Just a short (long?) 6 months ago, I walked into the Mayo Clinic for the first time. My previous Oncologist called in some sort of extra special favor and got me on to Dr. B’s schedule. It feels like a lifetime ago, but also just a couple of days ago all at the same time.
On Friday, September 28th, I had a short surgery to have the lump in my groin area removed and planned to remove the one in my right shoulder too. The shoulder one was a little too deep to take out entirely, so they got a “good piece” to biopsy it. Later that afternoon, I got a call from Mayo to set up as a new patient. They were squeezing me in to an already packed schedule to see Dr. B. Dad did some initial research on him and he seemed to be the best of the best here in Arizona, so I felt #blessed that I was able to get on to his schedule on such short notice.
Monday, October 1st begins. I woke up and went to work – just like every other day. Somehow I pinched a nerve in my back over the weekend and I remember hobbling around all day that day. I could barely stand up straight without crying. I had a client meeting in the morning and was bringing back up support with me because I had no idea what my afternoon appointment was going to entail. We were already moving as such a rapid pace with consultations and tests and my schedule seemed to change faster than I could keep up with.
I had lunch with a couple coworkers after our meeting before heading over to Mayo. When I got there, I was intimidated as all hell. The campus is HUGE! I can now navigate it like the back of my hand, but at the time it seemed so intimidating and serious. Dr. B was in building 3. My parents met me there and we waited anxiously in the waiting room. I got called back to see Dr. B and immediately knew we’d be transitioning my treatment to him. My mom had done some preliminary research on treatment options so she was asking about Immunotherapy. (You should have heard the way she pronounced Ipilimumab and Nivolumab 😉). My Dad asked probably a million questions and we likely spent a good hour with him.
TOTAL DETOUR FOR A HOT SECOND. Special shout out to James (Dad). Obviously my family has been the most supportive family in the entire world but James is really something special. He hasn’t missed a single appointment to date. And on top of his perfect attendance, he also asks SO many questions that he really help us all get an understanding of what’s all going on. It’s hard enough to be the cancer patient, let alone think of all the questions you should ask. James is the best and everyone should have a Dad like him.
Back to the October 1st meeting. Dr. B. was very, uh, realistic with that we were dealing with. He knows the prognosis for Metastatic Melanoma isn’t good. But, he was hopeful with today’s treatment options. I think what I liked most about him was his sense of urgency. He knew we had to act now and we couldn’t waste any time. He then sent me downstairs to meet with a Radiation Oncologist to have a consultation about the tumor in my brain.
Mom, Dad and I went downstairs and sat in another waiting room. This time we found puzzles so Dad and I tried to keep our mind busy while we waited (and this is when the puzzle obsession began). I got 3 more phone calls from the scheduling department while we were waiting. Another appointment lined up to meet with a Neurosurgeon, one to meet with a Neuro-Oncologist and some routine lab work. My adventures at the Mayo were just beginning. I saw Dr. A. (Radiation Oncologist) and his resident (I call him Thor cause I just love nicknames). We talked a lot about Stereotactic Radio Surgery and what that means for my brain guy. I left that consultation and had already lined up my SRS treatment. I only needed one and it was on the schedule for October 11th. They wanted to get this one out of the way ASAP so I could begin my systemic treatment (Immunotherapy) immediately.
After that appointment, I walked over to the lab to get some routine bloodwork done. At this point, my back was hurting so bad I was holding back tears. Not to mention, it had sort of (okay, more than sort of) been an emotional day. That evening, I actually left my car at Mayo. We had an appointment first thing the next morning and didn’t need to drive up there in separate cars. My sister and I joined my parents for take-out at their house and we sort of all just spent some family time together. We didn’t know what it looked like yet, but we knew we were just beginning to get on the rollercoaster.
In just a few short days I turn 30. Birthdays are a big deal in my family. With a family history of cancer, we celebrate the shit out of them. To put it simply, it’s another year you’re alive and that’s worth celebrating! While I’m so excited to put my 20’s behind me, I can’t help but feel like I’ve aged so much in the past 6 months. When I look at all that I’ve learned this year, it’s pretty nuts.
I have had conversations I never dreamed of having. People my age aren’t prepared or ready to talk about dying. I remember after one of my first test result appointments (pre-official-diagnosis) my dad said to me with tears in his eyes “Hey kiddo, we aren’t supposed to having these conversations yet. These are supposed to be later in life when I’m way old and grey. This just doesn’t seem right.” Somehow, I’ve learned to navigate them with minimal emotional break downs.
I had to learn how to balance normal life and cancer life. This is a continuous battle for me. Trying to do the best I can, but being patient with myself has been one of the most difficult things. I can’t always do what I used to do. I know that I’ll get back to that eventually, but my standards are different now. And that’s a tough pill to swallow.
I had to learn to let other people help me. This one is probably the toughest for me. I’m so dang independent (and quite the control freak) that it was very hard for me to realize I need help. Thank goodness I have a relentless support system both with my family, my boyfriend, my friends, and my work peeps.
I had to learn that sometimes it’s okay to feel sorry for myself. I want to show people how brave and strong I am, but the truth is that sometimes this shit is hard to handle. And it comes out in ways I’m not expecting. But I’ve learned that I’m allowed to have bad days and I’m allowed to be upset, but I can’t dwell. I need to pick myself back up again and keep fighting.
So, yeah. It’s been a big year. And even more so, a big 6 months.
Cheers to 30, I guess? I hear it’s better than your 20’s. I sure am hoping that’s true 😉