Monday, July 28, 2008

The one that changes everything, in which nothing really changes

I mentioned in January that 2008 would be my tenth year free of cancer, although I then spectacularly neglected to share here the process of revisiting that ten-years-old experience. Honestly, I didn't even get around to reading all of my journals from that year. As the 10th anniversary of my final radiation treatment rolled around on July 17th, I began to feel a bit remiss for not better celebrating my remission. (That's not strictly true: I didn't know the exact date of my final treatment until I looked it up just now. I just knew it was toward the end of July.)

Now, though, I'm kind of glad I didn't already spend the first half of this year thinking about cancer.

Last Thursday I went in to have a dermatologist examine a suspicious mole on the tip of my right ear. She took a punch biopsy of the mole for testing, leaving me with two stitches. The dermatologist and her nurse both independently assured me that although I'd have a small notch in my ear, they'd do everything they could to minimize scarring. I appreciated their concern, but I think the existing scars at the base of my neck from my 1997 biopsies will sufficiently attract attention from any wee divot on my ear.

This morning the dermatologist called me to pass along the unfortunate news that my mole is a melanoma.

My attempts to talk seriously about this so far feel as awkward as trying to talk around a mouthful of saltines, all dust and garbles. So instead I made jokes about the bandage on my ear last week (I was going to make Mike Tyson jokes until someone brought up Van Gogh, which was much funnier) and poke fun at my own tendency to grin and laugh nervously when I'm given bad news (that dermatologist probably thinks I'm crazy, what with my frequent giggles in our conversation this morning: "I'm sure I'll be looking at your knowledgebase online right away, hee hee!"). A part of me is thoroughly, bitterly amused that I could manage to come down with a totally different kind of cancer after 10 years in remission from the first kind.

I started to write the following sentence: "The truth is, I feel_____." Trouble is, the word to fill in the blank changes at least hourly.

The truth is, I feel confident. Maybe this melanoma hasn't spread beyond the tip of my ear, and a little more surgery can be the end of it.

The truth is, I feel secretive. I don't want to tell anyone at work yet because I don't want people making assumptions about my capabilities.

The truth is, I feel angry. Two different cancers before 30? You're fucking kidding me, right?

The truth is, I feel defective. Nobody else in my immediate family has had cancer. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad they haven't, but, you know--I feel like the pimply-faced, crooked-toothed, tumor-ridden, malformed cuckoo in the nest.

The truth is, I feel hopeful. I have good friends, good family, good health (yes, except for the cancer), and a good job with health insurance.

The truth is, I feel balanced.

The truth is, I feel erratic.

My next appointment, to discuss upcoming surgery to remove the rest of the melanoma on my ear and to find and biopsy the sentinel lymph nodes, will be a week from today (sooner if they have a cancellation). Until then, I feel calm.

(Except for when I feel devastated.)