Life After Melanoma

2175fee61592edc16d036face0ee6e20Perhaps Melanoma set its course like an evil pirate sets sail only to steal, kill, and destroy—while I, a naive beachcombing teen, was unaware of the danger that lay ahead.

Now, I’m setting my own course, in search of my new normal …

I’m sure many of you have dealt with loss or illness. It seems nothing prepares us for these journeys or, for the sea of “whys?” we might choose to wade in.

Has depression ever nicked your heal (or kicked your butt), as you’ve tried to sail on toward brighter shores?

Yay! I’m so glad I’m not alone.

I believe faith cushions these life blows and helps us hang on for the long haul … until the day we’re rescued. It helps us focus on others. It leads us away from yesterday’s fears and tears. It points us toward a horizon of endless tomorrows.

Faith can quiet our souls, and make us smile again. Even in the worst storm.

 I don’t know if I could live my new normal without it.

If you think the diagnosis, ‘Malignant Melanoma’ isn’t a big deal, I can show you the zigzagged twelve-inch scar smack dab on the top of my head. It will prove otherwise.

 As a salon / spa owner (and master colorist for over thirty years), I’ve written passionate articles on the use of natural cosmetics, the benefits of a healthy lifestyle and, inner beauty.

Yes. Inner Beauty.

 Ironic Right?

Don’t laugh. You might go through something similar someday.

After all, we expect outer beauty to slowly fade as we age. Some of us make every effort to prepare for it. We eat right, exercise, and we skip dessert for decades. But we never expect our youthful appearance to fall away in an instant.

Like clumps of long hair falling to the bathroom floor.

 Oh, hair extensions look great. I removed mine after two weeks because they irritated the incision.

Now, I’m living the truth of my own words. I don’t look like me anymore—This is not only due to the fact that my junk doesn’t fit into a size 4 pair of jeans anymore—though that also adds to the frustration I’m feeling.

Can you relate?

Have you spoken to that strange, battered person staring back at you in your mirror?

I keep asking her where I went. “Uh, hello in there … where’s Joann?” I’ve also been tempted to tap tap tap on the mirror and yell. “You can go now. Really.”

Sometimes I cry.

And sometimes, the silence answers. “Look closer.”

 But I don’t want to … I only see the scars.

I haven’t posted any pictures of my scalp since the surgery on April 20: Melanoma excision surgery. If anyone reading this wants to see photos of scalp melanoma surgeries, there are several online sites with gory pictures comparable to the 1 week after surgery photo the plastic surgeon’s assistant shot of the top of my scalp. I suggest you don’t do this before bedtime. You won’t sleep. You can check out my husband’s previous posts and prayer requests on my FB page.

My family moved to Florida from New York City, after my thirteenth birthday.

 I loved beachcombing. My long auburn hair naturally parted in the middle and whipped against my face in the salty breeze as I watched the waves crash against the shore. Day after day, summer after summer, I spent countless hours at the beach looking for shells or playing volleyball.

My fair skin always seemed to beg for some color.

And even so, I’ve never had a dark, beautiful tan like most of my family. I usually only baked to a light golden color.

“You’re the fairest of them all,” my mirror said year after year.

My melanoma didn’t start out as a mole. It started as a new suspicious spot (pinkish-tan) that showed up smack dab on the top of my head, where my hair naturally parted. However, I did have two dysplastic Nevis’ removed about six months prior to this spot showing up. And this new spot on my head did change over the course of 3 1/2 years. The color / shape evolved until it became a much thicker bump, and changed to a blackish, reddish and bluish color as of last November. That’s when I called my doctor. They scheduled my appointment for late January. Once examined, I was advised to see a dermatologist to have an immediate biopsy. April 2, the dermatologist confirmed the biopsy as a thick T3a melanoma, non-ulcerated (thank -God). She referred a surgeon and a plastic surgeon. Sentinel node biopsy and wide excision reconstructive surgery happened on April 20. They also removed several lymph nodes.

I wish they removed all the mirrors from my house, my car, and my salon before I left the hospital.

They did not.

I’m blessed to say I’ve recovered from the seven-hour surgery. The surgeons confirmed the cancer didn’t spread to my lymph nodes.

Today I am cancer free. And grateful.

I’ll see my dermatologist tomorrow morning. Exactly 70 days since my surgery. After that, the next step is a visit to a referred oncologist.

The winding scar, hair loss, and even the unseen scars on my heart will fade with time—but are constant reminders melanoma can strike again.

It wants to steal my voice. Kill my dreams. Destroy my future. My story.

It wants to win the only race I want to finish.

But I won’t let it. Because there is life after melanoma, and I’m embracing my new normal.

New normal checklist:

#1 – Wear tons of sunscreen. I’m experimenting with recipes for making my own natural sunscreen.

#2 – Swim before 11:00 A.M. or after 4:00 P.M.

#3 – Wear headbands, hats, and long sleeve cotton shirts when outside between 10:00-4:00.

I’m sure God has His reasons for allowing me to be on this journey. Punishment or gift, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that I tell my story.

Be mindful of the damaging effects of the sun—even if your skin doesn’t appear to have any sun damage. See a dermatologist every year—or sooner if a mole or bump suddenly shows up on your body, regardless of your age. Don’t wait like I did. You can avoid this kind of abnormal normal.

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