I'll try to keep this as brief as possible, but brevity has never been my strength. I was diagnosed with state 3c malignant melanoma (on my head and in one of my cervical lymph nodes) back in April and had surgery in May. I have been getting Nivolumab infusions every four weeks (I am scheduled for a total of 12) and have my 7th coming up on 12/16/19. I also have a second surgery on 12/6/19, as one of my more superifical lymph nodes near the original surgical incision swelled up in October and my oncologist thought it would be best to remove it all for a biopsy.
I was only 34 when diagnosed (turned 35 exactly two months after my surgery) and the old saying "you learn who your real friends are" has never resonated with me more. Don't get me wrong, I have a few close friends who have been wonderful throughout this all, some of whom I haven't even known very long (maybe a year or two), but even some of my family members have been less supportive than I thought they would be. I'm no saint, but if someone in my life was going through what I am, I would be there for them. I'm very loyal to people I love, probably because I'm quite introverted and only love a few people on this earth. I understand some people don't know what to say, or feel uncomfortable around people with cancer because it makes them think about their own mortality, but man does it hurt. I've had a lot of people say really insensitve and ignorant things to me too, which I have seen in many cancer forums seems to be a trend.
I know I should have grace with people, but it gets harder and harder. I feel like I don't have the patience to care about superficial nonsense, which seems to be the only things other people care about these days, especially with the pervasiveness of social media in our lives and the general lack of depth in our society. It's all about having fun, feeling good, and making one's life look as wonderful as possible. I call it Keeping Up With the Joneses 2.0. But I just don't have it in me to deal with it anymore. I'm facing some serious stuff and have to think about how my life will be forever changed by this disease. That I'll always be worried about my health even though before this, I considered myself to be a very healthy individual. I haven't been perfect in my life, but since my mid-20s, I've been an avid gym goer, I don't drink much, and I don't smoke cigarettes (although I stupidily used to when I was in my late teens/early 20s and occasionally in my 20s). I also was never a regular sun bather, have always been pretty good about wearing sunblock (I wear it every day) and have never stepped foot in a tanning salon. I tested positive for the BRAF mutation and my dermatologist even said I have virtually no sun damage on my body and that the genetic component to my cancer is very strong. That actually scared me even more because I realized that even if I do everything "right," this disease can still come back and probably will considering my advanced stage.
I should say that aside from my cancer diagnosis, the past year and a half has been particularly hard. My seven-year-long relationship ended in June, 2018 and I still live with my ex because I can't find full-time work (partially due to my cancer treatment and partially due to the poor economy and lack of opportunities in my city), but even if I did find a job where I could support myself, I would lose my Medi-Cal benefits which are paying for all of my treatments. As many job seekers know, most jobs these days have crap benefits, if any, and I can't risk losing my current ones just so I can make a little more money, which would be futile anyway because all of my money would be going toward my treatments. Nobody seems to understand this and I feel like both my ex and other people in my life think I'm just being lazy. In addition to my relationship ending and my uncomfortable living situation, I was passed over for a full-time position at the community college where I've worked on and off for 5 1/2 years (consistently for the past 3 years) right after I broke up with my ex in the summer of 2018. I was told that I was well qualified and that my interviews were excellent, but that it was just "really competitive." They hired a girl who had quit working there over four years ago who decided to move back to town. I missed out on great benefits that probably would have covered my treatments, a $55,000 annual salary (right now I make less than $16,500, which is the income limit to be coverd under Medi-Cal) and a pension. And I have to see this person every day of my life while I continue to struggle emotionally and physically and she has gotten married (two days before my surgery actually) and is currently pregnant. I also had an awful rebound relationship right after my long-term ex and I broke up, which was extremely stupid on my part. He really affected my self esteem and I'm ashamed I let someone do that. He dumped me two days before Christmas last year, although in hindsight, I'm glad he did because I can't imagine having someone like that in my life during my cancer diagnosis and treatment. I have also had a lot of relationships deteriorate, including my relationship with my aunt who is my only family member in town. I just feel so alienated from everyone. Some people haven't contacted me in months. Some just say insensitve things that I can't seem to get past. They don't understand and the more they try to "help" by saying stupid things like, "well at least you have a good kind of cancer. It could be worse, you could have pancreatic cancer," or "well, you did spend a lot of time outside," (which isn't true at all) or "you're going to beat this," the more I pull away. And the more I pull away, the more isolated I become. I know it's a vicious cycle that I'm perpetuating, but I just don't know what to do anymore. I'm looking for a therapist, but the list is long and I have a lot of research to do.
Thanksgiving was hard this year. I hadn't been in a "party" situation since everything happened and I realized quickly as everyone arrived at my friend's house that I wasn't up for it. I actually ended up leaving without saying goodbye, which I realize is rude to a lot of people, but it was either that or bursting out sobbing in front of 15 people, some of whom I had never met. My ex came with me because he has no family or many friends in California, plus we're still close friends. Listening to people talking about their great jobs and how happy they are, couples having babies and everyone fawning over the pregnant woman, and just being around happy, married couples while I sat across from the person who wasted seven years of my life and who never wanted to progress with me was excruciating. Not to mention that people were picking on me constantly that day. One person even joked about my cancer when I told him to stop smoking around me. He said, "well you already have cancer so what does it matter!" Another one joked about how he didn't believe I made what I brought over because it was so good (but not in a complimentary way. He was insulting me, as in "there's no way YOU made this"). I realize I'm a little more sensitive right now, but I felt these comments were beyond inappropriate. I don't even know these people THAT well. All of the superficial conversation seemed cacophonous at one point and I hid in the bathroom trying to stave off an anxiety attack and fought back tears. I managed to eat, but left shortly after because I just couldn't take it anymore. I cried all the way home and went to bed at 7:30pm.
I feel like a lot of stories I found at first on the Internet about cancer survivors were told by people who found some enlightenment in their experiences. That they have a new lease on life. They feel stronger and more in tune with what's important. I'm sorry, but I just don't find cancer enlightening at all. I feel scared, alone, and less confident in myself as a healthy person. I have managed to get back to the gym and am in pretty good shape considering everything, but even that isn't completely mitigating my feelings of despair and loneliness. I feel myself losing my patience with people more and more. I also feel like other people who have had cancer won't take me seriously because I don't seem "sick enough." I have a nice full head of hair (except for the huge scar from my surgery that I can luckily hide and a small scar on my neck), am relatively attractive, and I have been tolerating the Nivolumab infusions pretty well aside from some minor side effects. Of course I'm grateful for those things, but I definitely think people don't take my situation as seriously because them.
Thanks to anyone who had the patience to make it through this rambling post. I appreciate your time and wish you the best in your own journey fighting this insidious disease.