Thursday, September 25, 2014

POPPY: One Year Later

A year ago, I introduced you to a new friend I had made, named Poppy.  She suffers from a behavioral addiction, specifically the addiction to tanning, as well as tanorexia (click here to read Poppy's story).  

This morning I accompanied Poppy to her every-six-months full body skin check…….except it was not 6 months from the last appointment; it was one year later.  

Here's how the past year has looked for Poppy, in terms of changes (or lack there of) in her tanning behaviors:

~We meet.  We become friends.  I know she tans.  I share my story with her about my 2 melanomas (foot and arm) and primary acquired melanosis of the left eye.

~She hears me.  She becomes willing to go to a dermatologist….AND to quit the tanning beds.

~She tells her story….looks at her history...Admits to her addiction.

~She has her full-body check, with one biopsy taken, which comes back severely atypical, needing further excision.  It is then the doctor recommends Poppy be seen every 6 months, because of her lengthy tanning bed history and her pathology report.

Poppy made changes.  Some.  She stopped visiting the tanning salons.  She bought sunscreen.  She borrowed my UPF clothing when she traveled to Mexico and Costa Rica.  

Poppy, however, still engages in risky behaviors.  Many.  She sits in the sun whenever possible (see pic below).

Poppy's "office" in full sun, mine in the shade.

She only uses sunscreen in foreign countries, with no reapplication taking place.  She makes a concerted effort to get tan and to stay tan, most of the time claiming she is "not tan".

In March, Poppy received a letter from her dermatology office, reminding her of the fact that she is due for her full-body check (6 months from the first visit).  She ignored it.  She told me, but she did not make the appointment.  As C. Northcote Parkinson said, and feels very pertinent to this situation, "Delay is the deadliest form of denial."

I can ask, remind, educate, pester, etc…but I can not make her make the appointment.  I care about her deeply, and would love nothing more than for her to be spared the hell of melanoma, yet I know that with addiction, there is no forcing recovery.  I do my part, the way I know how, and I wait for Poppy to make her appointment.

Well, yesterday, she made the appointment.  But, guess why!  Poppy had run out of her antibiotic she uses for acne, had tried to refill it, but the dermatologist would not refill it without her coming in to be seen.  So, the fear of zits is what got her to make the call, and get the appointment that we went to this morning.  

The appointment was extremely thorough (as it should be), with the doctor looking at all of Poppy's moles, asking her if she has noticed anything new or changing, and stating more than once, "Because of your tanning history and your severely dysplastic mole, you really need to be seen every 6 months for the next 2 years.  It is very important."  The doctor took pictures of 6 moles she wants to monitor.  Poppy asked some questions.  I asked some questions.    Poppy got her antibiotic prescription refilled.  It was a productive visit, overall.   

Despite Poppy's wrong motives for making the call, she did have her skin-check nonetheless.  
So now what?  The doctor instructed her to come back in 6 months…and I do what I do…continue to educate in hopes of change.

"Awareness is the greatest agent for change."
~Eckhart Tolle

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A Day In The Life….

The alarm goes off at 6:00 a.m... I pop up, knowing what today is….a day of melanoma life.  I mean, everyday is that, but today I have two melanoma related appointments to jack up the anxiety of living with this diagnosis- 1) My every-9-months check up with my eye tumor specialist (the doctor who performed my Primary Acquired Melanosis surgery) and 2) My full-body skin check with my dermatologist.  

On a day like this, my brain and body go like this…

Jump out of bed.  Stomach hurts. I tell myself to just focus on what it is I am doing in THIS moment…brushing teeth…I am brushing my teeth.  Brushing.  Brushing.  Still brushing.  That works for a fraction of a second, and then I soon notice my mind has been hijacked by the what-ifs (my anxiety default mode).

What if today is like 2 years ago, when I heard the words, "We need to biopsy your eye and freeze the cells around the area."?
What if the words I hear today are worse than 2 years ago?  
What if I just don't go to the appointment, and pretend I don't have to do any of this?

The what-ifs LOVE to take up residence in my brain, getting the storm of insanity swirling strong.  Most of the time, the only way out of this for me, is to do something action oriented.  Action.  Oh I know, I need to circle my suspicious moles.  That's action!  I circle the ones that have caught my attention for one reason or another- very dark in color, a weird shape, new, etc.  Eight.  There are 8 moles I don't like…  I get dressed (another action!).  I say out loud, "God, be with me…whatever that means." And I go.

circled moles

Blast the music. Sing.  Sing loud!  Make my voice louder than the thoughts in my head.  It's a duel of sorts…. combat between my voice noise and my brain noise.  Unfortunately, the brain usually wins single handedly.  Self pity begins to ensue….until I am stopped at a red light right off the highway, and a man approaches with a big sign that states: "I am a homeless vet with cancer."  BAM!  Rocketed into gratitude…a much better place to be.  

I start to make a mental gratitude list…
I am grateful for the doctors I get to see today, who are experts in this disease.
I am grateful for ….
This goes on…and changes everything.  

This shift in perspective served me well during my time at the eye center….the poking, the stinging eye drops, the pulling of upper eye lashed to flip my eye lids, the pictures, the waiting, the shuffling from one room to another, and from one person to another, and hearing the words, "but because of your history…..we will examine it.." (in response to me mentioning I have 3 new, tiny, dark speckles on the white of my right eye- "They are nerve loops").  I have no doubt gratitude helped me through this 3+ hour appointment.

my left eyeball

I finally get called to see my doctor, the expert, after picking large amounts of purply sparkle nail polish off my nails, trying to focus on writing, taking some deep breaths, just wanting to hear what my doctor has to say.  Patience is not my strong suit when it comes to disease.

my picked nails

And he says this: "Everything looks good.  I want to see you back in 9 months.  Be well." …with his gentle, yet reassuring voice.  I smile.  He smiles.  And we say goodbye.

Exhaling is possible, as I drive out of the parking lot…brimming with gratitude….until the fear sets in about the next appointment…which is in 3 hours.

Walking into the dermatology center, I noticed my body's response to the synthesizing of the adrenaline crash, following this morning's appointment and the ramping up of adrenaline triggered by the appointment I was about to walk into.  What it felt like was, walking on a boat that is out to sea (unstable would be another way to say it).  Considering I strongly dislike boats and wavy tides, I was not enjoying this feeling.  Feel the weirdness, and keep going...

In walks the doctor...she talks; I talk (lol); we talk.  She does her thing (a full-body skin check, using mole mapping pictures along with questions and the feeling of many lymph nodes), I do mine (showing her all of circled moles…as if she couldn't see the circles of pen all over my body).  She decides to remove one mole….one that I circled, one that is new.  We say goodbye, and I make my next appointment for December (every 3 months).  And now I wait…for pathology results.

punch biopsy 

As I walk out of the office, I notice the what-ifs leaning in, clearing space for their occupancy…
What if it comes back as a melanoma?
What if it's a thick melanoma, worse than the others?
What if I just never come back here, and pretend I have never heard of melanoma (because, in all honesty, I do let that fantasy pop up now and again)?

When I burst through the doors to the outside (as in…GET ME OUT OF MEDICAL FACILITIES PLEASE!), I smell the incoming storm air, look up to the sky, see brilliant clouds, and say….

What if everything is ok?
Because really, in this moment…it is.