Ladies and gentlemen! New blog, this one hits the heart a little more than anything I have written previously. Today marks the day that its been 5 1/2 years cancer free from melanoma. I figured that during the COVID-19 pandemic, I would share something that has caused a bit of worry in my life over the past few years.
I had my last appointment over at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia this past week. I had to see my surgical oncologist, Dr. Sanjay Reddy, every 6 months for the past 4.5 years and quarterly for the first year. This past visit was my last – for hopefully a long time! I know some people think that because I eat mostly healthy and exercise that I don’t have any serious health issues. But guess what? Life happens, health issues arise and you just have to take it by the horns and go with it.
In October 2014, I was diagnosed with melanoma in a pretty unusual spot (not overly exposed to sun). It was on my left side, of my stomach area. I remember my wife telling me, “What’s that? You should get that spot looked at.” Me being that typical guy, “yea yea, I will”. Quite a few months later, I had gone to my general doctor for a wellness check. He was looking around, checking blood pressure, and finally said, “I don’t like the look of that spot. I think it warrants a biopsy.” I’ve known my general doctor for 26 years (we still talk about when Iast hit by a car at 12 years old and half of my leg was torn off – we’ll save that for another day!) so I said, sure why not.
I didn’t think much of it leaving the office. I actually recall being more concerned about some blood work that he was checking on at the time. However, about 5 days later on a Friday, I got the call from my Doctor. He said that it came back as melanoma and that I should contact a specialist in melanoma to have it removed. I jumped on it right away. When you hear the word cancer, you want answers as soon as possible. I was calling all over to the major hospitals, wondering which Doctor would be best for me. My search brought me to Fox Chase Cancer Center.
At the time, their go-to melanoma Doctor, Dr. Farma, was not available. Therefore, I was introduced to Doctor Sanjay Reddy. He was a young thriving doctor over at Fox Chase. I trusted him the first time I met him. I was very impressed with his approach on dealing with the surgical removal and watchful waiting afterwards. He was very detailed and very confident that the prognosis was going to be good. Dr. Reddy gave both me and my wife his cell phone number to call if we had any questions. He is the first Doctor that has ever offered that to me and 5.5 years later, I can say the same remains true. While I didn’t take Dr. Reddy up on his offer and call him, I can’t say the same for my wife haha.
When you Google melanoma, left flank, male, the results can be scary. At the time, I was a new dad with an 8 month daughter. My search resulted in something along the lines of defining metastatic malignant melanoma as representing a highly aggressive form of skin cancer, with an overall 5-year survival of less than 2% and a median survival time of 6–9 months for stage IV disease. Although primary melanoma is often curable, the risk of metastasis directly increases with Breslow depth.
When you are waiting to have surgery, a lot of times you don’t know if the cancer has spread or how deep it is. This is how the staging is done. Initially I was scheduled to have a sentinel lymph node biopsy, which is used to see if the cancer has spread. The pathology report assigns a mitotic rate. A high mitotic rate also correlates with a greater likelihood of having a positive sentinel lymph node biopsy, meaning the cancer has spread. The day before the sentinel node biopsy and surgery, Dr. Reddy called and said that Fox Chase didn’t agree with the initial pathology report and the biopsy was no longer needed. This was a huge relief. Now, I just had to get a huge piece of my side cut out.
Thankfully, my melanoma was still in its early stage, Stage 1 B. Stage 1B can means two things: the tumor is up to 1 mm thick and has some ulceration, or it’s between 1 mm and 2 mm thick and has no ulceration. I knew that it was a good thing that we got it. I had the surgery done and handled the recovery fairly well. I walked like a question mark for a bit but the human body can do amazing things.
You really don’t worry about something like this until it happens to you. I know people that still go tanning in tanning beds, go into the sun without any sunscreen, and they just lay there. You know you feel invisible until it happens to you. I always thought that it wouldn’t get me.
On the bright side, If you catch skin cancer early, it is very treatable and there is even effective immunotherapy therapy that will help to cure you. So make the right choice and go get naked, melanoma can grow anywhere, even where the sun doesn’t shine, and if you don’t like the look of it, SAY something! It will be the best decision. With that being said wear your sunscreen, sun glasses and be careful! Now off to my next work out….