The account below is a guest post by Gemma Cottam, who was diagnosed with stage three Melanoma at age 25. She is on a mission to raise the awareness needed to get melanoma into the public eye. Follow her journey on twitter at @gem_mela_nomore. We here at Dermetel are honored to share her story.
Ten years ago, at the age of 15, a pimple appeared on the side of my face and soon it turned into a mole. After having it checked by a dermatologist, I was told that it was okay, but could have it removed if wanted to. Being scared of how she said she would remove it, I quickly declined and forgot about it.
Rolling forward to 2015, my mole was actually quite big. Finally realizing just how large it had become, I made the decision to get it removed. I was catching it a lot, from brushing my hair to removing a shirt.
So, on the 27th of August 2015, three days after returning from a family holiday to Benidorm where my now fiance, Paul, proposed to me, I had a simple procedure to remove the mole. The procedure was quick. Twenty minutes in and out. In a week’s time, everything was back to normal. I was happily enjoying our engagement and my birthday, which unfortunately was also the date I got my stitches removed. My birthday came, my stitches came out, and Paul had bought me a surprise weekend away to Amsterdam. Little did I know, my stitches had been removed too early and my scar would burst open whilst in Amsterdam, leaving me with an open circle wound and no doctor wanting to help as it could only be touched by the surgeon who did it.
We managed to keep it covered whilst away and as soon as we stepped foot off the plane, we were in our hospital waiting to be seen. Thankfully, I was able to get it stitched back up and everything was ok.
A few weeks had passed, and on October 3rd, my results were in. Now that my moles had gotten sent off for a biopsy, I wasn't scared. I even planned to go back to work an hour later.
Little did I know, my world was about to crumble around me. The doctor told me that the mole was cancerous and that I had stage two melanoma. Because of the size and thickness of the mole, the skin around it needed to be removed as there was a 95% chance that the cancer could be there too, or if not, quickly develop there. One word: Devastation. Sorry, was he talking about me? Surely he had to be wrong. Me? Hearing the word cancer isn’t easy. It’s one of those words that everyone is scared of. For the next 10 minutes I couldn't hear what he was saying. I could see him, he was talking at me, but my ears were only hearing silence. It’s a moment in my life that I will never be able to forget.
Thankfully, Paul “twenty-one questioned” the doctor, his arms wrapped around me as I sat there in my own bubble, sobbing like a baby. It was a complete shock to the both of us. There is nothing that can prepare you for a moment like that. It was only later that I was able to understand that the doctors always take more skin as a precaution, and that I had to have a three centimeter diameter of skin removed. It doesn't sound like a lot, but when it's on a small face...it's a lot!
CLICK ON THE IMAGES TO SEE THE SLIDESHOW OF GEMMA'S MELANOMA JOURNEY.
Once again, because of being stage two, I've had to have a sentinel lymph node biopsy to check if the cancer has spread. This involves radioactive fluid being injected into the area (mine being four injections into the scar from the first procedure), and then laying down in a machine where it takes pictures with a special camera that shows where the primary lymph nodes drain. All very fascinating. My lymph nodes were then marked, kind of like an ‘x marks the spot’ so that whilst having my skin surgery they could remove the nodes at the same time, making the operation more serious and much longer, but better in the long run.
My surgery was a success and I awoke, groggy and in pain, to the lovely faces of my family and fiance. My skin felt very tight. At that moment, I was too out of it to know what had happened to my face, but my family had been told that they were able to pull my skin back together. There was no need for a skin graft, but my wound was longer. The scar runs a few centimeters from the top of my ear down to my throat. I've basically had a face lift on one side.
I then had the agonizing wait for my lymph node biopsy results, taking each day as it came, trying to deal with the physical changes in my appearance and coming to terms with everything that had happened in such a short period of time.
On the 25th of November 2015, with my fiance and mum besides me, I was told that the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes and I was now stage three. Once again, my world had been turned upside down. I found myself sitting there again questioning myself. Can this be happening? We were so sure I was going to get the ‘all clear’. I felt numb, watching the look on their faces, I felt sick. Stage three? I can’t be stage three. One word- Heartbroken.
Now, I had to have CT and MRI scans, which they did to rule out that the cancer wasn't already spreading to the brain or lungs. They also use these scans as future reference when it comes to my three monthly checks.
On the 15th of December, I had another operation called a lymph node dissection where they removed all of my lymph nodes on the left hand side of my neck. It was a bigger operation, and, once again, I had another big scar on my throat and behind my ear where they did a U-shape flap to operate under. I had to have a drain put in for five days to drain the fluid out- doing the job of my lymph nodes, until the toxins found another lymph gland to drain to.
I was discharged a couple of days early, as I basically begged them to let me go home. I was able to leave on a Sunday, which was the 20th, just in time for some Christmas healing before the big day. I was in quite a lot of pain, and can’t describe in words how tight it felt. It’s like having someone’s hand around your neck 24/7- not nice.
I had my stitches removed on Christmas Eve, along with some physio, because there was damage to my left arm and I wasn’t able to lift it. The doctors said this was normal as some of the tendons have been damaged. I've had a lot of nerve damage in my left side too. They said that they have been able to save my important nerves. They’re numb, but will return in time. This numbness causes loss of movement in the left side of my mouth, which isn't fun whilst trying to eat, talk, or smile.
I have my results appointment on January 13th, so I’m keeping everything crossed till then. These next few weeks are going to be emotional and hard, but I'm not giving up. I know I will beat cancer! In the meantime, I'm trying my hardest to get media coverage of my story and my page: Mela-No-More,
My website: www.mela-no-more.wix.com/melanoma
And also my gofundme page set up by family and friends: www.gofundme.com/melanomawedding
I have two local newspapers running my story and have hopes to get my story in the national news.
My advice to anyone worried is very simple: GO AND GET IT CHECKED.
I don't want to scare anyone. That's not my point...but this is cancer. I'm a lucky one. I found mine early. Left any longer (had I not chosen to get it removed, which doesn't bear thinking of), I might not have been here to write this blog.