In the summer of 2013, I was diagnosed with nodular melanoma and took the option of the sentinel lymph node biopsy (SLNB) which highlighted one positive lymph node. I had further lymph nodes removed, which were all clear. I saw my melanoma consultant regularly for five years, finally being ‘signed off’ last summer (2018). That is the short version of a longer story ….
I am fair skinned, blue-eyed, freckled as a child, and as a red-headed teenager burned in the sun within minutes. Although I was always the one constantly applying sun cream, moving into the shade and wearing a big hat, I still had my share of accidental ‘ouch’ moments throughout adulthood.
Fast forward to many (many) years later, when I went to my GP about a mark on my side which I couldn’t easily see and which had what I would call an ‘insistent’ itch – almost like a stinging sensation. My GP was quite adamant that it was a cyst and nothing to be concerned about. It took six months from my first appointment to the phone call telling me that I had melanoma. Things moved very quickly after that: the wider excision and SLNB were followed shortly afterwards by further lymph node removal. Everything went smoothly and I suppose I thought I would just get on with life without any worries now the physical scars were healing.
What I didn’t expect from the experience of having melanoma was the emotional burden it left me with. It’s only in recent months that I have been able to worry less about recurrence – in the early days, I thought every twinge in my back or headache was a sign of metastatic melanoma. It wasn’t until I had counselling (not for everyone, I know but my consultant recommended it, and it was the right thing for me), that I felt some relief from the anxiety. I still have dark days but I know how fortunate I am and that it could have been so much worse, and for that I am very thankful.
If there is one thing I have learned from the experience of having melanoma, it is the importance of persistence and trusting your instinct. If in doubt, ask for a second opinion or a referral. My persistence probably saved my life.