This post will go into some personal details about my health. It may be a bit of a bummer or include details that may be gross. Don't feel obligated to read everything, this is only if you'd like to know more.
Back on June 2nd, after Kris noticed a new odd mole/aberration on my left earlobe, I contacted Kaiser, my healthcare provider, to ask them what I should do. Kaiser scheduled to have me come in so they could take a photo of the mole. 6 weeks later on July 13th I went in and they took a picture of it to be looked at by a dermatologist. 2 weeks later on July 28th I came in and my dermatologist cut the mole off in order to biopsy it.
2 weeks after that on August 11th the biopsy results came back as being malignant melanoma, a kind of skin cancer. The skin cancer was of an intermediate risk based on how deep it was. I learned that I would need to have surgery to have my earlobe removed and to have a sentinel lymph node biopsy to determine if the melanoma spread from the initial tumor to the lymph system.
My Initial Response
Learning of this was a very mentally challenging experience. I've not had much mental trauma in my life, haven't had to wrestle with much in the area of losing loved ones. The last bout I can think of would have been relationship trauma (being dumped, that kind of thing) in the late 90's. I feel very fortunate for having been so trauma free.
Upon learning the cancer news I, for some reason, skipped straight ahead to presuming my own death was imminent and struggling to process it. I couldn't focus on anything and just felt like I was in a cyclic state of shock. I wasn't sad, just shocked. I kept thinking about what my dying would mean for Kris and Revelle, what would happen, how they would manage. A minority of the time I found myself both feeling grateful for having had a pretty great 40 years and at the same time feeling very frustrated to get kicked off the ride half way through.
Over the past 2 weeks this mental lock has tempered a bit and my days feel more like when you're driving and the sun is low in the sky and you have to look to the sides of it to not have it blinding you. Part of this looking around it does however prevent any kind of long term thinking. My focus has narrowed to only the things going on right now. I can't really think about anything long term, most likely because I have an underlying sense that I don't have a long term.
Really, I'm just in a waiting state as, until the biopsy of the lymph nodes, I don't really know what situation I'm in.
What Does This Mean
By my understanding there are three categories of outcomes which we'll likely discover in the next week, after the surgery and biopsy. With those results I hope to have some statistics about what I should expect in regards to survivability. My speculation below about survivability is based on generalities that I've read about, not my specific situation. I should have a more accurate sense post biopsy.
No cancer is found in the lymph nodes. I lose an earlobe and have it reconstructed through the magic of science. I stay vigilant for a few years to see if I detect any change in the skin or lymph nodes around my ear. This ends up being a bullet dodged and hopefully an inspiration in regards to the fleetingness of life.
Cancer is found in the lymph nodes but through some means it's determined to have stopped there. I have lymph nodes removed and we see what happens over time. By my understanding, this scenario involves a very real chance that I won't survive.
Cancer is found in the lymph nodes and through some means determined to have moved elsewhere in my body. I undergo immunotherapy (an alternative to chemotherapy) to try to fight it. By my understanding, this scenario is one where I only have a slim chance of survival.
I'm going to talk about some details about surgery so feel free to skip if this kind of thing grosses you out.
Day after tomorrow on August 27th I'll have surgery in which the surgeons will
- remove my earlobe and lower ear in order to remove any potentially cancerous flesh
- remove a few lymph nodes for purposes of biopsying
It's possible that in this process they will find indicators of cancer in my neck in which case they may remove more lymph nodes.
If things go well and all they take are the earlobe and sentinel lymph nodes, the facial reconstruction surgeon will also take a small piece of cartilage from my right ear (the good one) and implant it near where my left ear lobe was. He'll do this to get blood vessels to perfuse into the cartilage over the next 6 weeks while I heal. This piece of cartilage will then be used in a subsequent surgery as a framework to rebuild a faux ear lobe using tiny skin grafts from nearby combined with the piece of cartilage.
If things don't go well, they may need to reconstruct an earlobe without cartilage or defer reconstructing it for a month.
I'll then come home and recover from surgery. Then some time after that I'll get word on what they found in the sentinel lymph nodes.
I'll meet with a therapist next week to potentially get some help with the mental side of all of this.
What Do You, The Reader, Do
I imagine people who know me will, upon reading this, be unsure what they should do. I would if I were reading this from a friend of mine. In short, you don't need to do anything. I know my family and friends support me. It's all good. You're welcome to share this news with whoever you wish.
I'll endeavor to post updates on my blog so that folks who are interested can keep abreast of what's going on without me push notifying people through email. If you'd like to get emailed when there are new posts, it looks like you can sign up for a https://blogtrottr.com/ account and configure it to watch the feed for this blog which is https://cs.cementhorizon.com/feed/
Hey buddy. Thanks so much for the thoughtful update. I was thinking all day today about calling you tonight or this weekend to let you know… well, that I was thinking a lot about you. But you’ve tackled that quite well. I’ll make sure to sign up for updates and not pester an already uncomfortable situation. As you said “you know we are all thinking of you” 🙂 Stay positive buddy. Positivity is a healthy thing.
Wow Gene, this is shocking news for sure! I know that you have a lot of uncertainty and I can only tell you from my experience with people going though similar events that you should focus on the day and not too much on the future. Just take one day at a time. We want to help you if we can. Hugs and love
Aw crap! This is not the “Gene news” we wanted. We hope all your tests are negative and we can call you Vincent for many years.
Gene- praying for you, hoping for Best Case Scenario and your continued strength to handle all of this. Hugs to you and your beautiful family. (Lindy’s sis)
I am hoping for the best for you and your family. Having been through cancer scares and treatments for myself, friends and family I know how scary and difficult and sometimes overwhelming it can be. Just know you are surrounded by caring and loving family and friends.
Dear Gene, Deeply hoping for the best outcome for you, your ear lobe and family. Continue to hold you in my heart.
Bob and I are thinking of you and quite sure that you will pull through this. I know how hard this is.
We send you much love and we’re here for whatever you need and whenever you need it.
Terrible information delivered with a thoroughness and consideration that is somehow so Gene that it raises a sad smile.
Just following the story isn’t enough. You wrote that you know that your friends value and care for you but I have to say it out loud anyway: You’re a way above average human and we all choose Best Case.
As Eydie wrote, she and I are both concerned and will help in any way we can. You have our love and support.
Hey bud. I am a recent veteran of the “is this the end” thought process myself, having had a wee bit of butt cancer found in April and irradiated and poisoned in May and June. I will know in early September if that was successful or if there’s another round of hassle coming. I wish you the same kind of news I wish myself, and many more years of weirdness and geekery.
I concur with everything your friend Troy says above. I admire your style and practical approach to all of this, even the parts that are clearly abundantly emotional and painful that you shared. You are a redwood among saplings when it comes to that sort of perspective. I’m sure it doesn’t level the road for you, but I hope that perspective and this blog make it easier to walk this part of the journey.
And now, let’s focus on me! I’m grateful to be included in the news blast, because, yeah, this matters to me very much. YOU matter to me. You, Kris, and Velle are in my thoughts. In fact, let me bother your beloved with questions of what I can bake for you that will somehow ease my feelings of uselessness. Thank you in advance.