I am a two-time cancer survivor. My latest bout was with malignant melanoma. I found out about my first cancer diagnosis on my birthday in 1984--it was cancer of the muscle, Desmoid Sarcoma, and it was also malignant. They removed my right-top quadriceps and I had radiation treatments twice a day for three months. After a lot of pain, and rehab (and being told by doctors that I would never play sports again, which, by the way, I still do!) I'm fine, and VERY lucky.
In 1999, I was standing on the 10th tee at Steeple Chase golf course with a friend of mine from California who just happened to be in town, I hadn't seen him in 7 years or so, and we haven't talked much since (he was supposed to be here). He noticed a little black dot by my nose, it looked like a freckle, but dark like a piece of chocolate. He asked if I had ever had it looked at, I told him no and asked why? he told me he had a friend with a similar-looking thing and I should definitely have it looked at; when I asked about his friend he told me she had passed away from malignant melanoma. I promptly stood on the tee and hit the ball about 100 yards straight right into the hazard. Having gone through the whole cancer thing once already, his statement really shook me up. Thinking I already had cancer once, I was sure lightning wouldn't strike twice, but after talking with my wife, I decided to go to a dermatologist and get checked out.
I went to see the doctor (I won't mention his name) and told him my story. He showed me some pictures of what melanoma looks like, looked at my face and said it was nothing. I told him that I had cancer before in LA and was concerned. He asked me what I did in LA, and when I told him I was an actor he said, and I quote, "oh, so it's a vanity thing." I said no, it was because a friend knew someone who had a similar looking mark on her face and she had died. "I'm a doctor and your friend is not, you believe whomever you want—your friend is wrong, that is not melanoma."
I was very, very upset. I went to my car, and after crying a bit, called my wife and told her what he had said. (She wanted to come over and rip his heart out.) You see with my first cancer I went through about 5 weeks of tests; doctors telling me it was nothing; then that it might be cancer, but its not so don't worry about it; and then they finally did a biopsy and came in and told me I had cancer. I was floored. Needless to say my opinion of doctors, their bed-side manner, and the whole medical profession took a severe hit. It was a joke!
We decided to get a second opinion, so I went to see Dr. Jeff Altman, a great guy and dermatologist. I told him about the other doctor and he apologized for the way I had been treated, but also agreed that it didn't look like melanoma and I had nothing to worry about. He said the only way to give me peace of mind and make 100% sure was to do a biopsy.
He put on his gloves and said, "Let's do it."
I said "Now?!"
He said "Yes. We'll take a biopsy, send it to pathology and then we'll know for sure. The dot will be gone, and the incision should hardly be noticeable."
(Not like I had a pretty face to begin with.)
He had me smile so the cut would follow my natural markings on my face, marked it with a marker, used this huge needle to numb the area (that really freaked me out), covered my eyes and took a little flank steak out of my face about the size of the tip of my pinky finger. He went straight down like a cookie cutter, it was the shape of an eye with a little circle where the dot used to be, he sewed me up, said I'll know something in about 5-7 days, and that he'd give me a call.
My wife and I were going to Vegas to celebrate, you guessed it, yet another B-day, the big 40. So we went, had a great time, saw our close friends, came home and the day after my birthday at 7:30 am the phone rang. It was Dr. Altman telling me that the biopsy had come back, that it was a 2nd stage melanoma, malignant and that they hadn't cleared the margins. I had to go back in immediately to have another surgery. They did the same procedure—only now the scar was starting to get a bit bigger. He did a wonderful job, it still looked like it was part of my face.
5 days later, another call: still didn't clear the margins. Now it was freaking me out; and we couldn't really do much after this surgery because we were running out of face. Dr. Altman told me if we didn't clear the margins this time we would need to go to Mayo clinic for mosh surgery. That would be like pulling my face off my skull and using a wood burning device to zap each individual cancer cell. We called Mayo just in case but hoped for the best with the third surgery. I had three flank steaks the size of my pinky tip taken out of my face. I have always been a very positive person, a "the-glass-is-always-half-full-not-half-empty" kind of guy. But I was getting very concerned about things, not only for myself but for my wife and parents. Those of you who have had cancer know how hard it is to see those around you worry and walk on egg shells when talking to you about things. The third biopsy came back, we had cleared the margins(!) and once again I had (knock on wood) been extremely lucky and survived something that many people had not.
Remember, the one thing I found to be true is that if a doctor tells you 30% of the people die, that means 70% live. The mind and body are powerful things and can go a long way to healing one's self if you maintain a positive attitude.
Yes, I am a 2-time cancer survivor and, depending on how you look at it, either very unlucky or lucky. I choose to believe the latter.
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