Thursday, August 4, 2011

It's a good thing those three prestigious labs disagree...right?

This is a continuation of "Breaking the Ice" followed by "Was gonna leave you hanging..."

The biopsy took foreverz. My mom was frantically wondering why it was taking so long. Simultaneously, I was desperate to get my mother to stop calling me. Arg, why has it taken six weeks already?

We found out soon enough. Turns out, the first lab (University of Pittsburgh) they sent it to was a little weirded out by my mole. They thought it definitely had markers of melanoma, but it wasn't something they had seen presented in this way before. So off to Harvard and Duke my samples went. Harvard insisted it was malanoma without question. Duke disagreed, saying it wasn't melanoma, but whatever it was, it wasn't good. (Later, my samples were sent out to the University of Michigan, who was also curiously puzzled by it. I wound up signing a release with my doctor so that my mole could be published.)

The clinic finally called me with the results and said, "You need to get this taken out with larger margins." I was confused; wasn't that what they did during the biopsy?

So that's how I wound up sitting in a surgeon's exam room with my parents worriedly wringing their hands besides me. I didn't know why they had driven the six hours to be at this appointment. I mean, I did know: they were nervous. And that was touching in a way. But it just wasn't a big deal. It was just a tiny mole for goodness sake. I wished they wouldn't get so worked up about it.

So we met with Dr. E.

He had been briefed on my case, and he recommended an agressive plan: a local excision with wide margins and a sentinel node biopsy. In layman's terms (because I had no idea what he was talking about): take a large chunk out of my back at the site of the mole and make sure the cancer didn't spread to my lymph nodes.

He was very convincing with his reasoning; all 3 labs had recommended removal with extreme prejudice. My mother (the critical care nurse for 20 years) had sooooo many questions. Dr. E answered them all patiently and with ease. He spent well over 40 minutes with us; which in surgeon-time must be equivalent to years.

My mother started quizzing him on his background, "How many surgeries like this have you done?"

"What, you don't already know?" Dr. E joked. "I see my picture in your notes; it looks like you've done your homework."

My mother flushed. It was true. She had printed out a veritable biography on Dr. E. She knew where he attended undergrad and medical school, where he did his residency, where he had lived since medical school, and what his patients thought of him. She had called in every favor she could think of with her nursing contacts to check on this guy. She had a binder with all her information, and on the cover was a giant picture of his face staring up at us. Just to make sure this was "the" Dr. E, I guess?

When Dr. E found out where I went to college, he looked surprised and exclaimed, "My son goes there!"

I responded with enthusiasm and somewhere in the midst of our chat, I realized his son was one of my students.

At the end of our appointment, I looked to my parents and to Dr. E and asked, "What would you do if it was your son? If I was your son?"

He paused for a second and really thought about it. I mean, really thought about it. I firmly believe he wasn't just placating us or trying to get some money out of advocating an needless procedure. He said, "I would do exactly what I recommend. The risks of surgery are minimal and you don't seem like the type of girl to care about aesthetics. But it looks a heck of a lot like melanoma, and if it spreads, you are in real trouble."

I'll definitely do a factoid sheet on melanoma at some point in the future, seeing as it's a bit of a sore (oh my puns are funny) subject, but for right now, here is a quote from cancer.org:
Stage IV: The 5-year survival rate for stage IV melanoma is about 15% to 20%. The 10-year survival is about 10% to 15%.
Moral of the story: don't f*** with melanoma. It is the most deadliest form of skin cancer. Someone at my engineering office died from melanoma last year. He was 43.

I sighed and said, "Alright, Dr. E, let's do it then. But know this. If anything goes wrong, your son fails my class."

Dr. E smiled, "Deal."

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