It recently occurred to me that many of you don’t know the details about my diagnosis. One day, I was totally fine and the next I had cancer. But, really there was so much more to it. It’s a total mind-fuck if I’m being honest — trying to hope for the best while test results are pouring in to tell you otherwise. Another day, another piece of new information, turning your worst nightmare into a reality.
On September 12th, when I showed my Oncologist the lump in my groin area, she became concerned. I had shown my Gynecologist this same lump back in May and she told me she wasn’t the slightest bit concerned but to keep an eye on it. Given my history, this was alarming to my Oncologist. But if you knew her, you also knew that she was extra cautious. In hindsight, I was overly optimistic and thought the PET scan and biopsy she ordered were a royal pain in the ass, but I accepted it.
Next, I met with a surgeon to get his opinion on the biopsy and after examining it, he told me it “doesn’t feel like cancer.” Of course that was what I wanted to hear, so I clung onto that for a handful of days while I waited to have the procedure scheduled.
Meanwhile, I had a full body PET scan. Leading up to the scan, I was constantly complaining because it was costing me $1,700 (yes, what I paid out of pocket) just to have this scan. It seemed like an awfully large precautionary expense and I was pretty annoyed.
On Monday, September 23rd, I received a call from my Oncologist with my PET scan results. I was in a meeting at work, so she left a voicemail to call her back. Anyone that has ever waited for medical test results knows this is an immediate red flag. I called my mom in panic even though I didn’t know anything yet. About an hour later, I finally spoke with my doctor and she told me there were several areas of concern on the PET scan. I hadn’t had the biopsy yet, so we didn’t know anything for 100% certain and that’s what I was clinging on to. I was tying to understand the gravity of the situation and the potential implications of the PET results, and when I asked her if she was concerned, I knew it wasn't good.
Me: “Are you concerned?” Her: “Yes, Hailey, I’m very concerned.”
I immediately burst into tears. She offered to call my Mom and Dad for me, but I said I would talk to them. I stepped out into the hallway at work, called my mom, and cried. I could tell by her voice that she was just as scared as I was. Being a cancer survivor herself, I'm sure this brought back other feelings that I'm just beginning to understand. My doctor squeezed us in that afternoon so we could discuss with her in person.
Mom, Dad and I headed to her office. We spent nearly 2 hours with her and were still in denial. There is no way all these lumps were cancer. I had been running, spinning and exercising a lot the last few months. These spots were just muscle inflammation — they had to be. (They weren’t.)
Next, my doctor ordered a brain MRI. Once again, this was a precautionary test to make sure there was nothing to worry about. I had that test the very next day.
On Wednesday, September 25th, my doctor called me with the MRI results. She told me there is a lesion on the left side of my brain. The more that these test results came back showing things, the harder it was to believe they were something else.
The very next day I met with a Radiation Oncologist. I thought the meeting was a little premature and going to be about what radiation might look like, since I still hadn’t had my biopsy and I didn’t have an official diagnosis. Dad and I got to the appointment and he showed me the pictures of my PET and my brain MRI. Oddly enough, I consider this afternoon the day I was diagnosed. We weren’t talking about “what ifs,” we were beginning to talk about my treatment plan.
The following day I had two spots biopsied. The lump in my groin was removed and a small piece of a lump in my shoulder was also removed. The surgeon told me they looked like Melanoma when he removed them but they needed to be tested for sure. At this point, we already knew about what we were dealing with. Just needed the final word from the biopsy results.
On October 1st, I had a consultation with an Oncologist at Mayo Clinic. My previous Oncologist referred me to him because apparently he’s the best of the best when it comes to Melanoma. People wait several months to see him and somehow I got in without an official diagnosis.
After meeting with him and a Radiation Oncologist at Mayo that same afternoon, we decided to move my treatment there.
I got the call on Friday, October 5th. The biopsies came back positive for Melanoma. Scans showed I had lesions in my lungs, shoulders, legs and brain.
21 appointments in 34 days and I had officially been diagnosed with Stage IV Melanoma.