It’s finally been decided. On November 28th, I’m to have a second round of surgery on my right calf where I had a melanoma – thankfully very early stage – removed a couple of months ago.
This second procedure will involve cutting out a chunk of healthy skin and tissue from around the site of the original melanoma and, unfortunately, a skin graft and being left with a shark bite-like scar on my leg. Nice.
So much for hoping I’d get away with essentially being diagnosed and treated on the same day (see previous posts). Bish, bash, bosh? Wishful thinking indeed on my part.
The melanoma was completely removed in the original excision. That’s the main thing. However, they didn’t quite get the full 1cm of healthy tissue around the cancer – “the clear margin” – that the treatment guidelines recommend. In case there are skin cancer cells lurking there that are too small to be seen by a microscope, they take a margin of – seemingly – healthy tissue to reduce as much as possible the risk of the melanoma coming back or spreading. Having been treated previously for breast cancer, I know how much that matters.
I’ll have the surgery under general anaesthetic, as an outpatient.
As for the skin graft, well this time round there won’t be enough skin to pull together and close with stitches. The plastic surgeon will take a layer of skin from my inner thigh with a device that looks a bit like a very sharp potato peeler, place the donor skin over the new wound, stitch it in place then bandage it all up. Apparently after the op the donor site can hurt more than the skin graft site.
I’ve to “take it very easy” for the first few weeks after the procedure to give the graft the best chance of “taking”. You don’t even want to think about what happens if it fails.
The bandages are removed a week later and the stitches a week after that.
So, two or three weeks of as much rest as possible and my leg raised while resting, followed by three months (at least I think that’s what the surgeon said) of wearing a compression stocking on the affected leg.
That means yet another extended period of enforced lack of exercise. You’d think I’d be getting used to it by now, but I’m really not. I’m shelving any plans I had to better my current personal best in the 5k Parkrun I’d got used to doing every Saturday morning in my local park. When the time comes, I’ll just be grateful to be running again. Tennis and cycling will also be off the radar for a good while. At this rate, I’ll consider myself lucky if I get to go skiing on the skiing holiday I’ve booked at the end of January.
I know I’ve really got no choice, but it does all seem rather drastic for something that I keep being told is “purely precautionary” and over which there’s apparently no rush to do.
That said, I know from previous experience that you don’t mess with cancer. I’m not going to be the one who says “let’s not bother and just hope for the best”.
I know the key things by far are that the melanoma was very early stage (1a) and that it was completely excised first time round. Even so, I think I’m entitled to a bit of a moan.
The week before I have this second procedure, I have my three-month follow-up with the consultant dermatologist who diagnosed me initially. Also, I’ll have to postpone by at least a week the annual mammogram and ultrasound that I have because of my earlier breast cancer. The appointment’s been in the diary for early December for six months now. I’ll still be resting at that time and trying to keep any walking to an absolute minimum.
It all feels too weird. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d be postponing follow-up tests relating to one cancer because I was having treatment relating to another.
Friends aiming to sympathise say it doesn’t seem fair. We all know life doesn’t work like that. But you know what? I tend to agree with them. I’ve a lot to be grateful for – not least the fact I’m writing this while on an incredible two-week holiday in Cambodia – but, as I’ve said before, you don’t always have to be grateful it’s not worse.