“The smell of hospitals in winter…”
December 11, 2019 – Surgery to remove malignant melanoma on my right shoulder and to remove and biopsy a lymph node under my right arm was set for first thing in the morning at MCV. I’d been diagnosed with melanoma (again) in October just after Ironman Louisville, and it’d been hanging over me for 6 weeks. Before the surgery took place, they had to locate my lymph nodes, which meant an injection of radioactive dye. That process took about a hour, and then we were sent down to the surgical waiting room.
Eventually I was taken into pre-op, where I was told that my surgery wasn’t scheduled until 1:30 p.m. – contrary to what I’d been told before. It was about 10:00 a.m. at that point, so there was going to be a long wait – particularly since I couldn’t eat or drink anything. It seemed like dozens of doctors and nurses came to see me in pre-op. I finally saw my surgeon after what seemed like forever, who told me that it would be best if we did the surgery under general anesthesia. He’d previously told me that a local was possible, but strongly urged putting me under. I was shot up with “happy juice,” said goodbye to Leigh Anne, and was then wheeled back into the OR.
Upon arriving in the OR, my first thought was, “wow there’s a lot of people in here, this has got to be really expensive.” On went the anesthesia mask, but I was told that it was just oxygen for the moment. After a few minutes they said that the anesthesia was starting, and the next thing I knew, I was poking fun at a nurse in recovery since she was wearing Patriots scrubs. Recovery lasted a couple of hours, and then Leigh Anne was cleared to drive me home. The hospital had put nursing home style grippy socks on my feet, and I recall arguing with Leigh Anne that we had to take the socks home with us since they probably charged $50 for them. At least I had my priorities in order.
The pain at my incision sites wasn’t terrible, but I had a weird pulling sensation in my right arm from my armpit to my elbow for several weeks – presumably due to the lymph node removal. Obviously, I couldn’t work out at all, which drove me half insane. All I could do was mope around in my $50 socks. Thankfully, my friends Kim and Trish brought me get well gifts that were spot on for what I needed.
More than a week passed, and I was still awaiting the biopsy results on my lymph node. If the melanoma had spread to my bloodstream, it wouldn’t be good. If it was clean though, I was in the clear. I tried to stay positive, but I’m a worry-wort by nature, so that was tough.
On Christmas Eve, Leigh Anne had planned the “12K of Christmas” with some of her running buddies, and I decided to try to run since I couldn’t take sitting still any longer. I hadn’t done much for two weeks, so I had no idea how it would go. Other than feeling a bit heavy on my feet, the run went pretty well and I was thrilled just to be doing something physical again. There was still some tightness in my right arm, but nothing too bad.
Later that day we had plans to go to my parents’ house for a Christmas Eve get together, and we had to stop at CVS for some reason. Leigh Anne went inside and I stayed in the car with the kids. My phone began to ring, and I recognized the number as coming from MCV – presumably my oncologist. I figured he had my biopsy results, so I answered the phone and pretty much held my breath. After some initial pleasantries, he finally told me that my lymph node biopsy was clean and that the melanoma hadn’t spread. I exhaled fully for the first time in over two months. There was still recovery to be had for sure, but things were looking up for 2020.