Friday, 18 July 2014

At the risk of sounding evangelical (I'll leave that to Brian Tamaki...)

*Spoiler alert - this blog does not contain my usual humorous rant*

It's two years today since I was diagnosed with having cancer.

I know.  Told you it wasn't funny.

Of all the things one can be diagnosed with, it's probably one of the worst - but interestingly enough, it didn't actually come as a shock.  It did to my Doctor and possibly the few friends we shared the news with, but not to me.  It just pissed me off.

A bit of a back story... 

I have 'dysplastic nevus'.  Now this term annoys me.  Having 'nevus' is bearable, but do they have to be 'dysplastic'?  Nothing fun or cool has ever been referred to as dysplastic.  It just sounds tragic and the fact it also rhymes with spastic is not lost on me.

What that means in real words is that I farm moles.  I'm great at it.  In fact, arguably an over-achiever as I have more than 200 of the little suckers.  They are everywhere, always have been and always will be.  So for the last twenty or more years, I've regularly had the odd one here and there removed.  Parts of my body (thankfully largely unseen by the unsuspecting public) now resemble a patchwork quilt.

I've learnt over the years not to worry about the quick excision and biopsy procedure. I've had more than 30 of them and they'd always come back clear... until the phone rang in July 2012 with the news that my latest slice and dice had in fact been melanoma.

The Silent Killer (queue doom filled music)...

I had actually found it by accident... a common occurrence and why it has earnt the silent killer title.  Most people who have melanoma don't realise it until it's too late.  No symptoms and the sneaky wee buggers hide in unusual places.  Fact of the day - Bob Marley died from melanoma on his toe (under his toenail to be precise)!   

Mine was bang on the centre of my spine, on the back of my neck.  Dangerously close to lymph nodes and impossible for me to see unless (as was the case) I used a triangulation of mirrors to check out my 'up-do' before heading out to a posh evening function.  I was pretty convinced that black splodge wasn't normally there, so off to the doctor I went.

Long story short - I found myself having potentially life saving surgery a few short weeks before my wedding.  Three surgeries later I was cancer free and the proud owner of an awesome 'Zorro' scar on my neck.  For those of you under 30, an awesome 'Harry Potter' scar on my neck.

It turned out I was millimetres (or weeks) away from not having such a happy outcome.  It was an aggressive bastard and I was lucky.  Melanoma accounts for less than two percent of skin cancer cases, but the vast majority of skin cancer deaths.  At the same time as my diagnosis and treatment, two very special women in my life were also going through the same thing.  Sadly, only one of them is now with us.  And my god is that a hard thing to contemplate on long lonely nights awake overthinking the meaning of life - why me?

At the risk of sounding evangelical (I'll leave that to Brian Tamaki...) this 'brush with cancer' has made me value every single thing in my life.  It's also made me paranoid.  My recent pregnancy created even more angst as I grew new batches of nevus. I'm even more dysplastic than before...  

The moral of this blog is to slip, slop, slap your children every day (not actually slap your children people - that is just wrong! You know what I mean).  Also kiss them every day and remember not to sweat the small stuff.  And check your skin regularly.  And don't be afraid to get an unusual mole or freckle checked.  Ok, so there are a few morals but they're all good ones.

New Zealand, along with Australia, has among the highest melanoma rates in the world. In 2010, the year for which most recent figures are available, melanoma was the fourth most common cancer, with 2,341 registered cases (1241 males and 1100 females). It was also the sixth most common cause of death from cancer that year.  Read more here.

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