An Unexpected Detour

Life is what happens to us while we’re busy making plans…there is a reason cliches become cliches.

I have just been thrown on the biggest detour of my life (so far, I am only 37 and I hope that I will live many more years and have many more detours… a subject for another post).

So, as my doctor said, “I will just come out and tell you what it is … ”

I have stage IV malignant melanoma. It has metastasized to my liver, and one small spot in my brain.

It sounds serious. It is. But, as I am quickly learning these things are all relative.

If I had been diagnosed with any other kind of cancer (colon, breast, etc.), besides lymphoma (which would be the best possible type of cancer to have, if there is such as thing), I would have zero hope of survival.

If this were 2010, I would have zero hope of survival.

Lucky for me, and for Jimmy Carter, while there is no cure, with advancements made in treatment for melanoma in recent years, there is about a 20% survival rate with the latest and greatest treatments and there is a lot of research ongoing. My plan, my intention, my desire, is to become one of the people in that 20%.

You may be wondering if I have any suspicious moles or spots on my skin. There are none that we can find. I am religious about going to the dermatologist every year, and, last year I went twice. That said, I have had a fair amount of sun exposure in my life (grew up in California, swimmer, lifeguard, swim instructor, all around beach and sun loving person) and these things can be driven by genetics as well.

Now you might be wondering how we even figured out I have cancer? Good question.

Over the last month or so I have not been feeling great. Nausea and loss of appetite (not normal for me, I do love to eat). While of course losing a few pounds is nothing to scoff at, I did feel like something was really off. I even went to the doctor in Switzerland who told me it was just anxiety and to go for a run (which of course, I did).

Fast forward to Sunday, August 9, when I flew from Switzerland (where we’ve lived since 2012) to California and felt a sharp pain on the right side of my abdomen. Of course I immediately consulted the google machine and found that my symptoms correlated with appendicitis. Based on the advice of the people who write about these things on the interwebs, I decided to wait to see if my symptoms worsened before rushing to the doctor.

As it happened, I woke up around 3am in more pain so off to the emergency room we went. All this time I was thinking I would be down an appendix by mid-morning.

To make a long story short they ran labs, gave me fluids and did a CT scan. I am sure the ER doctor was thinking I was some crazy lady with bad gas.

Turns out there is nothing wrong with my appendix, but the CT scan showed that there was something very wrong with my liver, something that looked a lot like cancer. So from the ER to the oncologist I went.

Definitely didn’t see that one coming. I guess that’s how most detours are … they catch you off guard.

The oncologist, who it turns out is a pretty great doctor, told us his best guess was that:

1. It was malignant
2. It was something rare
3. It started in another part of my body and had metastasized to the liver.
4. He had no idea where this may have started as the CT scan captured most of the most likely suspects and they all look innocent.

He was mostly right (this is the first time I have ever wanted a doctor to be wrong). He’s a smart guy.

Over the last week and a half I have had blood tests, a liver biopsy, my first CT and PET scans and an inaugural MRI. All part of the diagnosis and staging process. Soon we will get the results of one more test before I go to UCSF for a second opinion from one of the world’s leading melanoma specialists. At that point I hope my treatment plan will be more clear and in future posts I will share more about what that will entail. On a parallel track, will also be undergoing radiation therapy to “zap” the small tumor in my brain.

Erick (my husband who is pretty much the most wonderful person on this planet and will be mentioned a million times in this blog) and I are still processing all of this, but…

We know there is a long road ahead and there will be lots of uncertainty.

We know that while we wish we didn’t have to walk this path at all, we’re lucky to be walking it together.

We know that we will fight whatever this is to the bitter end, whatever that end is and whenever it comes.

We know we will have the support of friends and family.

We know we have so much to be thankful for, including the timing of our move back to the states, good health insurance and a home on the ocean where we will weather this storm.

Most importantly we know we can trust God. The song “it is well with my soul” keeps running through my head.

Amazing how your life can change in an instant. Amazing how the things that really matter become so clear, so fast. Amazing how much we can grieve and celebrate sometimes in the same moment.

Those of you who know me know that I am a warrior. I am gearing up for the fight of, and for, my life. This is my (de)tour de force (literally translated: feat of strength, also can mean one’s opus or triumph) and I fully intend to LIVE every second of it.