I grew up knowing that my dad had skin cancer in his early twenties and so I knew it was a chance for me. Cancer “runs in the family” on both sides. There has been lung cancer, ovarian cancer, uterine cancer, breast cancer, skin cancer and a couple of others that run in the family as well (as far as I know and some I have guessed on). I wanted to get checked for skin cancer in my twenties and thought that it wouldn’t happen to me. I had finished with 9 surgeries because of my car accident and was learning to function with how my body was and was just coming to terms with how I was feeling.
I went into the dermatologist just wanting to have a go-over and for him to say “you’re good to go!” That was not how it went, he looked at a couple of spots and then informed me that he was going to take 4 spots for biopsy and I would hear back in a couple of days. I don’t remember the exact date that I got the call, but I was told that they had found precancerous spots that needed to be removed before they turned cancerous. I had to go back in on August 30, 2012 to have two of the spots completely removed.
The day I went in, I thought that it would just be simple and quick to get the rest of the cells. When the dermatologist removed the spot on my head, it was weird and horrible to hear through my skull the cutting and stitching. What they don’t tell you when they are making a cut on your scalp that even if it is numb, you will hear the hairs being cut. Not heard through your ears, but through the bone conduction in your skull. The surgery for removing the spot from my head was as long as I expected it to be, but the surgery on my right breast took longer than I had thought it should have taken.
My doctor was great at not showing when he noticed something going on when he was removing that spot of precancerous skin cancer. They had to do 3 layers of stitches to close that one up and I remember the nurse commenting that it was deeper than she had thought it would be and the doctor just stayed quiet. I had thought nothing of it at first and was just glad when it was done and I got to go home to rest and recover.
Getting The Phone Call
A few days later I got the call that they were successful in getting all of the cancer out and that they were able to get the breast cancer completely as well. My heart stopped with that phone call, I was told it was precancerous and that it was just skin cancer. I asked for clarification because I assumed that I had heard wrong with what the nurse had said on the phone. She clarified that between when they biopsied and when they did the surgery to remove both spots it had gone from precancerous to cancerous and was still changing when they removed the spots.
She also explained that when the doctor was removing the skin cancer spot on my right breast, that as he got to the bottom of it he came across the top of something which turned out to be a lump. He went ahead and removed the whole lump as well and had to stitch it up. They had to do 3 layers of deep stitching and then the final top layer of stitches. The nurse said that lump was sent in and was determined to be breast cancer.
Around the time I had gotten the call I was about to call in because my incision on my breast was getting inflamed and hurting worse and I was trying to make an appointment to get in to see the doctor about that. I was able to get in and was worried about the incision spot and that I had some hair fall out near that incision on my scalp as well. The doctor took a swab of the spot and ended up having to cut all the layers of stitches out (what was left of it) because the infection was just eating them away.
They had found that it was staph and the doctor didn’t dare stitch it up again. I had to pack it to let it heal from the inside out. That was the most painful experience I ever had to inflict upon myself since the bandage had to be changed out daily. My spot on my head healed fairly quickly and I have a permanent bald spot the size of my thumbprint somewhat hidden by my hair.
My spot on my breast was slowly healing and seemed to be taking forever. Every time it was close to being completely healed, it would open up again and I would have to start over on packing it until it would almost close up. From August 30th to February I went through this almost completely healed to having to take care of it. I finally had another appointment with my doctor for another follow up (during the time between August and February I had about 6 appointments for follow up) I had mentioned that it kept doing this back and forth.
The doctor stated that it could be one of two things, one was that the infection turned to gangrene or that cancer had come back. The quickest way to find out was that he had prescribed a topical ointment with steroids and antibiotics in it, I had to change the dressing to my wound 3 times a day with this ointment and be back in a week for a follow-up.
If the wound did not improve enough then it would be cancer and he stated that it would be assumed to be breast cancer. I was told that if it was cancer that they would have to remove the breast (mastectomy surgery) and I needed to decide if I wanted only that one gone or to have a double mastectomy. I went home and took care of my wound, but was afraid of looking at it too much and freak out if it was healing enough or not.
A week later I went back into the doctor and he looked at my wound and changed the dressing, not saying much as he was looking at it and re-packing it for me. He stated that it has healed enough to know it is not cancer and just a gangrene infection. I was so relieved but apprehensive at the same time when he told me this information. It had taken another 3 full months for it to finally heal and stay closed.
I had a few more follow up appointments to check on the progress and then at my 1 year anniversary of being cancer free he told me that I “graduated” to appointments being only twice a year instead of every two months. I was so overjoyed that there was no cancer that had shown up in that year. After my 2 year anniversary I “graduated” to only needing to go in once a year. I am approaching my 6 year anniversary with excitement that I made it past the 5-year mark.
After 5 years of being cancer free, your chances of getting cancer back goes down significantly and is a truly celebrated mark to get to in the cancer world. I honestly never thought that I would make it to the 5-year mark cancer free, but I did it! My story is not like the typical stories that you hear a lot about and I am grateful that I did not need to do the chemotherapy or radiation treatments on top of the surgeries. I am even more grateful that I got to have my children and that I am around to see them grow up. I will never forget my cancer scare and how it changed me forever.
About The Author
Katie McCabe is a wife and mother of two beautiful girls. She has rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, and lupus, along with a few other disabilities. She works full time at a school district in the city where she lives and will be going back to school to get her Masters. She has a service dog that helps her with being independent and able to function day to day. Follow Katie on Instagram