Hi! One year ago today was the worst day of my life. The day before (Jan 2, 2007), I had visited my family physician to get his opinion about a couple of strange lumps I had recently discovered. He seemed puzzled and suggested I see my dermatologist. For some reason, I decided to drive directly to the dermatologist's office rather than go home and make an appointment for later. The good doctor agreed to see me during a quick break between patients and, after a quick examination, told me he didn't think the lumps were anything to worry about but that I should come back the next day for a biopsy. The last thing he said to me as he walked out the door was reassuring: "I really don't think this is anything to worry about," he said, "but I'd rather have you mad because I gave you a scar than because I missed something."
When I think back to how I felt when I woke the next morning, I am surprised at how calm I was. Despite my history of melanoma, despite the inexplicable appearance of two strange lumps, despite the fact I was about to get a biopsy, I really didn't think this was anything to worry about. Probably because I felt like I was in the best shape of my life. I was exercising every day and eating a healthy diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains. I couldn't possibly have anything wrong with me, right?
When I arrived at the dermatologist's office early the next morning, Dr. Barnett ushered me into his office and we got down to business. Under normal circumstances, it can take days or even a week to find out the results of a biopsy. I knew within minutes. I remember the exact moment when I realized something was wrong. I was laying on the table with my eyes closed as Dr. Barnett made his initial cut and began to explore the lump (it was done under local anesthesia). Then the steady hands of my normally very calm doctor began to shake. As soon as I felt that shaking, I knew everything was about to change. I didn't know the full extent of the problem, of course, but I knew at that moment that my melanoma had metastasized. And from my experience with melanoma in 1995, I knew that metastasized melanoma was a very bad thing.
As Dr. Barnett stitched me up, I asked him what he thought and he said he wanted to wait to talk until we were all cleaned up. He finished the biopsy, left the room for a minute (probably to wash his hands and prepare himself for what has to be the most dreaded conversation a dermatologist can have with a patient), and then returned. He said he doesn't like to scare patients needlessly, but that he had seen enough in his career to know that this was indeed metastasized melanoma. He was kind, he was straightforward, and he promised to get me the name and number of the oncologist he would call if he were in my shoes. We parted with a handshake, and I went home to share this awful news with my family. (On a related note: I have been asked many times for Dr. Barnett's phone number. Here it is: 414-771-1122. I highly recommend him if you need a dermatologist.)
I had remained quite calm through my visit at Dr. Barnett's office. That calmness crumbled as I shared the news with Kelly, who happened to be home with morning sickness that day. I suppose every married couple has at least one conversation of this type at some point during their years together. All I can say is, I had never been more grateful to be married to Kelly than during those first hours after getting the news. We then began to share the news with other family members. The conversation with my Dad was the shortest of the day, but it succinctly sums up the emotions we were all feeling (and demonstrates the seemingly awkward but nevertheless quite effective way that men communicate with one another). I hadn't wanted to disturb him at work but my mom called him to share the news. He called me as soon as he got off the phone with her. Here's a direct transcript of how it went:
"I'll . . . I'll have to call you back."
The hardest conversation to have was with the kids. At that point, we still knew very little about what we were dealing with so we stuck with the basics: Dad has cancer, he will have to get treatment for it, and life as we know it as a family was going to change but they would always be taken care of. The two questions they had were "is the cancer bad?" and "is Daddy going to die?" They have asked the same questions many times during the past year and we always give the same answers: "Yes" and "We're doing everything we can so he doesn't."
Now it's one year later and I'm "celebrating" (though it isn't much of an occasion to celebrate in my opinion) the first anniversary of my diagnosis. Life has resumed a new normal for us and we're getting along okay. I'm sporting a mohawk these days as my hair grows back from whole-brain radiation (see photo). The kids were back in school today after a snowy Christmas break, Finn is crying for a bottle, I have a Design Review Board meeting for the city of Wauwatosa in about an hour, and Kelly's stuck in depositions until 8:00 tonight. My parents have been in town the past week and we've had a great visit (that's them with the kids in the second picture). I introduced them to the carrot cake from the Mason Street Grille last night; I strongly recommend it if you haven't tried it before. It's so yummy!
Well, that's enough for now. Thanks for all your prayers and support of the past year. Hopefully I'll have some good news to report in 2008.