A few years back, I had cancer; specifically stage II melanoma- cancer of the melanocytes. Melanocytes are the pigment cells in the body. Wherever you have pigment, skin and eyes are the most common sites, you can develop melanoma.
It’s a bugger to treat. No radiation or chemotherapies are available; surgery only. Today, only a few immunotherapies are available and most are still in clinical trials.
Melanoma is the under-rated killer amongst cancers. One person in the US dies every hour every day from melanoma. Five noticeable sunburns in your lifetime nearly doubles your chances of melanoma. If you are a dad, you know to protect your kids from the sun. But you need to protect yourself with sunscreen and a hat and shades so you can stay alive and intact for your kids. I was the poster child in my youth and twenties for what not to do. Learn from my mistakes.
My book, Melanoma: It Started with a Freckle, was published in spring of 2016 by McGann publishing. In the words of Prof. Tom Foster, author of the NY Times Best-seller How to Read Literature Like a Professor; David Stanley’s memoir, Melanoma: It Started with a Freckle, is a must-read. By turns harrowing, insightful, technical, and hilarious, the book walks us through the frightening world of dealing with the deadliest form of skin cancer with humanity and humor. Stanley offers as much compassion for his care-givers as for his long-suffering family and brilliantly explains both the science and the emotional struggle involved in fighting cancer.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll post excerpts. Here’s a bit from the first chapter.
From Chapter One
“This is the face of cancer,” I thought as my virtual image stared back at me from my bathroom mirror. I looked in my eyes. When I gazed at the right side of my face, I could see laugh lines around my blue eyes. My forehead was relaxed. Wrinkly, as befits a fifty year old man, but relaxed. I could watch my breath ruffle my nostrils and fog the mirror as I worked my shaving brush around my nose. The right side of my face looked fine. It was shaved. It was clean. It was… my face.
But the left side; that was not my face. The left side of my face was a patchwork quilt woven by a surgeon’s exquisite touch. I turned my head so I could see my face’s left side and studied the image in the mirror. Terror and disgust stared back at me. I wanted to smash the mirror. I wanted to form a fist and drive it through the looking glass, through the drywall, and out the other side, cuts and broken knuckles be damned.
The left side of that face – that side of my face now belonged to a monster; a monster that would take over its host’s body and quite willingly rot it out from the inside. A monster called melanoma.
Melanoma starts out easily enough. A small clump of your skin’s pigment cells break free from their genetic on/off switches. Much like an anthill, little goes on that can be seen from the surface. Yet, below the skin’s upper boundary, your wayward melanocytes are busy as they tunnel about below the surface. A tumor five millimeters across may harbor dozens of tunnels, each ten times longer than the tumor, as the tumor readies itself to spread throughout your body.
My first glimpse at the face of cancer barely rattled me. A needle stick and a surgical scrape, followed a short time later by another needle stick and a snip of skin, plus two stitches and a band-aid. Easy. Painless. Done.
My second glimpse at the face of cancer brought the terror of cancer home like a leather-masked man with a chainsaw in a grindhouse movie. This cancer was back and it was angry.
Thanks for reading.
Did you know?
It takes about one shot glass full of sunscreen, 1 fluid ounce, to adequately protect an adult human from UV damage.