Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Queen Awesome's Adventures in Cancerland: One Year Later

One year ago today, I was at the hospital having surgery to remove the melanoma from my arm. This year sure flew by!! And I am still so grateful to Dr Bobyn, Dr Baliski and everyone who supported me, especially Kerrie = ) With a medical and support team like them, cancer didn’t stand a chance!!

Since my last post, a few things have happened. I noticed a small spot developing on my right hand and showed it to Dr Bobyn at my May 18th appointment. Because of my melanoma history, Dr Bobyn wasn’t taking any chances and decided to remove and test the spot. I made an appointment with Dr Bobyn’s receptionist to have the spot biopsied on the afternoon June 8th. Kerrie booked that afternoon off so he could be with me and also drive since I wouldn’t be able to grip my shift knob in my car right away. Of course, once again I was a total wuss about the needle to freeze my hand. You’d think after the number of needles I’ve had lately, this fear would be easing some. Apparently not. Dr Bobyn removed the spot and sewed me up with 2 stitches. I made an appointment to come back in 2 weeks to remove my stitches and get the results of the biopsy.

Two weeks later I returned to Dr Bobyn’s office to have what I had dubbed “my little spider friend” removed. My spider friend left a small scar between my thumb and my wrist, but the results of the biopsy had not come in yet. Kerrie and I were leaving on a short getaway road trip to Montana and Idaho the next day, so Dawn told me to call her when we got back and as long as the results were good, she’d give them to me over the phone. I told they would be good so I would talk to her soon.

When Kerrie and I returned from our road trip, I called Dawn for my results. They still were not in!! Dawn told me she’d call me as soon as she heard anything. I was always very positive that the results were not going to be anything to worry about, but I’ll admit that I was starting to have a nervous flashback to my initial results about my arm and how those results were also delayed. Thankfully Dawn was also concerned and decided to make some calls to see what was causing the delay. On June 30th, I got a call from Dawn to say she had tracked down my results and they were great! She didn’t want me to be worrying over the Canada Day long weekend. = ) I thanked her and breathed a sigh of relief. Still cancer free!!

Yesterday, I was suppose to meet with Dr Williamson again. A few days ago I received a call from his office cancelling my July 11th appointment and rescheduling for the end of August. I am still very undecided about what I’d like to do about my arm. I think right now I’m leaning more towards not pursuing another surgery. But I will wait and see what Dr Williamson has so say when I see him again in August now.

One year. Wow, it’s amazing to think back on everything that has happened over the last year. It’s so bizarre how time can fly and drag at the same time. Last year’s surgery feels both like yesterday but also ages ago. And although summer is taking its sweet time arriving this year (at least in our neck of the woods), please remember to use your SPF. Mr Sun can get you, even on cloudy days! Be safe my friends! xoxo

Thursday, May 5, 2011

After the Final Rose...

It’s been 9 and a half months since I kicked cancer to the curb. I gave the final rose to life and we have been happy together ever since! I am still so grateful to Dr Bobyn and Dr Baliski for their vigilance in this fight. I have not forgotten that I owe them my life. The cancer may be gone, but the journey is not over. I went to see Dr Bobyn for my 6 month (closer to 7 month when I got in) check up at the beginning of February and learned that I would possibly need yet another surgery. Two actually, however the second was unrelated to cancer. After I was given the okay to start playing volleyball again, I had another set back. During a game at the end of October, I suffered an extreme dislocation to my finger. The finger didn’t heal properly and my right hand ring finger is now gimpy the finger. Surgery was put on the table for this too. Apparently the cosmos thinks surgery is a favourite past time of mine! Haha

I am getting ahead of myself though. I should go back to shortly after the last surgery. I had my follow up appointment with Dr Bobyn on August 9th, and everything was looking great. My results had all come in and were all fantastic and he was happy with the progress of my arm and arm pit. After this appointment, my arm pit continued to heal fabulously however my arm did not. I developed an infection in my arm. After my at home methods of controlling the infection did not work, I went to see Dr Bobyn at the walk in clinic on August 30th. I had a suspicion that the internal dissolving stitches were not dissolving and that’s what was causing the infection. Dr Bobyn confirmed this suspicion. The internal stitches in two spots were not dissolving and that was where the infection was occurring. My body was rejecting them and trying to push them to the surface. Dr Bobyn called a nurse into the room and, with a scalpel, removed the stubborn stitches. After he was done, I looked at the tray he had placed them on and it appeared to me that the stubborn stitches were perhaps the knots that had been tied to keep them in place. Dr Bobyn cleaned up my arm, coated the incisions in cream and wrapped my arm up like a sausage. He gave me a prescription for antibiotics and told me to leave the white tension sleeve (aka the sausage casing) on as much as possible. I went and filled my antibiotics prescription and started on my two week regimen. Man oh man, did they make me feel horrible!! I couldn’t wait to be done with them!! After I finished my prescription, I went back for another follow up with Dr Bobyn. The infection was gone (hallelujah!!) and my arm was back on track. Or so I thought.

After the fiasco with the infection, the scar on my arm widened quite a bit. There is no missing it! When I touched the scar, I could also feel two hard balls of scar tissue in my arm. I also discovered that if I have my arm lifted for more than a couple minutes, my arm starts screaming in pain. At my 6 (7) month follow up, I showed this to Dr Bobyn. He felt that the build up of scar tissue in my arm was perhaps interfering with some nerves when my arm was at that angle. Dr Bobyn decided that I would need surgery to correct this and to fix the cosmetics of my arm. When I dislocated my finger, the doctor that I saw in the emergency room that night sent me for a follow up to a hand specialist who also happens to be a plastic surgeon. This was the first time that Dr Bobyn had seen my finger and since its healing had also stalled out, he felt that surgery would be needed to fix it as well. Since I’d already seen Dr Williamson (the hand specialist/plastic surgeon) and since he’d be able to do both surgeries, Dr Bobyn suggested that I see him again as it would cut the waiting time down drastically. So he had Dawn fax in the request and I waited for a call.

Although the news of more surgery was a bit upsetting, I had something wonderful to look forward to! In just a few weeks I would be turning 30. Now I realize most people dread this milestone; I however was looking forward to it. I was so done with my 20’s. It had been such a roller coaster decade with more than its share of upsetting news, I was ready to celebrate its end. And what better place than Hawaii!! Yes I know, you’re going to go to the land of sun? Are you crazy?! Well my frienemy Mr Sun and I have come to a truce. I am going to slather myself in SPF protection and he is going to respect that and we are going to maintain a cautious truce. Mr Sun may be a dangerous foe, but with proper protection (SPF, hats, extra coverage when possible) we can still maintain a relationship. After the crazy year we’d had, Kerrie and I needed a break. We planned a 30th birthday/celebration of beating cancer trip; a week in Oahu, aka paradise. It was amazing!

You can see my scar in this picture.

About the second week of April, I got the call from Dr Williamson’s office. They had an appointment for me at the hand clinic at Kelowna General Hospital for April 28th. Ever since leaving Dr Bobyn’s office back in February, I have been struggling with the idea of more surgery. These two surgeries would mean I would have had five surgeries in three years!! Good lord! I have been back and forth on to slice or not to slice. On the side of the pro’s; hopefully it would fix the pain I’ve been having, maybe I’d get more range of motion and use out of my finger, my scar would hopefully look better. On the side of the con’s; MORE SURGERY!!! I was still so conflicted when I went to my appointment on the 28th. So much so that I drove right past the hospital! I didn’t intend to, I think even my car didn’t want to be there! Haha I got to my appointment on time and waited to be called in.

One of the great things about the KGH hand clinic is that they are usually on time. I had been here in early December for a follow up on my finger and was called in right on schedule. This time was the same. Promptly at 1:00, my name was called. Dr Williamson was just finishing up with another patient in the seat beside me. After he finished up, he flipped through my file, took a look at my original finger x-ray one more time and came and sat down. He looked at my finger again, which hadn’t improved much at all since I’d seen him last. I asked if he had been told about my arm as well and showed him the scar. He asked when he had done the surgery and I told him that it was cancer surgery done by Dr Baliski last July. Now that everyone was caught up, we discussed my options. It was a good news/ bad news situation. To be honest, I’m still not sure how I feel. He started by telling me that he would not do any surgery until at least 1 year post injury/surgery. That was a bit of a relief as that meant I had more time to think about this. He agreed that my issue with both my arm and my finger was likely due to too much scar tissue. Now here comes the conflicting feelings part. Dr Williamson isn’t convinced that surgery will even help me. Part of me is jumping for joy that I may not have to have any more surgery. But part of me is also realizing that that means I may always have to deal with the pain. Don’t get me wrong, a bit of pain and an ugly scar are a small price to pay for being cancer free. And my finger is an inconvenience, but I’ll adapt and hopefully the pain will be gone after it’s been a year. It’s still a mixed ball of feelings though. I asked Dr Williamson that if my problem is too much scar tissue (and my body seems to make A LOT of it), what would be the chances of the same thing happening again. This was exactly the reason that he is hesitant to try the surgery route. It is not completely off the table, but it is not the first thing he’d like to try. He also said there is a small chance that surgery could even make it worse! Eep!! His recommendation was for me to try massage therapy on both my arm and my finger. Sounds bizarre, I know, but the more I think about it, the more it does kind of make sense. His hope is that regular treatment will help break down the scar tissue that has built up and gain me more range of motion. He also prescribed me a silicone patch to wear on my scar to hopefully help smooth it out and help to remove some of the redness.

My next appointment is with Dr Bobyn on May 18th. I will meet with him to discuss what Dr Williamson said during my appointment with him and get a referral to a massage therapist. I see Dr Williamson again on July 11th, to see if the massage and silicone patch are helping my arm and then I’ll see him again in November (the one year mark) for my finger. So for now surgery is on the back burner. I am hoping and praying that this massage therapy works! My arm will always look like it’s been bitten by an elephant, but I just keep telling myself that it’s a small price. The reminder isn’t bad either. Keeps me from getting lazy with the sunscreen! So that’s my update. I sent cancer packing, but he left some of his baggage. A little reminder of our time together. And sometimes, those little reminders are a good thing. Stay safe this summer! Practice smart sun! Remember, no one thinks it will happen to them. Do what you can to make sure it doesn’t!!

For more information on melanoma and what to look for:

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Queen Awesome's Adventures in Cancerland: The End Boss

I am cancer free!!

Today was my appointment with Dr Baliski. I was called into his office and he gave me the good news. All of my results look great and he released me from his care. I asked about the missing results that Dr Bobyn had spoke of yesterday, and Dr Baliski was pretty sure that he had them all. When I see Dr Bobyn again in 2 weeks, I’ll double check with him, but I feel confident in saying that I am now cancer free!

Dr Baliski checked the 2 incisions and was very happy with how they are healing. I’m still on light duty for at least another week, but it’s worth it to be healthy! He wants me to stay out of the water (no swimming) for another week as there is still a risk of infection. He said I can try and play volleyball next week if my arm is feeling good, but warned me to stop if I experience any pain. But other than that, everything is looking great!

I go back to see Dr Bobyn again in 2 weeks to follow up and make sure everything is still on track. My care from here on out should be limited to annual exams and follow ups with Dr Bobyn to check for any new pigmentation. Any new spots that may appear will be removed immediately. I’ll have to be vigilant with the sun and be certain to always wear sunscreen and protect myself. I dub me, sunscreen police! I don’t ever want any of my family or friends to experience this journey.

I have to give a HUGE shout out and thank you to my doctors, Dr Bobyn and Dr Baliski, for attacking this cancer so aggressively and being so reassuring and compassionate throughout this entire process. They are my warriors and my guardian angels. A BIG thank you to my wonderful boyfriend, Kerrie, who helped me and supported me through this journey. And many thanks to my family and friends, as well as Kerrie’s family, who helped and offered support whenever they could. I am lucky to have these people in my corner.

Today is a victorious day. I have kicked cancer’s butt! And to all my readers, have a happy and SAFE summer! Remember, SPF is this year’s hottest accessory! xoxo

Monday, July 26, 2010

Queen Awesome's Adventures in Cancerland: Boss Fight Number 3

Today was my appointment with Dr Bobyn to have my stitches removed and possibly get some results. My appointment was at 10:00 am and to my surprise, I was actually called in a little before 10:00! Dr Bobyn came in a told me he had some good news for me. He had the pathology report. My skin and tissue sample tests showed no residual signs of melanoma! Victory number 1! Dr Baliski has successfully removed the melanoma from the original site on my arm. Next, the lymph nodes. Dr Bobyn told me that we’re still waiting on a couple test results, but that the ones that we did have were clean and clear. Victory number 2!

Next up was suture removal. I wasn’t sure what to expect since I’d never had this kind of stitch before. Much to my relief, I barely even felt it. I told Dr Bobyn I was nervous and he promised to be gentle. He kept apologizing and saying that he knew he was hurting me, but I didn’t feel anything! Not until the last one, and even that was just a bit of stinging. Everything was going great until Dr Bobyn left the room to get some steristrips. My arm was bleeding a bit and Dr Bobyn wanted to put the strips on for extra security. As I was standing there waiting for him to come back, I broke into a full body sweat and felt everything going black. Dr Bobyn came back in then and rushed to help me sit down and put my head between my legs. I felt so silly! I can’t believe I nearly passed out!! Dr Bobyn finished up attending to my arm while I concentrated on my breathing and kept my head down. He assured me that this was not an uncommon reaction, but I still felt so dumb! He told me that this often happens with patients that have been faced with major health issues, and when you receive the news that you’re almost out the other side, all of that stress and nerves just hit you. He thinks that’s what happened to me. After he was finished, he called his nurse, Dawn in to get me a cup of water and told me to just relax and not move until I felt better.

Dawn came back with a kid cup of water for me. The cup had fishies on it! Haha I was still super light headed, so she got me a cool cloth for my neck too. She left me in the room to recover and reiterated what Dr Bobyn had said; no moving or standing up until I felt better. She stressed that I didn’t need to rush. That I just need to be safe. I sat there for awhile; longer than my actual appointment took! When the light headedness finally started to pass, I checked my phone and saw that Kerrie had texted. I texted him back and told him the good news and the news that I nearly passed out. I told him it’d be a bit before I could leave.

When I finally felt safe to drive, I got up and told Dawn I was leaving. She let me know that Dr Bobyn wanted to see me again in 2 weeks for another follow up exam. My next appointment with him is on August 9th. My sister’s 19th birthday!

This afternoon my phone rang with an unknown number. I thought it was my mom as when she uses operator assistance to dial, that’s how it shows on my call display. It wasn’t my mom; it was Dr Baliski! He was calling to let me know that he had my results and that they were all good. I didn’t want to tell him that I already knew, so I thanked him very much for calling me. He also wanted to make sure I was coming in to see him for a post surgery follow up exam. I told him I’d see him tomorrow at 11:50 am. He laughed and said he didn’t realize that I already had an appointment and that he’d see me tomorrow then.

So tomorrow I’ll go over my results with Dr Baliski in greater detail. I still have a few questions that I didn’t end up asking Dr Bobyn with all the craziness of trying to blackout and all. = p Maybe he’ll have the other lymph node results as well and, by this time tomorrow, I could officially be cancer free!!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Queen Awesome's Adventures in Cancerland: World 24

1 more sleep! Tomorrow the stitches come out and, fingers crossed, I'll get the results from the surgery!

I have an appointment with Dr Bobyn tomorrow morning at 10 am to have my stitches removed. I made the appointment to remove the stitches before I even had them! lol I've never had this type of stitch before; I've only ever had the dissolving kind. I'm a bit nervous to have them removed, but those nerves are being overtaken by irritation. Irritation that the stitches are causing my arm and the itching. Oh the itching!! I can't wait for them to be gone! I'm so looking forward to being able to wear whatever I want without worrying about the stitches getting caught and pulled. I'm looking forward to being able to wash my hair properly again. I'm looking forward to sleeping on my left side! All the small things that you completely take for granted until they're made difficult.

I'm also hoping to get the results from the lymph node biopsy and surgery tomorrow. I'm slightly nervous but also optimistic that the results will be clear and good. I think after the mix up with the initial biopsy, I'm also not getting my hopes up that Dr Bobyn will even have the results. I have an appointment with Dr Baliski on Tuesday, and I think in my mind, that's when I'm counting on getting the results. Any results tomorrow will be a bonus.

I'll be sure to make a post again tomorrow night of my latest adventure and any results I may get. Until tomorrow! xoxo

Monday, July 19, 2010

Queen Awesome's Adventures in Cancerland: World 23

Today is a big day. It is exactly 2 months since I went in for my biopsy and 1 week since the surgery that will hopefully end this melanoma treatment journey.

Having been diagnosed with melanoma, I have become very aware of how much misinformation and misunderstanding there is about this form of skin cancer. The two most common responses I’ve heard are that melanoma won’t happen to them and that it’s “the best kind of cancer.” Both of these responses are scary. Melanoma can happen to anyone and can be one of the deadliest forms of cancer.

What is melanoma? Melanoma is a cancer that initiates in melanocytes. Melanocytes are the cells that produce melanin; the pigment that colours our skin, hair, eyes and forms moles. Most melanocytes are found in the skin making melanoma of the skin the most common form of melanoma. Melanoma can also be found in the eye, brain, digestive tract and anywhere else melanocytes are found.

What makes melanoma so serious? Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer as it is more likely to spread to the lymph nodes and other areas of the body. Melanoma can spread anywhere but the most common areas are lymph nodes, liver, lungs, bones and brain. If not caught early, melanoma is the most deadly form of skin cancer. Survival rates drop to less than 20 percent when melanoma has spread to other organs. People in advanced stages of melanoma are often given less than a year to survive. Early detection is key.

Who is at risk to develop melanoma? EVERYONE. Yes, there are factors that can increase your risk but the bottom line is EVERYONE, no matter your age, skin colour, or family history is at risk. One of the biggest mistakes anyone can make is to believe they are immune.

What increases the risk of developing melanoma? UV exposure is the biggest factor in increasing your risk of developing melanoma. It does not matter if the UV exposure is from natural or artificial sources; all UV is harmful. According to the Melanoma Research Foundation, approximately 65 percent of melanomas are attributed to ultraviolet ray exposure.

Other risk factors include:
Skin tone: Melanoma does occur more frequently in people with fair skin tone. Fair skin tones have less protection against UV rays then darker skin tones. However, this does NOT mean that people with dark skin tones are not at risk. Bob Marley died in 1981 of melanoma.

Light hair and eye colour: People with blond or red hair and people with blue eyes are also at higher risk. This is again due to less protection against UV rays. Again, this does NOT mean that those with dark hair and/or dark eyes are immune.

Personal and Family History: If one or more immediate family members have been diagnosed with melanoma, there are now studies that show your risk is increased as well. Also, those who have had a previous diagnosis of melanoma are at a higher risk to develop melanoma again in their lifetime.

Severe sunburns, especially in youth: Every sunburn increases your risk of developing melanoma. One blistering sunburn can double your risk of developing melanoma. Just one. Sunburns at a young age are especially dangerous. Protect yourself every time you are exposed to UV rays. It only takes 1 time, 1 burn to change your life.

How do I protect myself? Sunscreen. Every day, every time. Even on cloudy days. A sunscreen with a minimum of SPF 30 is recommended and should contain elements to block both UVA and UVB rays. Clothing choices is another way to protect yourself. Sunglasses, hats and clothing with the most amount of coverage are best. Now I know that telling people to wear long pants and long sleeves in 40 degree heat is not that all that likely. Cover yourself as much as possible and for all areas that remain exposed, make sure to cover in sunscreen.

Another common mistake is the thought that summer = sunscreen. The truth is that UV exposure happens at all times of the year. Just because there may be snow on the ground does not mean that you are safe. In fact, snow can increase your risk. Snow, water and sand all reflect UV rays which increases your chances of sunburn.

Be aware of your body. Know your body and be aware of any changes. Any new mole or a mole that shows signs of changing should be checked. If you are not satisfied with your first opinion, don’t be afraid to seek a second opinion. Your health is the most precious thing you have. That’s cheesy, I know, but it’s also true. You need to be proactive when it comes to your health.

What should I look for in a mole? Any mole that you feel is suspicious or that is new should be checked out. When it comes to your health, it is always better to be safe than sorry! Catching a mole before it becomes cancerous is the best time to have it removed. Early detection is so important. The ABCDE’s of what to look for in a melanoma mole can be found here: http://yellowshoesdiaries.blogspot.com/2010/06/what-to-look-for-in-mole.html.
Remember, a mole does NOT have to meet all of these criteria to be dangerous.

Tell your doctor if you have small red, brown or flesh coloured patches of rough skin. The patches feel almost like sand paper. I had this symptom and didn’t know that it could be a cancer precursor. I had it on my chest and thought it was just dry patches. But it didn’t matter how much I moisturized, they didn’t go away. It would take a month or two for them to disappear only to reappear somewhere else. I never would have guessed that they could be related to the mole growing on my arm. It wasn’t until I read a magazine article that I realized that these dry patches might be linked to my mole.

Having an open channel of communication with your doctor is so important. If you do not feel as though your doctor is listening to you or taking you seriously, get a second opinion. Trust your gut feeling. If something doesn’t feel right, make a doctor listen to you.

Despite a bit of a setback yesterday afternoon, my arm is healing and my range of motion is improving. One more week until my appointment with Dr Bobyn to have my stitches removed and hopefully, to get the results from the surgery and lymph nodes test.

Both my mom and my dad have struggled with why this is happening to me. In my low moments, I’ve wondered how this happened as well. I’ve never been a sun worshipper. I use sunscreen. It doesn’t make sense. But none of that really matters now. I have (or hopefully had!) melanoma and I don’t want this journey to be in vain. I want to educate people and get my voice out there. I want people to protect themselves. If I can get even a few people to change their sun habits, then it is worth it. If I can get just a few people to have their moles checked out, then it’s worth it. Rock the SPF and have a happy and most of all, SAFE summer!! xoxo

PS - For more information about melanomas, check out:

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Queen Awesome's Adventures in Cancerland: World 22

Excuse me Sir, but I seem to have been bitten by an elephant....

Not too much new here. I'm still home bound and the cabin fever is setting in. I haven't reached full on crazies yet, but I'm getting there!

Last night, Kerrie helped me take the bandages off the incision on my arm. Gross gross gross gross gross!!! Okay, I guess it's not actually *that* bad, but still, ew! The good news is that it's looking very clean. Clean as in healthy. It's swollen and completely dyed blue, so that part is not so clean! haha The stitches are gross but mesmerizing. It's kind of like a train wreck that I can't look away even though it disgusts me! lol It looks like Dr Baliski did a good job with the incision and stitches though. Hopefully the scar will be clean looking, not gnarly. I have certainly graduated from a Mike Tyson bite to something much larger. Once my arm looks a little less like something in a horror movie, I'll post a pic. I both look forward to and dread having the stitches taken out. They freak me out but having them removed? Ew ew ew ew ew!! Yes, I'm a big baby! = p lol

The bandage that they put on it after the surgery was ridonkulous! It was massive!! Taking it off was a production. Now that it's off, I'm covered in glue from the bandage tape. We've tried nail polish remover, baby oil, soap, oil; nothing gets this glue off! I keep sticking to everything! My clothes, the couch, my blankets and pillow. I had to peel myself off of my bed this morning!! I'll try rubbing alcohol soon and maybe the Orange Clean soap that you use after getting all greasy working on cars. Maybe that'll work! Anyone have any other suggestions?

I can't believe it's nearly been a week already! Time sure has flown by! Yesterday was my first attempt at taking no pain medication. I used the ice pack during the day a couple times and the pain was pretty tolerable. Until this morning. I had a pretty rough sleep last night and my arm was hurting this morning. I could not get comfortable, so maybe I over used it. I'm not sure. I tried to ignore it for awhile but finally broke down and took a pain pill again. That helped a lot. Made me sleepy, but the pain is now just an ache again.

9 days until I see Dr Bobyn and hopefully get my results. 10 days until I see Dr Baliski who should definitely have my results. I'm anxious to hear them. I pray this is all done and all that's left is my yearly monitoring check ups. I'm still living the life of a shut in, but I'm keeping myself occupied the best that I can. Yesterday I spent the day going through 4x4 pictures and then posting 3 albums worth on Facebook. A few videos too. Hopefully by Tuesday I will re-join the outside world. I'm hoping to join Kerrie at our Tuesday night volleyball game. Strictly as a cheerleader of course! Maybe I can distract and gross out the other team with my scar! haha 2 to 3 more weeks until I can play again! But who's counting ;)