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OPINION: B.C. Black Press editor starts his personal cancer ‘journey’


Many cancer survivors describe their experiences as a “journey.”

I am embarking on a journey of my own.

Technically it’s not my first… but the previous one was nothing more than a day trip. About three years ago, while having an unrelated procedure, the nurse on hand pointed out a growth on my skin and recommended I get it checked out. I followed her advice and it proved to be melanoma. The doctor lopped it off and that was it… or so I thought.

In March, I discovered a lump on my collarbone, in close proximity to where my melanoma was. I immediately went to the doc’s, saying “It’s probably nothing, but my track record with ‘it’s probably nothing’ isn’t very good, so…”

I had an ultrasound, which determined the lump was a lymph node. We followed that up with a biopsy, and suspicions were confirmed.

It is cancer. The melanoma has metasticized - this time under the skin. Stage three.

It was explained that some cells must have escaped from the original melanoma surgery, and this lymph node picked them up. Apparently this is what lymph nodes are supposed to do, so in that regard, my body reacted properly.

Last week the process got real. I had blood taken on Monday, a CAT scan of my chest and stomach area on Wednesday, and an MRI of my brain on Thursday.

I received some reassuring news on Friday - those tests showed “nothing remarkable,” which, in medical terms, is a good thing. It means that so far, they believe the tumour is isolated.

On Monday, we - my wife and I - had our first appointment with the oncologist in Victoria.

We were informed that due to the precarious positioning of the tumour, the operation will be conducted by a specialist at Royal Jubilee. (We were hopeful it could happen at the Comox Valley Hospital, but no such luck.)

The next step in the process is a return to Victoria for a PET scan to double check that there are no other tumours.

From there, we will have a consult with the surgeon, at which time the surgery date will (again, hopefully) be determined.

The good news from the meeting in Victoria is that the treatment for such melanoma has had great advances in the past decade. I’ve been told, notwithstanding an unexpected turn, I won’t need chemotherapy or radiation. They have targeted therapy for this type of cancer.

Also, the approach is curative as opposed to palliative, meaning it was caught at an early enough stage that the goal is remission.

Other than that, I’m learning as I proceed.

Yes, it is scary. Yes, I am concerned. I admit, I was taken aback when I was told it is Stage 3 cancer, considering there are only four stages. But I also consider myself extremely fortunate. Fortunate for my support system. I have doctors in my family who are just a phone call away. I have an abundance of friends who are there for anything I need. Most importantly I have a rock of a wife in Erica, who will be my co-navigator throughout this journey.

And I am fortunate to live in Canada, where my life savings will not be spent to save my life.

I plan on continuing to make my journey a public one - not for pity, but for educational purposes. Cancer is scary. Anyone who has dealt with it knows this.

We hear so often that the most important part is early detection. It sounds like I have been lucky in that regard. A word of caution for anyone who has ever had Stage 0 (outermost layer of skin) or Stage 1 (smaller than one millimetre in depth) melanoma, where the procedure is the aforementioned “lop off:” keep in mind that you are not in the clear. Be vigilant. Check your body for any unfamiliar lumps, and if found, don’t put it off. Get it checked immediately.

The alternative worsens the longer you wait.

Terry Farrell is the editor of the Comox Valley Record