I never thought I’d be diagnosed with cancer, especially in the middle of a pandemic.
In early 2020, I scheduled an appointment to visit a dermatologist in my primary care network. I had developed a bit of a scab on my arm that was not healing quickly.
During my visit, the dermatologist biopsied the scab and sent it to a lab for testing. A few weeks later, the dermatologist’s office called to follow up with the test results of that biopsy.
“We’ve received the test results, and unfortunately, you have malignant melanoma. We’re referring you to a specialist. They will be in contact to quickly schedule an initial appointment.”
After the initial diagnosis, my thoughts raced, but my care moved even faster.
Within a few days, I was contacted by a surgical oncologist’s office at my local hospital, and they quickly scheduled an appointment.
My cancer was caught relatively early, so the tumor was on the smaller side, but there was a risk it had spread to my lymph nodes. The surgeon took the time to thoroughly explain the various stages of malignant melanoma and the several treatment options available to me.
If the melanoma had spread, we would’ve needed to be much more aggressive with the treatment, and the odds of surviving 5 years would have been dramatically reduced.
I spent that initial visit swimming in a sea of data and probabilities. My surgeon was quite patient and empathetic as they explained a ton of information to me, the cancer newbie. She made me feel safe and cared for in a way that I imagine can only come with a lot of practice.
I was quickly scheduled for surgery at a nearby cancer hospital. On surgery day, I arrived early to make sure I could go through all the presurgery checklist items. The healthcare team prepped me, and I lay in the hospital bed for several hours before the surgery.
Even though the cancer was just a few millimeters in diameter, they took a sizable chunk of skin around the site to maximize the likelihood of complete removal. During the surgery, they biopsied a portion of the nearest lymph node to check if the melanoma had spread.
After the operation, the hospital staff and surgeon’s office followed up regularly to check on my recovery. As soon as they received the lymph node biopsy test results, they called me to give me the news that, thankfully, the melanoma had not spread, which meant we could shift away from aggressive treatment and move toward a regimen of aggressive monitoring.
As someone living with chronic cancer, I visit the oncological surgeon or dermatologist’s office every 4 months for a complete visual body check.
Aggressive monitoring, biopsies, and tests check that the cancer hasn’t resurfaced. If testing spots anything that could be cancer, doctors immediately excise it and send it off for testing. I also get annual CT and MRI scans to ensure nothing new appears in my chest or head area.
While these tests are expensive and can sometimes be uncomfortable, they help me confidently go about my day-to-day living knowing we’re aggressively monitoring and checking for a reoccurrence.
Thinking back on my journey, I’m grateful for the expertise of my team. The care they take in communicating clearly with me every step of this journey has been refreshing and welcoming.
Cancer is a killer. And a diagnosis is terrifying. My healthcare team has been empathetic and caring, helping me to understand everything I needed to know to cope with this difficult diagnosis.
Thinking about the potential outcomes when it comes to cancer can be overwhelming. It can be tough to make sense of it all. My healthcare team always stopped to check in with me and ensure I fully understood the implications of my diagnosis and treatment.
If you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, I urge you to please stay actively involved with your care team. They’re there to ensure you fully understand the process and help you through this.
Sean McGinnis is President of KURU Footwear, a direct-to-consumer shoe brand that makes stylish shoes for foot pain like plantar fasciitis. He resides in Utah with his family.