The Journey to “The New Normal”
The journey started 10 years ago in the summer of 2008. Steve and I met my oncologist, Dr. McCarron, for the first time. We learned a lot that day. Some of the words thrown our way I had never heard before, and the phrases used were just plain scary. At thirty-nine years old, my mind was spinning when I heard things like...... quality of life, survival rate, advanced metastatic melanoma, aggressive, high recurrence rate, PET scans, major surgery, total groin dissection, surgical drains, tumor vaccine, physical therapy, sentinel node, lymphedema, family psychosocial therapy, clinical trial, immunotherapy, daily self injections, Leukine, Interleukin 2 (IL-2), rigors, nausea, vomiting, fatigue and new normal. My oncologist very patiently went through the different steps and finished by telling me that he hoped we would high-five in five years.
Today we went for my 10 year follow-up visit with Dr. McCarron. Steve has never missed a visit. He has stood by my side for every step of this adventure. All of the feeling of the first day and the two and a half years of surgeries and treatment came flooding back. I suppose I am forced to tap into those feeling each time I step foot into the cancer center. My blood pressure was up and my anxiety was in full swing. I knew I was healthy and at this point in the game my visits have become more of a social update between Dr. McCarron and me, but it is still hard. I finished up my visit with the expected NED (No Evidence of Disease) report, and we headed on our way. I sat in my car and the tears came. I just can’t explain. Perhaps it’s the joy of how far I have come. Maybe it’s reliving the pain and emotional journey of the past ten years. I thought about the people I have met along the way who were not as fortunate with the disease. The odds were against me, and I, by the grace of God, made it through with treatment that is no longer offered because it was ineffective to so many others like me.
For the last two and half weeks I have been engulfed with a family going through this horrible beast of melanoma. I watch how it is taking a toll on the patient and family. I have been honored and blessed to be a close part of their journey with results that will not be as fortunate as my own. I pray for the family as they embark on their new normal. I will help them through each and every step because I believe that is part of my journey.
I am blessed to have a beautiful set of friends and family who embrace my new normal. They step up to the plate whenever needed whether it be to volunteer at Kelly’s Dream events, donate their hard earned money, attend fundraisers, or even go as far as to visit patients with me. These friends have joined my mission to help others through the cancer journey, and I will never be able to repay them. How did I get so lucky? I think back to who I was ten years ago and how carefree life was, but I have grown to love the person who is knocking on fifty’s door. I look in the mirror and (aside from seeing my mother), I see a girl who started this journey as a terrified young girl and came out a strong woman. I’ll take the part about seeing my mom. I am slowly looking more and more like her, and she is beautiful both inside and out.