Cancer Survivorship: Waiting For The Phone Call

As we approach summer, a melanoma survivor recovers from her fresh wounds and shares her thoughts.

It has been three years since my melanoma was removed. That area of my shoulder looks like a "dog bite" indentation with a three-inch scar. I was at the dermatologist for another full body skin this week and she biopsied two more moles. I have probably had more than 30 biopsies in the last few years. Four of those, since the melanoma, needed to be larger excisions (more big "dog bites") to get wide clear margins on suspicious moles that weren’t quite labeled melanoma. Now there are large scars on my calf, one on each thigh and one on my back.

I won’t win any beauty contests, but I am happy to be here. I get to wait for pathology reports for the two moles just removed. I am grateful. But, waiting is the hard part.

I am almost seven years out from my breast cancer diagnosis, too. After each diagnosis and treatment, the doctors do not tell you that "You are cured." The doctors must wait and watch. I know my odds in both cases are pretty good. I know it is physically and mentally best for me to be vigilant and to get on with living my life. Some days that is more difficult than it sounds. Wait. Watch. Decide which concerns to bring to the doctor 'just in case" to get checked.

With time and experience and more distance from diagnosis, I have decided it is better for me to get things that worry me checked out by my doctor sooner rather than later, for my mental and emotional health, as well as my physical health. When I can proactively shorten a period of worry and uncertainty, it is a good thing for me. When I take control and get things resolved, there is less "spillover" into the rest of my life. I don’t get pulled down by uncertainty and fear.

Not knowing outcomes is hard on people. We all live with some uncertainty, but medical uncertainty is a very intimate situation each day, week, month and year if we are fortunate to be around. Am I okay? Will, or when will the cancer come back?

To cope with uncertainty and worry, I get better at patience. I have to. Meditation, keeping my hands busy, finding distraction and connecting with nature all help. My uncertainty, ironically, gives me a greater sense of gratitude and appreciation for many things, large and small, in my life — a beautiful day, a child home from college, a snuggle on the couch with my dog. Life with uncertainty makes all that stuff matter more.

My thoughts: Resolve medical uncertainties as soon as possible for physical, mental and emotional good health. Also, learn tools to grow your patience and practice gratitude. All of those things can help a cancer survivor who is waiting for the phone to ring. I will take another deep breath and head out to enjoy my day, and yes, I will let you know how my most recent biopsies turn out.