Thursday, October 6, 2011

Double Cancer

This is how it all happened…

Two years ago, September 2009, I had a mole that worried me, right under my arm pit. Freaked that I had cancer, I made an appointment for a physical, mainly so I could ask for a referral to a dermatologist to get that mole checked out. At my physical, I was surprised when the doctor found a lump in my breast, and recommended that I get THAT checked out. So, I got both the mole and the breast lump checked…the mole turned out to be no big deal, but SURPRISE! The breast lump was cancer.

After half a year of breast cancer treatments, in September 2010, I went back to the dermatologist for my first annual full-body mole scan. I looked at the mole I had been worried about, which now looked so silly and benign next to the surgical scar on my breast right next to it. “Isn’t it strange,” I mused to the dermatologist, “that I came in here thinking I had a cancerous mole, when actually, the cancer was a couple inches over to the left, in my breast?” We were both happy that I was healthy and well.

Fast forward a year to September 2011, when I went back for my second annual full-body mole scan. This time, she found a different mole that looked suspicious to her, and she shaved it off to be analyzed.

I received a letter in the mail Monday evening, saying “The results of your biopsy show concerning abnormal pathology. Please call ASAP.” It was past business hours, so I couldn’t do anything until the morning. I was scared. Waiting to find out whether or not you have cancer is almost worse than knowing you have cancer. To me, the adjective “concerning” in front of the words “abnormal pathology” seemed like codespeak for "cancer." I couldn’t eat or work or focus on anything, and I just wanted to fall asleep fast. I spent a while debating whether to take my very last Ativan (anti-anxiety pill). I had been given a very small Ativan prescription while experiencing anxiety during radiation, but I had saved the last pill “for emergencies.” I figured this qualified, and I also figured, what the hell, if it turns out I do have cancer again, I’m sure I can get more Ativan pills NO PROBLEM. Ha. I took the stupid pill and zonked out at 9:30 PM. I had horrible dreams about my body decaying until it was as porous as a sponge.

First thing in the morning, I didn’t call the dermatologist, I went straight to her office. When I introduced myself at the receptionist’s window, she immediately ushered me into a room, and that’s when I had the oh, shit feeling. And yup, the doctor came in and told me: malignant melanoma. She knew my breast cancer history, and she said, before I even could, “I know, this is so unfair.”

I cried for all of 20 seconds before taking a deep breath and asking, “Do we know what stage and grade? And what do we do now?” It’s bittersweet to now be so much smarter, stronger, wiser about cancer… in 2009 when I was dx’d with breast cancer, I cried a river, could not listen to a single damn word the doctor said, and felt like the ground was disintegrating underneath me. This time, I knew what to do. I got a print out of my pathology report, and began Googling to find the most helpful melanoma resources online, being careful to take people’s stories with a grain of salt, knowing that typically it’s the people with the “worst” cases who are the most prolific posters. I called my girlfriend and my parents and a couple close friends for support. I took the day off of work to care for myself, and I did cry several times, but I also ate anti-cancer foods (blueberries, cabbage cooked in turmeric, green tea, 72% dark chocolate), took a long walk, and meditated in the woods. I started re-reading “Anti-Cancer: A New Way of Life” by Dr. David Servan-Schrieber, because it’s the most uplifting, practical cancer book I know. It’s “the good book,” as my family refers to it.

All day, my recurring thought was, “I can’t believe I was diagnosed with cancer for the second time today.” It felt so unreal. I keep reminding myself that a stage 0/in-situ melanoma is really not so horrible and worrisome, and it’s going to be completely dealt with in just one quick and easy surgery. From a rational standpoint, this is pretty minor. It’s just difficult emotionally, to have two types of cancers, by age 32. It makes me feel like I’m “cancer prone” or something, and makes me wonder what the hell else might be lurking in my body undetected. However, through brief Googling, I discovered that it’s likely that there is actually a link between breast cancer and melanoma. That is, several studies have found that women who are diagnosed with breast cancer are at higher risk for melanoma, and vice versa. No one had ever told me that before, so I’m not sure how true that is… but it’s something for me to research further. At least if there’s a link between the two cancers, it makes me feel better, in a way – it means I’m not just susceptible to developing any and every cancer, you know?

I have a lot of researching to do now. (If you have good melanoma resources or info, let me know!) I’ve been so immersed in the online breast cancer world; it’s strange to now be at square one with getting to know a NEW cancer. It’s wrong and unfair and I shouldn’t be in this position. But I’m trying to believe that something good is going to come out of this, that I just can’t see yet… because as much as I hated hearing anyone suggest that “cancer is a gift,” I must admit, my life post-breast cancer is so much better than my life pre-breast cancer. My amazing girlfriend and I have been together for 13 wonderful months now, and I won’t get into the whole story, but – I wouldn’t have met her, if I hadn’t had breast cancer! That makes it all worth it to me. If having cancer is what it took for me to find the love of my life, then so be it. What’s this melanoma going to bring into my life? That remains to be seen.


  1. You have such an amazing attitude Britta. What an unbelievable diagnoses. Wow!!!! We are sending you so much love, are sorry we missed seeing you in September and hope to give you many many hugs soon. xxoo hannah and the gang

  2. thanks so much, to you, too!! sorry i missed seeing you!