Metastatic melanoma: A wife reflects on husband's shocking diagnosis
My husband, Steve, was diagnosed with stage IV melanoma in January 2012 at age 34.
We have two daughters, ages 2 and 10. He had just started a job working from home and our life seemed to be going so smoothly.
I had had some minor health issues that prevented me from working and Steve's new job enabled me to stay home and focus on getting better.
One day in December 2011, Steve asked me to feel a strange lump on his neck. It was directly above his right clavicle and was swollen to about the size of an egg.
I immediately started scouring the Internet to see if I could figure out what was going on. After a few minutes, I determined it was a supraclavicular lymph node.
Everything I read about the right supraclavicular lymph node pointed to cancer or a very bad infection.
Steve had just gotten over a cold, so I was hoping it had something to do with that. After a few days, it had not gone down. At this point he began to get worried, too, so we decided to go to the ER.
They did blood work and a head/neck X-ray and said everything looked fine. They asked us to call our ear, nose and throat specialist if it didn't go away in a week.
After a week, the lymph node was still swollen. We made an appointment with our ENT who immediately referred us to a pathologist for a biopsy. The pathologist performed a fine needle aspiration on the lymph node and we waited about 10 days for the results.
The shocking results
Metastatic melanoma. What? How can Steve have cancer? How can he get rid of it?
We came home and started reading about melanoma online. What we read was shocking. We both cried.
The average life expectancy for a stage IV melanoma patient is 6-22 months. How can a seemingly healthy 34-year-old suddenly be dying? It just didn't make sense.
We had to gather ourselves and get prepared to fight this and beat this.
Our ENT referred us to a general oncologist, Dr. Amy Hassan, at MD Anderson Regional Cancer Center in the Bay Area. We had to wait about five days to get in for that appointment, but once we got in things started moving quickly.
Dr. Hassan sent Steve to MD Anderson's Texas Medical Center campus for an MRI, CAT scan and PET scan. We had the results back within a few days. In January 2012 we got the official diagnosis: stage IV metastatic melanoma.
The MRI was clear, the melanoma had spread to Steve's lymph node, adrenal gland and lower left lobe of his lung.
Dr. Hassan then referred us to one of the melanoma specialists at MD Anderson's main campus, Dr. Kevin Kim.
After meeting with Dr. Kim, we felt a little better about things.
He was very open and honest about what was going on, and didn't try to sugar coat things and make us think everything was going to be OK.
He was very informative when explaining Steve's treatment options. He let us know that he was going to do everything in his power to keep him alive, so he could see his daughters graduate and get married.
Dr. Kim wanted to start Steve on biochemotherapy as soon as possible. The following week, Steve was admitted to start his first round of treatment.