I’ll probably mention a lot in my upcoming posts about how we are coming up on a year since my diagnosis. October 24th will mark my one-year “cancer-versary”. I’m still amazed that it’s been a year, in so many ways it’s felt like so much longer, but also it’s a little mind blowing that my life was still “normal” at this point last year. But anyways, I was laying in bed last night, unable to sleep, and my mind kept traveling back to about a year ago and all of these things I was feeling or that were happening that I was just ignoring or passing off as something else. So I want to put the word out about these symptoms in case you yourself might be experiencing this, and also ignoring them.
1. The “spot”. So this one goes way back, back to 2011 when I was keeping an eye on my original lesion on my forehead. The spot was changing rapidly and had a strange itch to it, a very deep itch that wasn’t relieved by scratching it. I have no idea if that’s typical to melanoma, but that’s what happened for me. It took a lot of pushing from my husband and sister before I would get it checked out. I’m glad they did push me though as obviously it was cancerous and was the beginning of this, um, interesting journey. If you have something on you, get it checked. And insist it get tested. I can’t say that emphatically enough. My original derm (who I no longer see), looked at it and said it was “just an inflamed keratosis” but that he would scrape it since I came all that way in.
Melanoma is not always black or raised or assymetrical and dermatologists are only human. In fact, the only thing that made me suspicious of mine was how quickly it was changing and growing. If it bugs you, get it checked, get it scraped (insist if you must), and let a pathologist tell you it’s not cancer.
2. I didn’t take it seriously. Melanoma has such little awareness, it almost makes me sick sometimes. I honestly in the beginning thought that people couldn’t die from melanoma, that it was “just” skin cancer. Ugh, I shudder now at my stupidity as I sit here at stage 4 at 30 years old just trying to figure out things to leave the kids for after I’m gone. If I had been properly educated or if there was more awareness for this cancer, I feel like I would have been more diligent in my follow ups. My hope is that one day it will have the same level of awareness and support as breast cancer.
So two years pass with no issues and suddenly, I’m experiencing some odd things:
3. Nightsweats. I remember often last summer/fall waking up in the dead of the night drenched in my own sweat, regardless of the temperature of the room. Hawt? Yeah, I know lol. This is something that is associated with cancer. It’s probably also associated with a lot of other things, but just be aware that it is actually listed as a symptom of advanced cancer in most medical information.
4. Weight loss. Ok, I’m a woman. I won’t lie, I was enjoying this one! But I had just had a baby the year before and had also picked up running as a hobby, so I chalked it up to that. If you are losing weight for no reason, it could be a signifier of something going on.
5. Fatigue. I noticed that I was tired a lot and not able to run as far or as long as I had even just a few weeks before. I wanted to sleep more than I had before. At the time, I had an almost one year old and an almost three year old, so it was easy to explain away. But looking back, I see how this feeling of tiredness felt quite different than just being stretched thin or having a long day or a busy season of life.
6. Growths. I had two large lumps that had been developing over the previous months. When I first went to the doctor, I was only aware of the one on my parotid gland in my cheek by my jawbone on the right side. I was clueless about the golf-ball sized lump in my neck. It never, ever, occurred to me that they were lymph nodes and I really never made the connection that it could be the melanoma rearing it’s ugly head again.
It’s important to know that you have lymph nodes literally everywhere in your body. It’s part of their purpose to swell and go back down as they fight off infections, but if you have a lump that is growing and not going down at all, you need to get it checked. Trust me, none of this was even a possibility in my mind when I finally went to the doctors last year.
Symptoms of the metastisis once I was stage 4 were: a cough due to the lymph nodes in my lungs being swollen; confusion, headache, and seizures from my brain tumor; and bone pain in my hip from the mets in my hip bone.
I’m not trying to scare people, just make them aware of their own bodies so that this doesn’t happen to someone else. If I had listened to everything my body was telling me, I may not be in as deep today as I am. Singly, these symptoms may mean absolutely nothing, but cumulatively, it’s a different story. I’m not convinced that melanoma is completely preventable, but I do strongly believe that early detection and diligence can save your life.
And don’t be afraid to be the person pushing someone to get something checked. I’m so grateful to my husband and sister for doing that for me.