My life is at another crossroads, and I’m learning more about myself as I figure out where I’m going next. It’s another lesson in how we deal with uncertainty – something Robert and I do in very different ways. He is better able than I to face up to difficult situations as they occur. I am – have always been – better at dealing with challenges when I have time to think them through. And this challenge – getting on with our lives, post-melanoma vaccine trial – is a giant.
I’m sure Robert also lives with the awareness that a lesion this big and this deep is more likely to recur and/or metastasize than a tiny superficial spreading melanoma. He has said to me, more than once, that he will not live his life any differently because of that possibility. I know that if the time comes to face the beast again he’ll do so with the same resolution and determination that he did last May. I, on the other hand, need to do it differently if there’s a next time.
Actually, in retrospect, I think I did pretty well. I did not cry or go into hysterics, which I might have done pre-menopause. My version of falling apart was all inside. Outwardly, I went on with things – getting finished with client projects while I started researching and finding out everything I could absorb about melanoma. That research is so similar to what I was doing for work that I was able to do it on autopilot.
As I began to process what I was learning, I became so distracted that I needed medication to set me back on course - it was either that, or stop driving. I came up with mechanisms to make sure I was paying attention at the wheel until the medication kicked in. It was clear that I couldn’t continue to serve clients at the high quality level I was used to delivering, so I decided to suspend my business after all then-pending projects were delivered. We had a whole string of decisions to make, starting with a trip to the lawyer before Robert’s surgery to update our wills and write health care directives and durable powers of attorney. We also put our financial house in order and reassured ourselves that we would be fine without my business income.
When time came for surgery and healing, I was able to be pretty cool about the whole thing. I’ve done my part as a caregiver, dressing wounds and helping make sure Robert was as comfortable as possible. I’ve continued my research on melanoma so that we would have as much information as possible when it came time to make decisions about treatment.
Over the last six months my schedule has been structured around the clinical trial of the melanoma GVAX vaccine at Johns Hopkins. We have now finished those visits and are anxiously awaiting the six-month scans to look for any active cancers. We’ll have one-year follow-ups at Hopkins post-trial and periodic visits to oncologists and dermatologists here in D.C., the nerve-wracking “watchful waiting” that so many cancer survivors endure.
I plan to continue writing about melanoma research, and I’ll no doubt continue to visit the Melanoma Research Foundation’s Melanoma Patients Information Page. Perhaps now I’ll also have more time to build out and design this website and move my old business website here. I may be more open to accepting an occasional assignment for clients, but I don’t plan to reinvigorate my business to its previous level. I’ve adjusted to retirement pretty well and enjoy the freedom from deadlines.
We’ll see how well I deal with the other adjustment – living with the knowledge that melanoma is an insidious, opportunistic killer that may come back for a visit. If other survivors and/or caregivers want to share their thoughts about this, I look forward to hearing from you.