Sunday, September 14, 2008

Two down

On August 4th I met with an otolaryngologist to discuss the excision of the melanoma on my ear, and to discuss doing a sentinel lymph node biopsy to find out whether the cancer had yet spread beyond my ear. Dr. H surprised me by saying it didn't matter, clinically speaking, whether we did the SLN biopsy or not. He said if the melanoma had already spread beyond my ear, it wouldn't matter whether they found out immediately by doing the biopsy, or whether they found out in several months when the cancer would have grown enough to enlarge my lymph nodes and be found non-surgically. The survival statistics, he said, are the same.

"Really, it's completely up to you," he said. "Are you a person of faith?"

I may be a person of some faith, but I didn't feel calm about just waiting around for my lymph nodes to start bulging, so I scheduled the surgery anyway. I had it on August 20th. They removed a good chunk of my ear (repairing it to remain ear-shaped, though slightly smaller) and three nodes from my neck.

That was a Wednesday. At Dr. H's suggestion, I had taken the rest of the week off work to recover. Fortunately, this time the recovery was a breeze. They sent me home with codeine, and I faithfully took the recommended dosage all day Wednesday and into Thursday, but by midday Thursday I realized I wasn't feeling any discomfort at all, and stopped taking it. The incisions on my neck were slightly sore, but nothing like last time. So on Friday Mr. Thel and the doggie and I took a little drive down to the Green River Gorge just to get out of the house and see something pretty--and to try to take my mind off the fretting.

After a very long weekend of trying unsuccessfully not to worry, I got a lovely little pathology report emailed to me on Monday, August 25th, with the words "No evidence of malignancy" repeated three times, once for each sample.

There's been a lot of celebrating in the weeks since then.

Dr. H was exuberant in the follow-up appointment I had with him on the 26th. He said there was "virtually no chance" of it being a false negative result, based on their testing technique and the fact that they biopsied three separate lymph nodes. I'll have to go see him every 8 weeks for a year to monitor the site on my ear. He said, "We don't have any way to know whether this was kind of a random event, or whether this is your body's way of telling you that you've reached your limit of sun exposure, so I'd recommend getting a wide-brimmed hat and wearing it." Done. And I now carry a little tube of sunscreen with me everywhere I go, and am much more diligent about wearing it.

But all in all, that was pretty much the best outcome I could have hoped for, once diagnosed. As far as we know, I'm now in remission from melanoma.

Praise be.