Exactly five years ago today, on October 1st, 2018, I stepped foot into the Mayo Clinic for the very first time. I’m feeling all the feels as I think back on this day and what it means to still be here, so join me as I sort through my thoughts!
While I don’t consider today my big “5 year cancer free” celebration, I do think it’s a milestone worth reflecting on. At the time, online research indicated my initial prognosis for Stage IV Melanoma with brain mets at 4-6 months. Honestly, I’m going to pause there for a second and let that sink in… yep… we’re… still… f*cking… here.
These cancer milestones are equally inspiring/exciting/etc. as they are anxiety-inducing. We’re getting further and further away from treatment and inching closer to that five year milestone. A milestone I’ve got some severe PTSD about. The last time I crossed a five year milestone was in September of 2018 - this marked five years from my initial Stage 2A Melanoma removal. Within a matter of weeks, my world was flipped upside down and rather than continuing to put that whole melanoma thing behind me, I found myself at the Mayo Clinic - faced with a Stage 4 diagnosis.
I’m starting to notice my anxiety creep into my routine surveillance scans. Case in point: my last set of scans in August. This was one of the first set of scans I had where I didn’t meet with my medical team the very next day. Rather, I had my scans Wednesday afternoon and met with my team the following Monday. Mayo releases scan results to the portal and there were a few items that had uptake in my PET scan. Without the reassurance from my team, I was left to every cancer patient’s worst enemy: Google. I, admittedly, spiraled over the weekend and began to convince myself I had ovarian cancer and/or Melanoma in my left ovary. My only sliver of hope was that the radiologist didn’t say “worrisome for metastasis” like they had said in previous scans.
Spoiler alert, they were just fine and I’m still “grossly unremarkable.”
I met with my team on Monday and was almost laughed at (in a good way). Dr. Bryce is so, so sure that we’re behind all of this that he wasn’t the least bit concerned. Apparently my PET scan caught me mid-cycle and what “lit up” was a functional ovarian cyst. Stupid periods!
Which brings me to my next point of discussion - Dr. Bryce. I found out last week that he’s leaving Mayo Clinic and I nearly burst into tears upon receiving the news. I wasn’t (and I’m still not) ready for a change like that. Especially not as we get closer to my five year mark. It feels strange to say he’s part of the family, but he is. I joked with Dan that I need separate therapy sessions to process this news because, frankly, I’m scared of what this all looks like without him. I’m not ready to remove that security blanket.
When I think back on the first day at Mayo, my first appointment was with Dr. Bryce. He had the right amount of hopefulness, while also understanding the severity of the situation. He gave comfort and hope as my family and I began to put pieces into play to navigate the unknown.
Sitting here typing this five years later, I can confidently say Dr. Bryce literally saved my life. I’m not only still here, but I’ve been NED/cancer free for four years - a timeline that felt unachievable upon initial diagnosis.