Happy Monday, friends!
Today I had an appointment to talk over the results from the last surgery, the recent CT scan, and next week’s surgery. Here’s what I learned:
I already knew from a phone call that my lymph node came back positive (cancerous). What I didn’t know was how much cancer was present in that lymph node. It turns out that there was only a tiny spot (0.1mm), and the doctor described it as the size of a speck of black pepper. The bad news is this means my melanoma is aggressive enough to spread. The FANTASTIC news is that we have caught it very early. The doctor said the likelihood of there being any cancer in the other lymph nodes is small.
There was further great news regarding my arm tissue. When they removed the large section of my arm, they sent it to the lab to be sure that there were no cancer cells in the edges of that tissue. They like to have healthy “margins.” My margins came back healthy! This means that my original tumor (the spot on my arm) is officially “resected.” (I really should start a glossary of terms…)
The steri-strips fell off this weekend! (finally!) and revealed a perfect, shiny new scar!
The doctor said it looked great and was happy with the progress.
This was the BIGGIE of the day… all scans were CLEAR!! This is wonderful news. It means that there are no tumors in my vital organs. This adds to the earlier evidence that the cancer has not spread beyond that first lymph node.
Next week’s surgery is still moving forward as planned. It is unlikely that there are more nodes that are cancerous, but the doctor and I agree that we’d rather be aggressive and check them all. There is a lifelong risk of complications (infection, swelling, loss of flexibility), but not doing it comes with even bigger risks. If I left my lymph nodes in tact, there could be microscopic cancer cells waiting to act up. Over the next few years, they could grow and spread unnoticed. Not ok! So, we’re going to attack it and get the rest of my right axillary (armpit) lymph nodes out of there.
Rather than digging around for each node (there could be anywhere from 10 to 40!), the surgeon will remove the entire fatty tissue layer in which the nodes are embedded. Once this tissue arrives at the lab, they will dissect it to find each of the nodes. Each node will then be cut into slices, put on a slide, and checked under a microscope for any sign of cancer. It seems like a very thorough process, and I’m grateful for that.
Recovery will be a beast. I will be in the hospital overnight, and I will have to learn to use a drain (gross), which will be a tube coming out of my armpit (it will be there for 1 to 6 weeks, depending on my recovery progress). I will stay with my wonderful parents for about a week before returning to campus.
After surgery, I will have to wait a couple of weeks for the pathology report on the lymph nodes.
Approximately 4 weeks after surgery (week of Nov 23rd), I will meet with an oncologist. Right now I’m hopeful that I will be connected with a clinical trial through the IU School of Medicine (Go Hoosiers!). More on that later, but from what I’m hearing so far, I think I have a really good chance of this happening.
So, since it looks like it hasn’t spread beyond the one tiny speck in my lymph node, why would I be hoping for a clinical trial? My melanoma has proven to be aggressive enough to spread, which is dangerous even though we caught it quickly. The standard procedure is for me to receive “adjuvant” therapy. “Adjuvant” means that it is meant to stop cancer from coming back down the road. These treatments will be similar to what we think of as chemotherapy, although it’s not called that (most of the adjuvant treatments for melanoma fall in the “immunotherapy” category). However, it will be administered like chemo (most likely through an IV), on a similar schedule as chemo, and with some of the same side affects as chemo. I will know more specifics when I know exactly which drug will be used in my case (there are several in clinical trials right now).
This has been a great day with so much evidence of answered prayers. I am so thankful for all of you and your prayers, thoughts, and positive vibes. I still have a long road ahead, but today was a very big step.