Monday, February 17, 2014

The End Of The Once Upon A Time

Once upon a time, there was an anxious girl, with a spinning head, who had just been diagnosed with a second melanoma, and felt it was time to leave the private practice dermatology scene in search of “the person”, who only deals with melanoma, is the specialist, the expert in the field. 

Yeah, we all know that tweaked out girl was (is) me.  After that second diagnosis, I can pretty much say with certainty that I had taken the definition of unhinged to a new level.  And while drowning in that mode, I become obsessively resourceful (amongst other things).  So of course, in no time, I had myself referred and transferred to the person. I had no idea that this person would become so much more to me than a melanoma guru.

Doctors.  They are human.  They come with all sorts of personalities…or lack there of.  They can be a genius in their field, yet not know how to relate to their patients.  I know; I’ve had that experience many times.  It seems to almost be the exception to the rule to find a doctor that knows their shit AND can understand people on a personal level, beyond the diagnosis.

Let me just say, that when you do land in the hands of a doctor like this, you know it!  I intuited this quality about her the moment we met.  She was a person AND a doctor, wanting to help me as a person AND as a melanoma patient. 

She is more than the sum of her parts; she creates a synergistic effect.  That’s the only way I can describe her magic...She was able to handle my tempest-like presence when I first arrived as her patient.  She seemed to provide me with "shelter from the storm" (relief from the anxiety).  If someone can do that, THAT'S fucking magic (or a miracle or whatever you wish to call it)!

That said, we were not always blissed out in our patient/doctor relationship.  We undoubtedly had our differences of opinions and such.  Well, really, just one big one…our idea of best practices as it relates to the removal of moles.  And let me add, we both stood firm (understatement here!) in our beliefs.

I am not a huge fan of confrontation. Really, I'm not a fan period.  And I will go to almost any lengths to avoid it. Ugh! But I needed to communicate to her what I was feeling and thinking about our dissonance, because it was creating a great deal of stress (and I mean WAY more than the usual self-induced stress I manage to cultivate) for me. 

I know the definition of insanity is, doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results (Thank you, Albert Einstein).  So, when my insanity became too unbearable and an inspiring woman (Thank you, Kendra) reminded me of this definition, I knew I had to somehow muster up the courage to say something, to do something.  And I did.  After two years.

And guess what?  It turned out better than I could have ever imagined.  Yeah, that stressing out for two years because of  fear and avoidance was pointless.  

I was clear.  She listened.  She heard.  We talked.  And ultimately, we came up with a protocol we could both feel good about. 

So when I say this person became so much more to me than “just a doctor”, I mean I learned a lot more from this relationship than one would expect to learn from a melanoma doctor:  trust, the importance of communication, compromise, being heard, listening to your gut feelings, courage, the need to face things head on, feeling the fear and doing it anyway, growth, love….and soon, sadness.

A deep, raw sadness is coming (admittedly, it’s already here!).  My doctor, this person, the person, is moving away.  Time for goodbyes, for loss, for a reshuffling of everything melanoma related.

Loss hurts.  I don't like that. I don't like it at much so that I make a solid attempt to avoid any and all goodbyes.  But, as I've learned, avoidance doesn't usually work that well.  And it's time to just surrender to the fact that I will have anxiety about the goodbye, I will have that slightly painful lump in my throat, I may cry, I may not want to let go.  However, I am extremely grateful for having had this relationship for as long as I did.  Like Pooh said:

And being able to feel like this, even though it stings, is a perfect reminder that I am alive.  I am blessed.  I know that, in the midst of the pain. 

The fact remains, there is never a “once upon a time” without an eventual “the end”.  But as Alexander Graham Bell told us, “When one door closes, another door opens.”  When I see my doctor in just a few weeks, for the last time, I will hold onto that notion, believing that all endings are also new beginnings. 

Farewell by Anne Bronte

Farewell to thee!  But not farewell
To all my fondest thoughts of thee:
Within my heart they still shall dwell;
And they shall cheer and comfort me.

 Shelter from the Storm by Bob Dylan

This blog post is dedicated to Dr. Kelly Nelson, and all those doctors who understand we are more than a diagnosis.  Thank you!


  1. unstoppable tears.....and yes, mom....i read it twice - thank you T, and thank you mom.

  2. Applies to so many different relationships! Thank you Timna! Beautifully articulated.

  3. So sorry you are losing her. I would like to know how to find a doc with her stated clinical focus (I looked her up on the Duke website).....have looked high and low in WA and OR....I've had 4 primary MM's..... Best of luck to you. Prayers...

    1. I would try using AIM at Melanoma as a place to start in terms of finding a doctor in your area. They are a very good resource. I'm going to try to post the link for you here; not sure if it will work. If it does not, Google AIM at Melanoma Find the Right Doctor, and you will find the page.
      Thank you for reading and posting!

  4. I am so glad that I came across your blog! I am a Melanoma survived too as well as a patient of Dr. Kelly Nelson. I felt so safe under her care and I am devastated that she is moving. She became so much more than a doctor to me as well, she eased my anxiety and fear. I am interested to see who you will be seeing since she is leaving. I have an appointment scheduled for next week with Dr. Lampel, per Dr. Nelson's recommendation, but I have so much anxiety about the visit. As I said earlier, Dr. Nelson helped me through my huge anxiety and many fears and I am so afraid to trust someone new. Thank so much in advance for your answering my question. Best of luck!