It’s been a long road since being diagnosed with melanoma in early 2020.
In October of 2019, noticing a lump in my left armpit. Thinking it was a cyst of some sort, I decided to see if it shrunk but it had vanished as mysteriously as it had appeared. In early December, I had an appointment with my primary care physician to have it examined.
As lymph nodes are in the armpit area and can become swollen in response to viral or bacterial infection, a cyst was very possible, but an ultrasound was scheduled to get a clear picture. A more complex mass was shown, so a biopsy followed soon after, where a needle method, rather painless, took 12 to 15 tissue samples which were sent off to the lab.
On Jan. 16, 2020, I met a new doctor who would take the ball from there and, along with being a top-notch physician in whom I would place my trust and care, he became —and remains — a friend. Who of us ever thought when younger that we would meet an oncologist to oversee and prescribe treatments for cancer?
The biopsy showed the lump to be a melanoma mass, indeed embedded in the left axilla lymph nodes. Deep breath time, thinking “so now it’s me?” (I lost my mother to cancer when I had just turned 17).
The first recommendation was to consult with a surgeon who specializes in the excision of such masses in an area where complex nerve bundles were. But the main concern voiced by my oncologist, “Dr. B,” was that I get in for a PET scan and make sure this is the only location cancer is present. The scan was done in a couple of weeks.
Things were moving along very swiftly and efficiently for a government facility. As a veteran with VA medical coverage, I’d find myself beyond grateful to be near the best VA Medical Center during my 44 years of routine exams at VA clinics or hospitals.
Surgery was not an option at this point, as the PET scan, which Dr. B showed me the full-color 3D images of, revealed a nodule on my right adrenal gland, lit up in yellow and orange like a miniature sun. It was too small for surgery, and now that this was present, it made no sense to remove the armpit mass while cancer was evident elsewhere.
In mid-March, two weeks before the official declaration of the COVID-19 pandemic, I would have the first of a scheduled four immunotherapy infusions, a two-drug combination clinically shown to be effective in supercharging one’s immune system into attacking cancer cells.
My relationship to cancer thusly began, and continues to this day in late August, 2023. From the start of this journey, I’ve combed the internet doing research, aiming to not only glean a more in depth understanding of what my body was and would be contending with, but also to better equip myself to participate mindfully in my own healing.
A support group of friends and wonderful children have been instrumental to this process. I can only hope and pray that any of you either in a diagnostic phase or undergoing treatments, recovery or even the all-too brilliant-to-learn, remission, have the loving care and support of your own personal team! We need each other more than ever when fighting, or even welcoming the challenge by an invader (or visitor) with the calling card “cancer.”
In mid-May of 2020, I was hospitalized two weeks after my third infusion. What appeared like COVID-19 adding to my hurdles were extreme side effects of the infusions: exhaustion, weakness, loss of appetite, sleeplessness, vertigo, skin rashes, joint and muscle aches, shallow breathing and, a few days before admission, my body temperature bounced from 103 to 94 in the span of a few hours, repeating all day and night.
Upon being received by the awaiting ER team my blood oxygen level was dangerously low at 89%. An immediate nasal swab test with expedited results showed negative for COVID-19. With round-the-clock care and oxygen, intravenous saline and steroids, I was rejuvenated and allowed to go home in 48 hours. I felt that a miracle happened overnight!
The infusions were halted due to my own body chemistry being in violent opposition to having one of the two drugs flowing in my veins. The silver lining was that the nodule on my adrenal gland disappeared and in July I had the surgery to remove the original axilla mass, and declared “NED” (no evidence of disease!) It felt very good to hear that of course, yet I would be put on a schedule of regular monitoring scans. Melanoma, by nature, is notorious for fragmenting unseen cells that may find their way to any and every area of the body.
In the nearly four years since my melanoma was diagnosed, and, with the metastases, my facing off with stage 4 cancer, melanoma would find its way to my brain and on the neurosurgeon’s table in March, 2022, with radiation treatments to follow. Said treatments would backfire to swat me down causing cerebral edema and necrosis nearly a year later. I recovered from that with medications and exercise, and I am feeling strong and confident again, despite another new round of immunotherapy now with a far friendlier drug, to treat the latest nodule found this spring, on my left lung.
I remain determined and steadfast. By following expertly recommended protocols while continually educating myself and staying as fit as my fluctuating energy levels permit, my perpetual inner mantra “I AM healing” and my most beloved people a phone call if not a reach away. Not only do I GOT THIS but I consider myself blessed.
This post was written and submitted by Marc Kurnick. The article reflects the views of Marc Kurnickand not of CURE®. This is also not supposed to be intended asmedical advice.
For more news on cancer updates, research and education, don’t forget to subscribe to CURE®’s newsletters here.