1995...the year it all began
It was December 1995 when I noticed the original mole. I was outside bringing washing in from the rain and our dog at the time, Blondie, was tugging on my sheets so I was trying to chase her off. Bitch! I was going to kill her! She was my husbands’ gun dog and the only reason he called her Blondie was so that when he was shouting, ‘you blonde bitch get your arse inside’, the neighbours wouldn’t know if he was shouting at me or the dog. Ha, remembering that makes me laugh. Anyway, as she ran off she flicked mud up my legs. I bent down to flick the big bits off when I noticed one bit of mud was attached, literally, to my skin! That’s when I realised it was a mole. I couldn’t say whether it was a new mole or not, or even if it was an existing mole that had changed because I honestly didn’t take much notice of my moles.
I’d heard about skin cancer but I honestly didn’t think of it at that time because I didn’t sunbathe or use sun beds. With my skin tone and New Zealand’s hole in the ozone it’s not worth the pain and suffering of burning. It’s not like I go brown anyway. In fact I go bright red, I blister, I peel and then I return to white again, so what’s the point.
In New Zealand there’s an advert they play all summer. Every Kiwi knows it. It’s right up there with the Buzzy Bee and the silver fern. Ask Rachael Hunter or one of the Crowded House boys what ‘Slip, Slop, Slap’ means and they’ll tell you. Slip on a t-shirt, slop on some sun screen and slap on a hat. It’s the Kiwi Motto. Kids may go to school with no shoes on but you’ll bet they’re wearing a hat and sun block! If there was ever any part of my body that should’ve got a malignant mole, it should’ve been my nose. As a kid, before the compulsory hat thing, I always had a bright red nose with a scab on it where the sun would burn it during lunch breaks at school. Bright red nose and freckles, or fly shit as the kids would say, was my look in every Primary School photo...gorgeous!
What made this more ironic was that my New Zealand GP said the change in the mole was probably caused by my pregnancy. It was something to do with the hormones changing the skin and not the sun at all. Fortunately my husband, at the time, had private health insurance so once my GP examined the mole I was in having it removed within a week as a day patient, 22 December 1995 to be precise.
Apparently while I was on the operating table, they cut the mole and some surrounding tissue away, sent it to pathology right there and then, waited for the results and cut more tissue away until there was no more cancer. It was a wide excision where they took about 5cm of tissue away all around the mole and deep too. A couple of days later, Boxing Day, my husband and I (and baby Joe of course) had plans to visit friends in Auckland so the surgeon suggested I go to his house on the way to have the drain removed and the wound redressed. I don’t think they’re that keen if you go public. While my husband Joe waited in the car with baby Joe I went in to see the surgeon. He went over the pathology report confirming that it was malignant melanoma, rattled off some ‘grade 3’ thing but assured me that they had removed all the effected tissue and there was no need to do anything further. In fact in his letter to my GP he wrote:
‘The pathology report confirmed the nature of the lesion, a 1.05mm thick level 3 superficial spreading melanoma in a vertical growth phase’
That was probably close to what he actually said to me but all I heard was 1.05mm thick, blah, blah, grade 3, blah, blah, blah. I think because he was so blaze and matter of fact about it I didn’t realise the seriousness of it. In fact he seemed more concerned about dressings for the wound to avoid it stretching during healing. There was a huge chunk missing from my leg and it was about 10cm long, all for a mole that was no bigger than 8mm in diameter. I do remember telling him about my Grandmother who died from Breast Cancer and my Aunt who died from Cervical Cancer, at 32, because I was always so paranoid about cancer. I was always feeling my boobs for lumps and I had cervical smears every year or two, just be on the safe side. But he assured me there was no connection between those cancers and this tumour and not to worry. All I needed to do now was keep checking my moles for any changes and examine my groin for lumps. No big deal. Just a ‘dodgy’ mole.
Since then, I’ve tried looking back to that day to remember how I felt and I honestly was not one bit concerned. I often wonder if maybe I was the one being blaze because I had so much else on my plate that year. 1995 was the year from hell for me and my family. Aside from the birth of my wonderful son of course, my pregnancy had been one thing after another. Sciatica, polyhydramnius (too much fluid around the baby), over stretched stretch marks bleeding, fluid retention, border line diabetes, you name it I had it. Then even the birth ended up caesarean after two days in labour, followed by infections. It seemed to never end. Then the big blast was my dad being killed crossing the road eight weeks after I had Joe. It was an unfortunate accident, but the void it left within me is still raw. It was after that, that I kind of went into robot mode. I became my mothers support focusing and comforting her, my baby sister of 8 years old, my new baby and trying to hold together a failing marriage. I just held in all my emotions and got on with it. But even with all that, I still don’t remember the surgeon or the GP making me realise how serious it was. Even when my GP would annually check all my moles and my groin for lumps, I really wasn’t sure what lumps he was looking for. I suppose I just thought it would be the cancer growing back and they’d just cut it out again. Boy was I naive!
In fact, thinking back, in the beginning of 1996 I started to suffer from really bad lower back pain. It ended up being a Pilonidal Sinus pressing on my spine. Well, I can tell you now, that if I had been aware of the seriousness of the melanoma, I would have been shitting myself that the back pain was caused by cancer. But once the mole had been removed, I never gave it another thought, until now.