“You Have Cancer”

In the lottery of life, this is one pronouncement no one wants to hear. Time slows and the world takes on the look of a slow motion, faltering fantasy.

On June 27th, I drew all six numbers in the Cancer lottery.

“Anyone can hide. Facing up to things, working through them, that’s what makes you strong.” 
― Sarah Dessen

For the past seven weeks I have lived, day in and out, not knowing if an extensive surgery would remove the dreaded “C”, or if it had seeped into my bloodstream to be taken to parts unknown. Melanoma is my poison. The same that painfully crumbled and claimed a dear friend–six three, athletic and healthy, at the age of twenty seven. The deadliest of skin cancers, often attributed to sun exposure, but also happens in people with genetic predisposition and in locations never exposed to the sun. (Mine in two locations: inner right ankle and middle right back) So doctors don’t know the whole of it, as is the case in so many maladies. Fair, Northern European blonde and redheads are most vulnerable, but even dark-sinned African descendants get it. So best not to court — wear your sunscreen and protective gear. Not a sun over-indulger, this was indeed a surprise.

Would I live or would I die?

The emotional agony of it could well have been shortened. HMO’s, after all, operate within their own time frame and all the stars must align for the proper doctors to be same time- same place to perform the required surgery. In the world of the wealthy elite in which immediate medical intervention can be afforded no matter the cost, the dreaded pronouncement of cancer can be followed by necessary surgery within days. In the world of HMO, not so much.

Metastasize. Has the cancer spread from its original location?

Find the ‘sentinel node’ – that lymph node that is closest to the site of the cancer and determine if cancerous cells reside there. If they do–more ‘treatment’ – the dreaded chemo and/or radiation–the possibility that it has spread to places yet unknown. If they do not – you are well on your way to being a cancer ‘survivor’. Now all that remains is the surgery and recovery. No small feat in and of itself.

001

I am in recovery. Surgeries are complete and healing, fingers crossed, will go smoothly, not requiring any ‘re-do’s’.  As I lay in bed, doctor’s orders to encourage best blood supply to aid the healing of the skin grafting, tears run into my ears. The “Call” finally came and I can breathe the air again with the belief that I will most likely live to see my golden years. The sentinel nodes are clear; the border area around the excisions, also clear.

The exhaustion of weeks of not knowing is setting in. Nights of shallow sleep punctuated with wee hours alone in front of a flickering tv, seeing nothing, have permeated every molecule of my body with a kind of fatigue from which one does not quickly recover. I don’t think I will ever see the world in the same way.

Every day is precious; every moment not a given. Yet I am numb – reeling from weeks of interior negotiations on how to die with grace. Yes, I know this life is precious. I always knew that, so the bright colors of sunlight playing in the garden, the smell of a savory dinner cooking, the heart swelling melody of a perfectly sung aria, the flirty feeling of a briny breeze coming off the sea – they all have held my rapt attention in the everyday. Perhaps in that, I am truly blessed. The life of an author is one immersed in awareness and nuance. I am not seeing, feeling, tasting, hearing everything anew or with increased appreciation. In fact, right now I am so shattered, I am lucky to put thoughts to page. I will continue to look for the ‘lessons’–the change.

Words are cathartic. They carry with them a power beyond the here and now. They have the ability to reach into the reality of anyone who reads them and perhaps, just maybe–make some sense in what is their reality. They might lead to thought, to appreciation, to evaluation, to gratitude.

So, my dear friends and readers, I do not have to do as I had planned, given a more negative outcome to the tests, and begin a series of blogs about the long path of fighting cancer. I have not come to you before this precisely because I wanted to spare you even a shadow of the last seven weeks I have lived wondering how, should it be in the cards, to die with grace.

Would I have had the strength for the further good fight? I’d like to think so, but I am wise enough to know that I will never know until and unless that time arrives. We all hope to pass quietly after a well- lived, long and healthy life, peacefully into the great mystery of death. I once again have a chance at just that, as do we all.

No matter what your path, I wish you grace — and to keep living every day with senses wide awake, steeped in gratitude.

**************************

Have you had a life threatening incident or events? What have you learnt? What do you now carry with you? What has changed?

 

My Milo, ever steadfast, watches over me

My Milo, ever steadfast, watches over me

May you have as loyal a friend in your hours of need :)

 

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47 Responses to “You Have Cancer”

  1. Oh honey. My goodness. I’m sending you all the love and focused healing I can. When I had the brain surgery, I knew there was a 99.9% chance that the tumor was benign, but they still had to do the tests so I know a tiny fraction of what you experienced. For me it was 4 months between diagnosis and surgery, never a fun time, so I totally get where you’re coming from.
    So glad your story has a happy ending, and that you got the “all clear” after surgery. May your recovery be swift, and may you remain cancer-free. Sending strength to you, Milo, and Larry and your family.

    • christinelondon says:

      Thanks for sharing that you too had a struggle. I think there is not a person who does not fight their own battles, but the cancer ‘scare’ is truly one of the most challenging. Thanks for the love and positive energy. :)

  2. Kady Winter says:

    Oh, Christine. What a gauntlet you’ve been running. Thank you for sharing your beautiful post, and wishing you continued good news. Hopefully dying with grace is a long way off, but rest assured, you are most definitely living gracefully right now. Hugs, Kady

  3. This is amazing, Christine. I am blown away at how deep, dark, and beautiful this is. Thank you for sharing this, and I am so glad that you are well. The gratitude illness often leaves in its wake is the best gift we ever receive.

  4. Robena Grant says:

    Blessings and hugs, Christine. I know what you are going through. Thank goodness they got to this when they did. Now you can move on to a full recovery.

    I say this because when I was 31, and one year prior to giving birth to my first child, I was diagnosed with melanoma. I have a giant scar (still a bit of the original skin graft there) on my right upper arm. They had thought they’d need to take the entire arm and lymph nodes in the armpit, but fortunately I escaped that. After two more surgeries, I’m left with my battle scar, which I don’t like, but wear with pride. I survived.

    Here is to good healing, a wonderful take to that skin graft, and a positive healthy attitude. You have many more wonderful years ahead! Big hugs!

    • christinelondon says:

      Oh my gosh, Robena…you were so young when you had to face the big “M”. My doctors have expressed concern over scars to which I have replied–“No problem. The scars will show that I was stronger than the cancer.” You wear that scar with pride, girl! ( I never even noticed or knew) You are gorgeous inside and out, my dear.

  5. Wow, Christine, just wow. I’m glad the news was good, but so sorry you had to go through all of the steps to get there. Thank goodness you have words to use as your weapon when you need to make sense of all the crazy things life throws at you.

    And Milo truly is the perfect friend to help you get through this trying time.

    hugs and speedy healing to you! Onward, and no looking back. That ugly cancer is gone baby gone.

  6. Stan says:

    Very good and introspective post. In a sense you have given voice to so many who go through this quietly and therefore the world is unaware of the struggles that they suffer through. I don’t know you, but I am sorry that you had to go through this, and I am glad that you will be around for quite awhile for your family and friends. And for yourself. Take care.

    Stan

    PS: Growing old (60) and knowing that more time has passed than what lies before me, tends to give one some introspective thoughts at times, too.

    • christinelondon says:

      Thanks for you appreciation of my decision to share this struggle, Stan. I hope it provides solace to others in their own personal battles.

  7. Christine, sorry to hear about your diagnosis, but cheering for your recovery.
    I am usually good about using sunscreen, but got very burned two weeks ago when I thought I was safe.
    I have MS, so that is a life-changing event. I try to exercise more and enjoy life as it comes.

    Best wishes, Diane (fellow Tiger-ite)

  8. Wow, Christine! First, thank God for your wonderful news. Second, thank you for the beauty of your words. You are quite eloquent in your exhaustion. :) And third, I’m so glad you had Milo to lend comfort during these endlessly long weeks of waiting.
    So far I’ve avoided the C diagnosis for myself. Have come close, with multiple tests and procedures, but “so far” it’s always been in the “pre-cancer” stage. My husband had a brush which resulted in radiation, and a dear friend’s husband has dealt with lung cancer and is beating it right now. I so agree, that not knowing period is a agonizing. I’m a positive person, but hard not to go to the “what if.”
    Bless you in your continued healing, and I’ll share this beautiful post on FB and Twitter.

  9. Mary Waibel says:

    Christine:

    I’m so glad to hear your surgery was successful. I cannot imagine how scary and stressful these last seven weeks have been for you and your family.

    Thank you so much for sharing your journey with us. Hugs and best wishes!

    ~M

  10. Christine, may you be blessed with a total recovery and the strength to endure. Cheryl, fellow Muse author.

  11. Christine, I am so sorry that you developed melanoma and I am so thrilled that you have been given a second chance. You have written this incredibly tough post with such grace and dignity. I wish you well and thank you for making all of us think about and remember how precious life is.

    Susan Bernhardt

  12. Dee J. says:

    Christine,
    Thoughts and prayers are with you as you continue your recovery. Congrats on beating the big c. It’s the next best thing to winning the lotto!

  13. Leona Pence says:

    Christine, very scary times, indeed. I watched my husband fade away from lung cancer, and though I didn’t experience the C myself, it was a terrible time. I’m happy that your news is good.

    How did you happen to be tested? Were the lesions there for a long time? Were they discovered in a routine doctor visit, or did you go to the doctor specifically to have them checked. I have a lot of moles that appear so harmless. I’m sure your story might make others take a closer look. Thank you for sharing.

    • christinelondon says:

      The mole on my ankle had been there a long time, but in the past couple months had added a half crescent next to it. So I was suspicious. I called my dermatologist (early–I was not due for my yearly exam until September) and told her my concern. She got me right in and found a second spot on my back. Always prudent to be checked yearly by a dermatologist!

      She was fooled too. She thought they both would be either benign or pre-cancerous. We red heads do not present in the same way as most. Our pigmentation is often pink–not the menacing dark colors you see in skin cancer informational pamphlets. So it really is wise to be checked, head to toe, once a year, by a pro.

      It is also wise to have a significant other or friend keep an eye on your back as it can not be seen by you. I never would have noticed the spot on my back both because it was out of sight to me and because it was not a standard concerning shape or color. I thank God I have a thorough dermatologist. Being a Melanoma patient, now, means visits to see her every three months. Time and precaution well spent.

      I saw my general surgeon this morning for post op. She said, truth be known, most of the sun damage that will cause cancers on people of ‘our age’ was done years ago–the time of the “California tan” –slather on some baby oil and you’re good to go. Thank heaven most parents are now protecting their children from the most dangerous and damaging burns of childhood. Especially critical now that the ozone layer is even thinner and thus, less protective.

      When you know better, you do better.

      • Leona Pence says:

        Thanks, Christine. I was going to say I’m rarely in the sun, but in my younger days, I sure was. I had a niece who had a mole on her thigh checked by a specialist and was told just to watch it for changes. Thank God, she decided to have it removed anyway. It interfered with shaving her legs. It turned out to be Melanoma and she lost a big chunk of her thigh to get it all. She is a redhead also.

        • christinelondon says:

          I am glad your niece is well now, though the scar from a melanoma excision is bound to be large as the docs do not play around. They leave a large margin to insure they get it all. When I asked my doc if he would excise a ‘nilla wafer’ size cookie when he referred to the process as a cookie size area. He said ‘No, more like Chips a Hoy”. No small stuff.

          It was not that many years ago that we lost most folks with a melanoma. The ability to check the correct lymph nodes and large excision followed by checking the margins for any remaining cancer cells, is saving many, many lives.

  14. Janie Emaus says:

    Cancer has invaded my life way too much in the last year. I wish you all the best. And thank you for sharing your story.

  15. Maria says:

    Blessings to you and yours. I haven’t had a personal diagnoses but the diagnoses of too many loved ones. I did, at the ripe old age of four, come close to dying from Spinal Meningitis but I was four and the idea of no longer being alive something I couldn’t comprehend exactly. On the other hand, I’ve always known that life was short and precarious at best. Perhaps that brush with death was the reason why.

    Happy that your brush has been brushed aside.

    Huge hugs.

  16. Hi Christine,
    So sorry to hear what you have gone through. I am so glad they found it early enough to treat. A horrible thing to have to endure, I’m sure, but you are on the other side of it now and I pray that your recovery is easy and quick. ( I too, was one of those sunbathers out for the ultimate tan in my teens– baby oil with peroxide in it, if you can believe that!)

  17. Alicia Reynolds says:

    Oh gosh, Christine, I am SO sorry for what you’ve gone through and so relieved that you are in the clear. How fortunate and wonderful that you took action the moment you noticed something looked different. So many poeple get melanoma in places they never think to look, like the back of the knee, etc. I can’t imagine how terrified you were when faced with “the unknown.”

    I’ve had bad skin all my life and have had at least 13 moles removed during my 29 years on this earth. Several of them were dis-plastic or abnormal, requiring further cutting, and I’ve got the scars to prove it. I remember sobbing every time the dermatologist called me, terrified that this time it might be something bad.

    Your post has motivated me to book a dermatologist appointment now, as it has been far too long with someone with skin like mine.

    Big hugs, and here’s to a speedy recovery!

  18. Dearest Christine,
    Wishing with all my heart that you never had to go throught this, either. You’ve always appreciated life so much. Who knows? Perhaps this will propel your writing in another direction – as it did with me. We can talk any time, feel free (and you know I’ll check in!)
    Take care and stay positive! We are all rooting for you.
    Much love,
    Regina

  19. Sylvie Fox says:

    Wishing you all the best as you heal and move forward.

  20. Christine. I am so sorry you had to go through that and so glad that the sunrise has come.
    Yes. I have been there.
    In 2001 My sister, my brother and I got cancer. No history of cancer in our families. Maybe it was somewhere we lived. We lived in a lot of places.
    My sister Kelly and I had breast cancer. My brother Alex had an unknown cancer that was already in his lungs bones and brain. Alex fought the good fight for until August 2002. He was 56. I miss him so much. He was my good friend.My sister Kelly and I are cancer free.
    In 2010 I had an aortic valve replacement and double bypass. That is now just a memory. I am 70, healthy and my debut romance novel came out this year.
    I am so sorry for your pain and trauma. I look forward for you to the time when this terror is just a memory. Blessings
    Susan

    • christinelondon says:

      God bless you and your family. I too have lost a sibling, my only, to cancer–caused by his years of smoking. We never forget them. Many healthy years to you and your sister. What strong compassionate women! Thank you for sharing your story. “…when this terror is just a memory.” How I look forward to that.

  21. Kate Willoughby says:

    Dear Christine, I am so moved by your eloquence and your struggle. You are an inspiration to us all.

  22. Holmes says:

    Thanks for sharing.
    I cannot imagine how you carried on positively with your author’s imagination.
    Love always.

    Po-ems

  23. Delaina Lawson says:

    My heart goes out to you. Dealing with cancer is one of life’s trials but scars are nothing more than a symbol of your victorious win.
    And just for the telling, a new theory – red heads and all the fair skin, easy bruising, slow healing, etc. that goes along with it, might be the result of a mutated gene. It doesn’t help but perhaps casts a different perspective. My best to you.

    • christinelondon says:

      Always knew we ginger are different–hair a trove of copper and brass coins, skin a riot of freckles and constitution to withstand the toughest of life’s storms ;)

  24. Kate McKinley says:

    Huge hugs to you Christine, and to your family! I’ll be thinking about you!

  25. Wendy L says:

    Oh Christine, I’m so sorry to hear what you’ve been through. This is such a shock. I’ve been thinking of you, lately, but not knowing of your traumatic experience. I have you in my acknowledgements of the print version of my book – the one that would never have seen the light of day if you hadn’t encouraged me to submit to Muse. You have an extra special place in my heart. Sending positive vibes and prayers to cacoon you. With love, Wendy.

  26. Sara Benfit says:

    Christine, I can only imagine a fraction of all that you have been through. I’m so happy to hear your good news, and appreciate you sharing what must have been a very difficult seven weeks. Your eloquent reminder for all of us to appreciate the little bits of beauty in our lives is wonderful. Wishing you a speedy recovery, and better days to come!

    Cheers, Sara

  27. J.Q. Rose says:

    Christine, Being able to actually put words to paper about this exhaustive and stressful time in your life is a victory over facing such terror. Writers are naturally aware of our surroundings, but I’m sure life is even more sweet to one who has beaten such a dangerous cancer diagnosis. I have had 3 scrapings and burnings of skin cancer, but not the big M. I had the full body scan too and nothing more was found. I made up my mind not to actually go for my already scheduled body scan next year. But after reading your blog post, I believe I will keep that appointment. Praying for strength and peace for you. You go, GRRRL!!

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