Melanoma For Beginners

UPDATE: Wednesday, December 22, 2010

I'd planned to stay at my home instead of flying in to see my family in central Canada, but a few weeks ago my siter-in-law called and requested that I come for Christmas. Radiation therapy continues, but as we all know that isn't very helpful with melanoma, and lately she's been talking about her funeral.

I'm not suppose to know, but a few months ago she also found a lump in her armpit... not sure if it's malignant melanoma, or if the cancer has metastasized. It doesn't matter.

We are all here for a short while, some of us are here shorter than others. What will people say about you when you're gone? Will you be missed, and why? My sister-in-law is "all about Christmas" so we will definitely celebrate this year, because she's here to celebrate with us.

You're alive until your dead, right? As much as possible, enjoy every second of your life!

Best wishes to all for the holidays.

UPDATE: Monday, November 8, 2010

My sister in law has had her second round of surgery, actually it was about 4 weeks ago. She's weak but recovering from the surgery, getting ready to face radiation, but she's starting to talk about funeral plans with my brother. My brother isn't fairing all that well, either. About 6 weeks ago he went on stress leave, he just couldn't stop crying and if he wasn't crying, he was yelling. Now, he's feeling numb on his medication (I'm not sure what it is, he never seems to remember when he's talking to me on the phone). He'd be really hard on himself, talking about how weak he is for having to take stress leave and that he was ashamed so I asked him: "would you say that about (his best friend) if he had to take stress leave?" He heard me, a little, but he went back to work after two weeks (very much against his doctor's advice).

It's important to my brother to feel like he can still go to work and function, that he's taking care of the family financially and is there emotionally for all of us. Unfortunately, he isn't extending the same courtesies to himself.

UPDATE: Monday, August 30, 2010

Today, my sister in law saw her oncologist for the results of a lymph node  biopsy. My brother sent me an email saying that interferon is not being effective on his wife's cancer, so treatment has stopped and surgery will be scheduled - again. I'm wondering how much more of her thigh she'll lose in the process.

The oncologist said he'll get her into surgery very soon: those of you familiar with Canada's public medical system will know that her 'rush' status is not at all a positive sign. They believe she's near death, so now they're going to pile on the resources to hopefully save this wife and mother. Medicine, compassion and money don't mix.

( N.B.: I'm NOT knocking the medical system: that's a different debate for another time or for others to argue. I don't have energy to argue, so don't add those comments to my experience, please. Take that arguement elsewhere if you have to have it, I don't need the negativity right now. I'll delete them those types of comments if you post them. Thank you for understanding.)

The best thing I can say about this news is... since the so-called cure was killing her as much as the cancer, the good news is that she won't have to endure interferon anymore. I don't want to see her go through that anymore.

I wonder when I'll be on a plane again. Perhaps it's just coincidence, but while surfing yesterday I applied for a job in the city closets to their small town. It's improbably that I'd get an interview, I know. It's just that most of my thoughts and my heart are with them right now, I guess my body wants to follow.

Melanoma for Beginners

As my sister-in-law begins her fifth month of interferon, my family’s becoming fluent in a new language: it’s called melanoma, stage 3 skin cancer. In January 2010 Six lymph nodes were removed from her upper thigh, two of which had cancer. So far, it hasn’t spread to the other major organs. She’s getting interferon treatment: daily doses for a month at the cancer agency, then she was sent home to self-inject three times a week. On a good day, she feels like she’s got the flu, on a bad day she feels like she has the worst hangover in history. Treatment last a year.

Living thousands of miles away, rather than learning the language I feel as if I’m watching their home movie with subtitles. I get a crash course in melanoma-speak before I go to visit them. My brother translated the medical jargon when we spoke on the phone. He said, “when you get sick, your body naturally produces ‘interferon’ to ‘interfere’ with the flu or cold, or whatever you’ve got. Scientists have created drugs that do the same thing with cancer. Chemo doesn’t work on skin cancer.” Thousands of miles away, as I was listening to his words on the phone I’m sure the tension on my face was visible as I concentrated on his words. I nodded my head and say “oh, wow! I had no idea!”

You don’t learn to speak cancer until you need to. Since her diagnosis I’ve travelled twice to witness the lifestyle, rather than have a vacation. It seems similar to what I imagine life to be like on the edge of a war zone. Some days there is the rare ceases fire, but mostly you try to carry on and maintain a semblance of normalcy, as long as the front line doesn’t cross your boarder. My brother, nieces and my mother all go about there daily lives, while upstairs in the house my sister-in-law lies in bed and tries to combat the aches, pain and nausea. No one speaks as if this battle won’t be won. The television usually remains on sitcoms and Hollywood ‘news’ shows, distracting them away from the war going on in my sister-in-law’s body.

She fights the good fight. She soldiers on. She’s tough as nails and manages to dress in red and white clothing when we celebrate Canada Day with a barbecue, showing all of us that she’s got an appetite by eating chicken wings, potato chips, steak and ice cream. I wonder how much of it she managed to keep in her stomach. Her meal is starkly juxtaposed against her frail body, which clearly reveals the fifteen pounds she’s lost over the last seven months. She smiles after dinner, pours more drinks for everyone and is the best hostess while she talks excitedly about everyone going together to watch the fireworks after dark. A few days before Canada Day, she rose from her bed, fixed her hair, makeup and chose a pretty dress to wear for her daughter’s middle school awards ceremony: no one in that room would’ve thought she was sick, if they hadn’t heard already through the town’s grape vine.

A few months ago, she refused to ask the oncologist to lower the dosage of the drug cocktail that she’s on, but now she’s ready. She’s weakened and has stood down from active duty at her job, knowing that her body needs as much rest as possible.

My sister-in-law is 42 years old. I am not a religious woman, but I am spiritual. Among other things, I believe that most people choose good over evil and that there is a consciousness that connects us to each other. Like many of my religious and/or spiritual ancestors, I believe that god exists in everything that lives. Although I can say this, I admit that I can count on my two hands the number of times that I’ve prayed with all my being for god to hear my prayers, and two of those prayers were made on my sister-in-law’s behalf. I would gladly give my childless and husband-less life if she could live to see her children’s children. I’d gladly give up any chance the universe may hold for me to finally find true love... if it meant that she would see 55; however, this is not my choice, I suppose. What will happen to her will happen, regardless of if there is a god or not.

My sister-in-law has always been reserved and politely distant from me over the first 22 years that I’ve known her: she meant no offence, she just didn’t know how to reach out. Now she does know, and she needs me to help her by building a relationship with her daughters across these two thousand miles. After visiting them this summer, while flying home I thought about the new role I may play in all this, and how it might mean that I move across the country to help provide a sense of family to her children one day. I think about how I am ready to fight and how I’m ready to lend my support as much as it’s needed, and regardless of whether it’s accepted or understood.

lefthand67 lefthand67
41-45, F
4 Responses Aug 9, 2010

Thanks for your support, it means a lot. Also, thanks to you both for excusing the typo's in this experience :)<br />
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It was cathartic to write this piece, I had to get it out of my head. As for my family, most of them aren't comfortable talking about their feelings. In all fairness it's not easy to do, but my nieces (17 and 14) need to open up. Their mother is estranged from her family so she's had trust issues with my brother's family. Sadly, it's taken this much for her to being to open up, and I can say similiar things for my brother (he's always been very emotional, but now he's learning to open up and talk to us, instead of becoming angry and then collapsing into a sobbing wreck, which was his pattern for the first 44 years of his life).

Not that I think less of your sister-in-laws, her daughters and the rest of your family but your account is paced with the regularity and solemnity that seems to fit the disease... progressive, ineluctable. I am fortunate enough to familiarize myself with all sorts of medical conditions and with the marvelous and complex mechanism that is our immune system that I don't feel too overwhelmed when the language of medicine becomes the only communication between doctors, patients and their family but to those who must take the news all at once, it must add to the shock of the news.<br />
Thank you for bringing a face to the invisible social damages that cancer brings.

Thanks, FP. The oncologist gave her a week off treatment and lowered the dosage, too. We're hoping that will help, but with her digestive problems I'm concerned that the melanoma has spread. She won't have an MRI for a few months yet.

I will be praying for your sister-in-law and her caregivers. You are indeed strong and beautiful to offer these words, and I'm sure you mean every one of them.<br />
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Love is amazing, and that which you share for your family is wonderful to hear about.<br />
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You may be interested in following along with a pretty good syndicated columnist. She doesn't write only about melanoma, but she does have second stage, Clark Level IV. She can be found in many newspapers, but you can find direct links to her through<br />
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I know she wrote about it, first-hand experience style, in early March and mid to late June.<br />
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All the best to your sister-in-law, and to you lh67.......regards, fp