Coping with Cancer

I have been diagnosed as having a skin cancer called melanoma. Any cancer is bad, but this is the worst kind of skin cancer. It is very aggressive and frequently "goes systemic" (metastasizes) causing vital organs to cease functioning.

While the cause is not known, it is suspected that too much exposure to the sun--all those days on the construction job sites--is the likely cause.

12/28/2003: I am working on this page while I am recovering from radiation therapy--more on that later. It shouldn't be difficult to put up a page with a few pictures but I am having a tough time doing it. So, I have given myself a deadline (ha) of getting this up before the new year.

I have been learning a lot about estate planning, writing wills and trusts and getting my affairs in order. I wish I could educate everyone about wills; there is a lot of bad information out there. I hope to be able put up a chronology of my experiences. Things have happened so fast.... As you will see below, I have had surgery and radiation. Interferon has been suggested. I have decided that I probably will not undergo "chemo" and definitely not interferon treatments.

Everyone knows they are going to die someday, but it isn't something they normally dwell on. When you are diagnosed with a life-threatening disease, when and how you are going to die suddenly becomes paramount. Although a few weeks after the surgery there were about twenty new satellites ("dots") outside the surgery area, I do have some increasing hope that the radiation has beaten the melanoma down. I still have a week of radiation to go. (They were hitting it so hard the skin was falling off and there were sores of raw flesh, so I took three weeks off.) My third CT-scan is January 5th. Oh my, how I love drinking that chalk!

This is the extent of the melanoma. Just a few dark spots on the part-line, with a few (20) extending around the left side of my scalp. One or two are down on the temple.

One area had a cluster of spots growing on top of/beside each other. I went in for a biopsy because it seemed to be getting darker in color and growing. This is about one month after noticing that the "scab" was not healing.
The biopsy was taken from the darkest circle. (Malignant melanoma, invasive to Clark's level IV and 2.52 mm.) .
The bandage. It felt like it was made from plaster of Paris and stuck up about 4 inches. .
Same cast but from the rear.
Just before removing the bandage from the source of the skin graft.
This hurt worse than the scalp job! Taking the first three steps after getting out of bed was unbelievably painful. The "red" is a cloth soaked in ???. As it dries out it slowly detaches from the skin.
The surgeon had to have a second go at it and took another inch of scalp. (Microscopic examination of the removed tissue showed melanoma close to the edge.) This was a week after the first surgery and then the next day I was back "under" to have a second skin graft.
With the bandage removed this shows the extent of scalp removed.
A side view.
After a couple of weeks the cloth has been snipped off leaving just a bit more which is still stuck to the skin-removal area.
This is the inner thigh where the second skin graft was taken. It is a week behind the first site and hasn't started to peel yet.
Two months after the initial surgery. Not looking too good--healing is not occurring because I am getting heavy doses of radiation every day.
This is after about a week of radiation treatments. Every night we have to coat it with Bacitracin. Notice how the tender ear skin is looking "burnt". It feels like a sunburn and is peeling. Not much hair left in areas targeted by the radiation.
This is a picture showing how my head, in a "mask", is fastened to the Varian table. Fifteen seconds in one spot, 15 in another, 30 in another and 30 in another. Aside from the "burning" of the skin, radiation is a snap--doesn't hurt at all.
01/09/04: Some good news today. I got the results of my CT-scan and there is no sign of the melanoma spreading to my chest, abdomen or pelvis.
The radiation has been completed and no more doctor's visits are scheduled for a couple of months. Time for some healing and reflection on my life.