the rest of my life. It’s been ten years almost. I have not had any more skin cancers removed, not even any suspicious ones. It’s not lost on me that this could have turned out differently.

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The Unvaccinated

You know what I hate? Being the unvaccinated one. I’m a walking buzzkill. Everyone in my small group has been vaccinated. That means if they’re together without me they can remove their masks and engage with each other normally. It feels like they’re all relaxing and I’m tensing up as the Covid numbers begin to rise again. Because I’m not unvaccinated by choice. No, I want the vaccine. I just have to wait until I’m eligible.

My husband hugged his parents for the first time, and I very quickly said, “I can’t hug you yet. Soon.” It’s like I’m holding up a huge red stop sign that basically says get away from me. It’s awkward. My husband was even able to hug my own parents before me. I haven’t hugged them in over a year. When I leave to walk the dog and come back in, I see everyone quickly slip their masks back on. I know they’re happy to do it. The small group of people in my circle are close: my parents, my in-laws, my husband. But I also know they really enjoyed that normal time without their masks, and when I walk in I ruin it. When I walk out, I can imagine someone saying, “She’s gone. We can take our masks off.”

I’ve become Debbie Downer from Saturday Night Live. Being the one unvaccinated person, I continue to enforce the rules. It falls to me. The standards land on my shoulders since I am the vulnerable one now. It was easier when we were all in the same boat.

I contain my Covid anxiety the best I can. I’m home so it allows me to control my environment quite a bit. I’ve become an expert online grocery shopper. And, honestly, being introverted and a bit of a homebody, I love not having to go to the store every time I need something. I’m a writer. I enjoy having more time at home to write and not running errands. But I also would like to rip off my mask when with my close family and enjoy some normal interaction. And, I know I will…eventually. I just have to wait my turn. Staying vigilant when you’re alone in the boat is harder than when you have companions helping you row.

COVID Vaccine Envy–It’s Real!

I have to be honest. I don’t want to see one more “just got my first shot” or “done with round 2” post on social media. I think these started in the beginning as a way of showing others they believe the vaccine is safe. And, I thought that was great. And, I am a firm believer in rising tides raise all ships. So I am truly happy for everyone getting vaccinated. And, I believe that by getting vaccinated they are helping lower my risk of getting sick until I am able to be vaccinated.

However, these posts on social media now have a bragging quality to them. Like look at me! I did it! And, in some cases I wonder what did they do to get that vaccine? Clearly many of them qualify. I know them. I know their age, that they qualify as an essential worker, or have an underlying condition. But some of them, you wonder how they “qualified.” I read an article in The Washington Post recently that this is going on all over the country and causing divisions in relationships. Lying that they are an essential worker or that they’re pregnant on the online form so they can get the coveted vaccine. And, like my dad said to me in high school when I got in trouble, I understand it but I don’t condone it. I know I sound all moral high ground, and people are rolling their eyes. But, I do believe it’s important to wait your turn and not lie to get it.

Now, I’m not saying that anyone I know has lied to get it. I don’t know that. And the people close to me who have been vaccinated because they were eligible, I am grateful and relieved. But when you get your dose maybe think twice before posting a photo eating indoors at a restaurant saying “we’re vaccinated” because many of us are still sitting at home waiting. So I’m happy for you and glad you got vaccinated but you don’t need to rub it in everyone’s face.

And, yeah, I am green with envy! You say I’m jealous…you’re not wrong. Vaccine envy is real! I can’t wait until I also have the peace of mind that will only come from a COVID vaccine. I’ll hug my parents and be able to have them over for dinner because we’ll be vaccinated.

So, I’ll just be in my living room patiently waiting my turn and obsessively checking my health district’s dashboard monitoring it’s progress. And, I’ll probably be so grateful when I get vaccinated that I’ll make myself a liar and hypocrite by posting about it on social media.

Until then…Stay healthy and safe everyone! And, wear a mask!

OH, MY ACHING ASS!

I was on the treadmill pounding out my daily workout in the basement of our townhouse when my ass felt heavy. Yes, I could stand to lose a few pounds, or more, but that wasn’t the issue. There was an immense pressure inside. It was so uncomfortable I stopped my workout and went to the bathroom. That must be the issue. Yes and no. I did go but the discomfort made me want to die. But eventually it passed. But there was unmistakable blood on the tissue paper and maybe in the bowl. I stood there staring in the bowl trying to discern what I was seeing like some sort of science experiment gone wrong under a microscope. Was I getting my period? No, I was pretty sure that wasn’t it. But it could be. So you know what I did, I got back on the treadmill and finished my workout. I continued my life and went about my daily to-dos. 

That must have been a one time fluke thing. And then it happened again. This time the red blood was more pronounced. I couldn’t ignore it. But that’s exactly what I did. And then it happened a third time. This time I stood looking at the bowl, the blood quite clear and enough to be concerning and still my knee jerk reaction was to move on. But another voice floated to the surface, and it said, “If you ignore this a third time, you are being irresponsible.” I’m a wife, mom, daughter, sister, friend. If I ignored this and something was really wrong I was letting down those people. I wouldn’t be here to take care of my responsibilities that I have to the people I love. But really I was only 45, no family history of colon cancer. This had to be some weird thing. 

And it’s embarrassing. Who wants to go to their doctor and tell them this? But I put on my big girl pants and made a doctor’s appointment. And, that’s exactly what I had to do. I had to go to my primary care doctor, who is young and handsome, which just makes it worse, and tell him my symptoms. And then I had to disrobe and lie on my stomach while he took a look. Mortifying. He said it could be hemorrhoids, gave me a prescription, but also sent me to a GI doctor just in case. So now I had to pick up hemorrhoid cream from the pharmacy. Ugh. And then make another doctor appointment where I’d probably have to go through this humiliation all over again. But again, I’m not a child anymore. I can’t just hide under the covers. I have to deal with difficult things. That’s what grown ups do. So I made my appointment with the GI and went. At least the doctor wasn’t younger and handsome this time. I did have to disrobe and he did take a look but I was getting used to the embarrassment. 

I didn’t have hemorrhoids. He wanted to do a colonoscopy to see what’s going on and I should schedule it on my way out. I did. I picked up my prescription for the stuff f you drink on the way home and set it aside until I would need it. A couple weeks later it was time and I dutifully followed the directions. Eating only what was allowed, drinking the drink, which wasn’t too bad until you had to get down the last little bit. That’s when the gag reflex kicked in. But I got through it. My husband drove me to the appointment since I wouldn’t be able to drive myself home. I was getting a bit cranky and losing my filter. I had lost over five pounds in just over a day from the lack of any kind of real nourishment. Sitting in the back by myself waiting to be taken for my colonoscopy, I could smell food. Delicious smells wafting all around me. Are you fucking kidding me? I haven’t had real food in almost 48 hours and there’s a catered lunch sitting near me? 

I called out something sarcastic to the nurse nearby about how could they have that around when those of us here haven’t eaten. Deadpan, she just said they had to eat lunch. I wanted to jump up in my hospital gown with everything hanging out and throttle her. Someone came to get me to take my back for my colonoscopy before I could do anything I’d regret. And then you know what happened during the colonoscopy, I had the best nap of my life. I wish I slept like that every night, but no such luck. 

When I was awake and my husband was sitting with me while I tentatively ate some crackers and sipped on ginger ale, the doctor came to see us. Turns out I do have hemorrhoids. They’re internal. Who knew that was even a thing? Then he said he had removed a few polyps. There was one that would most likely have turned cancerous. The doctor said something about its size. I was still a little foggy while I was looking at close up photos of my colon and polyps he’d removed. The doctor said he wanted me to start a full tablespoon of metamucil daily and I was to come back in three years for my next colonoscopy. My risk factor had gone up. 

I didn’t make it to three years. I had symptoms again just two years later. This time I called my GI right away. He didn’t make me disrobe, so I avoided that humiliation. Although honestly cancer scares get my attention and at some point I would rather suffer any humiliation if it will catch the cancer early. He listened to my symptoms and said time for another colonoscopy. This time there were no polyps. All was good, and I was told I could wait five years for my next colonoscopy. I’m looking forward to that awesome nap at 52.

The Supporting Role

I spend hours and hours every year driving…to practices, games and rehearsals, watching games, concerts and musicals…and sitting quietly waiting at rehearsals and auditions. And, then of course, there is the usual cooking, cleaning, laundry, and sewing the random button.

I’m the mom of a daughter and this is what I do. Today I find myself sitting quietly at a choir audition, noise all around me, reading the magazines I brought. Might as well catch up on some reading, right?

I look around the school cafeteria and see a few other parents like me. On the surface, we’re not needed. Nothing for us to do but wait. We are not in the spotlight.

But dig below the surface, and we parents sitting quietly are so much more. We are the quiet comforting presence, letting them know we’re here if they need us. 

And, our children are able to shine because of the supporting role we play in their lives.

I play a supporting role in my daughter’s life, and I love it! I wouldn’t want anything else. And, someday I will miss these moments of just being present as a witness to my daughter’s spotlight.