WARNING - GRAPHIC PHOTOS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE POST
I don't want to post this on Facebook and subject everyone to reading about my situation and/or seeing photos related to it. Some people want more info (including photos) and some don't. Therefore I am posting details here and everyone can chose for themselves if they want to read about it in more detail.
Since I was in grade school, I have had two lumps on the back of my head. They were about ear high and to the left side. One of the lumps was about 2 inches long and 1 inch wide. The other was about a 1/3 of that. They never bothered me and I never gave them much thought. Although I did always wonder if my head would look odd if I ever went bald. I would later find out that these lumps are called Blue Nevi. While Blue Nevi are very common, there have only been around 100 reported cases of it ever turning malignant.
A couple of years ago, the larger one began to change. At first, I thought I must have bumped it and it would eventually get better and go away. Of course it didn't and slowly got bigger and created a growth on the top of my skin (see image below). My barber was even mentioning it to me every time I went to get a haircut. Being the idiot I am, I still didn't go to the doctor and just stretched out my haircuts as far as I could to avoid the discussion.
On June 9th, after cutting the grass, my wife noticed it on the back of my head. Since my head was wet from sweat, the tumor was easier to see. That Monday she called a local dermatologist to make an appointment. On June 14th, I went to North Georgia Dermatology for an examination. After a quick look at my head, Dr Jing Gill said we needed to remove that right now. I was a little shocked and texted my wife I was going into surgery. Not the best idea, since I wasn't able to text her again for more than an hour. The procedure went pretty quick and Dr. Gill removed most of the tumor and sent it off for testing. She showed a lot of caring and actually her attitude made me very concerned.
The procedure with Dr. Gill was on a Friday, so the results didn't come back until Tuesday of the next week. On June 18th, Dr. Gill called me with the bad news. The tumor came back as malignant Blue Nevus Like Melanoma. The original path report listed the size of the melanoma as 1.95mm. Dr. Gill would later find out that this was a mistake and the actual size was 1.95cm. Pull out your ruler, there is a HUGE difference between these two numbers. On June 19th or 20th, my wife and I went to visit with Dr. Gill to get the paper work we would need to Emory Hospital. At this meeting, Dr. Gill said something that had a HUGE impact on my wife, while I actually took it another way. What Dr. Gill told us is that, "We need to start praying for a miracle". My wife followed that statement up with a question, "Are you saying our only hope at this point is a miracle?". Which was answered "I'm just saying you could really use one at this point." I have heard from a lot of people that this was not right and that may be so, but Dr. Gill has been very nice to me and I think if anything, she got too emotionally involved and let her emotions take over. While I want my doctors to concentrate on the science, I also like knowing she really cared!
Dr. Gill then sent us on to Emory Hospital where I met the surgeon, Dr. Delman. He immediately put me at ease and I felt complete confidence in his ability to remove the remaining tumor and get "clear margins." Dr. Delman scheduled surgery for July 1st.
On July 1st, we arrived at Emory around 7:30am. Around 10:30am they took me back to a room where radioactive dye was injected all around the site of the tumor. The actual shot didn't hurt, but the stuff they injected me with felt like a bee was stinging me non-stop for about a minute with each shot. I was glad when that part was done. I then spent an hour in a device that tracked where the radioactive dye went. This was done to trace my lymph nodes and make it easier for Dr. Delman to remove the correct ones.
Around noon, I was taken back to pre-op to get ready for the surgery. It wasn't until around 1pm that they took me back for surgery. As I was being strapped down and they started the IV to give me the knock out drugs, I was still completely at ease. Had been all day, not worried one bit. I was even talking about the songs that were being played. First it was Journey, the Culture Club and then Heuy Lewis. However, when they put the oxygen mask over my face, I literally felt like I couldn't breath. I started to panic and at the same time was telling myself to calm down, you're only making it worse. I remember as the drugs started to hit me and my last thoughts before going out where "great, you are not going to die from the cancer, your going to suffocate to death on the operating table because someone forgot to turn the oxygen on."
Next thing I know, I am waking up in the recovery room and it's 6:45pm. It took me until 7:45pm to come out of the drugs enough for them to release me. By the time we got home, I didn't want to do anything but sleep. Since I needed to stay upright and the wound was on the back of my head, this was not easy. None the less, I slept. The next morning, my wife changed my bandages and that's when we both got to see what I now look like. It was a little shocking to both of us. There were around 30+/- staples, a huge tube coming out of the back of my head, blood and a huge hump near the top of my head. This hump is where the skin was pivoted. At first, the plastic surgeon (Dr Cheng) thought that due to the size which would need to be removed (about 4+cm), she would need to do a skin graft. In the end, she was able to stretch and move my skin enough that a graft wasn't necessary. However, it did make the huge lump on the top of my head.
In the days that followed, I quickly got better every day. I stopped taking pain meds during the day after the 2nd day and stopped taking them when I was going to bed within 5 days. But there was still a HUGE weight hanging over our heads. What would they find in the lymph nodes. If they find anything, my melanoma is upgraded to Stage 3 and I will need a LOT more scanning, testing and some pretty involved treatments. Given the size of the tumor, me being and idiot and waiting so long to get it checked out, everyone was thinking the results would not be good.
On July 12th, my wife and I returned to Emory to get the results of the lymph node test. Of course we got there early as always, but this time they took us back to a room early. It was in a different section than we normally went, so I naturally started thinking, "I guess they want us over here and in a room early because of the news they are about to deliver".
Before I go further, let me say this, from the day they told me it was melanoma, given the size, how long it had been there and what I read on the internet, I had been measuring my remaining life in weeks and months. I thought I would be LUCKY to make it to my oldest son's high school graduation in May 2014. Every time I thought about it, I would tear up. I had started making daily videos to document my thoughts and also to leave messages to my family. I had created a spreadsheet with all the financial information for my wife and another one with all the websites, user names and passwords. Thinking about the future, even a future just a few months from now, was not something I could do. It really changes things when you think you may not be here just a few months from now. Planning anything for the podcast was out of the question. I can't book a guest if I don't know if I will be here by the time of their show.
Back to July 12th. Our appointment was for 10am with PA Margi McKellar. We really like her as she shows that she cares while at the same time is very professional. Around 9:45am, Margi pops in and immediately gives us the news:
ALL CLEAR!!!!! There was nothing in the lymph nodes!!!!!!
This is HUGE!! It means my prognosis is VERY GOOD and future treatment options will be much less severe. There will be more treatments and may even include some chemo, but the outcome is the absolute best we could have hoped for and was exactly what we had been praying for. Speaking of that, I want to thank everyone who prayed for me and my family and kept me in their thoughts! THANK YOU!!!
Photos below are:
- Tumor before being removed
- Me right after the visit to the dermatologist where large portion of tumor was removed for testing
- Me in pre-op before the major surgery to get "clear margins"
- Me on the drive home a couple hours after the surgery
- My head the morning after the surgery (7-2-2013)
- My head on 7-11-2013, drainage tube still installed. Keep in mind, less than half the tube is can be seen in this image. Most of it is in my head.