I've never once stepped foot in a tanning bed, or even "laid out" for the day at the beach. I was a lifeguard in high-school, but was so susceptible to getting burnt that I always hid under the umbrella and bathed in SPF 70 before my shifts.
Growing up I would visit the dermatologist a few times a year. Mainly to help with my teenage acne, and to occasionally get an annoying mole removed for cosmetic purposes. And that was exactly what I thought was happening on January 26th, 2016. There was an irritating mole on the right side of my neck, right where my shirt collar would rub against my skin. Never thought much of it other than the 5 seconds I was putting on my shirt. Days later on February 8th, I received a phone call at lunch from my dermatologist. I stepped away from a group of friends to take the call and walked to another room to answer. It felt like an absolute blur. I heard the words "Melanoma" and froze. The rest of the call seemed like it never even happened.
Luckily, with my mom working at Northside Hospital we were able to see the Melanoma Specialist within two hours of getting the initial phone call. Many people, including some high-level directors were pulled out of meetings and helped coordinate the first appointment. I am forever thankful to everyone that was involved in that two hour window. The doctor initially classified the cancer as, stage 1B, and recommended a Sentinel Node Biopsy. This surgery would remove the main tumor on my skin and also place a radioactive dye in the tumor to flow to my lymph nodes. The dye would then go to the "lymph nodes that would most likely contain cancer" and then be surgically removed for further testing. Surgery was set for 2/25/16. Recovery was less than two days and even hiked Stone Mountain later in the weekend. Ten days after surgery we got the results back. Two nodes were removed. One was negative, the other was positive for microscopic Melanoma. Further surgery and scans were needed.
A brain and liver MRI were ordered, as well as a full body PET scan. All the scans came back negative...great news and incredibly blessed. God was looking out for me in those scanning rooms. Since the cancer had spread to a single node, the next course of action was to remove all of the lymph nodes in the right side of my neck. On 3/24/16 a Modified Radical Neck Dissection was performed. Under the knife for 4 hours and 20 lymph nodes later, the Dr. had completed the surgery. Recovery was difficult the first week with almost zero range of motion in my neck. Any movement hurt. I could only sleep for a few hours before I awoke to pain. With the help from my family and friends I was able to recover fully in abut 3.5 weeks. We are now moving on to the next step in the process...Immunotherapy. This will help reduce the chances of any recurrence.
I know this will be a battle. God has really opened my eyes the last few months as to what's important in life, and who is important in life. Family, friends and loved ones.