This is Part 1 of 4 of Coach Kristie Cranford’s cancer story.
Those of you who follow my blog have come to realize that with the exception of a race recap I start all posts with a word. I then define the word, and then give my own personal definition of the word. Today, the word does not have an “official” definition.
This is my cancer story. I have never shared the full story. Only bits and pieces because I have too many painful memories that I have chosen not to face. My apologies for the length, but I am ready to share my life with cancer with you. There are still some parts of the story that I may never share. It is too painful and personal.
Part 1. The diagnosis.
15 years ago today, September 18, 1997 I was diagnosed with cancer for what would be the first time of many to come. So many times that the dates blur, but this date I remember vividly. I even remember that it was a Thursday. The irony of that day is that it also happens to be the birthday of another cancer survivor. Maybe you have heard of him? The day I was diagnosed with melanoma, I was in my 20’s. My worst health fear in my 20’s was trying to avoid getting the flu. Never in my wildest nightmares did I ever think I would hear “you have cancer”.
I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s where being tan was beautiful. My sisters were lifeguards. They were popular for their tans. I am the fair skinned one of the three of us. I could never tan. I would use baby oil, a foil beach towel. I tried everything I could to get a tan. Then in the late 80’s & 90’s tanning beds came around and I was a frequent user. Couple this with family history and I was a shoe in. I had no clue. Not until that day.
I have had 10 total melanomas removed since that day. The worst and most advanced ones were in the beginning. To my surprise I had melanoma in places (pardon the phrase) where the sun didn’t shine. That was an eye opener. My most recent was on my stomach in August 2 years ago.
Melanoma is deadly, but survivable if caught early. I have been fortunate to have caught all of mine early enough where my treatment ended with the surgical removal or excision of the melanoma. I’ll touch more on this later in Part 2.
When you are told you have cancer, no matter your age, no matter who you are, you are scared. You are faced with thoughts you are not prepared to deal with. With each person it is different based upon life situation, but everyone is scared. I drove close to 30 miles to tell my husband. I needed a hug, comfort, someone to confirm my life mattered. I was met with “it’s not even real cancer, don’t be so dramatic”. My world came crashing in on me. I was faced with way too much reality that day. Way too much.
I went home and wanted to run away, from everything. I wanted to talk to someone, but after what had happened I internalized everything. I put on some old cross training shoes and took off out the door and ran. I don’t know how far I went but I remember stopping in the middle of the street and falling into a ball, crying.
I had surgery to remove an area the size of a small nerf football from my back. My doctors were concerned that due to the size and not knowing how long it was there, it may have spread. They prepared me for the worst. Imagine being in your 20’s and having a doctor tell you that there is a possibility you may need to consider “getting things in order”. The fact is, you can’t imagine.
Fast forward a couple years, I was divorced, my life had fallen apart and I was slowly picking up the pieces. I was still going to the doctor every 3 months to monitor all my moles, freckles and previous surgical sites. To say I had been carved up like a turkey is an understatement. I was collecting scars like some people collect airport magnets.
I can’t remember if I found the lump in my breast first, or if it was the mammogram? Like I said, after so many melanomas things began to blur. I just remember the doctor saying we need to do a needle biopsy while you are here. Then the conversation took place of the possibility melanoma may have metastasized but pray for this to be isolated. My mother had a tough battle with breast cancer when I was in my early teens. Those images flooded through my head. Her history was why I was able to get mammograms at such an early age.
The tests were puzzling to the doctors. To some, it was precancerous, to others, early stage 1 breast cancer. The final decision was it was very early stage 1. Bottom line, the lump had to go. After further testing, I received good news. It was a completely separate cancer and not melanoma that had spread.
Then during my annual Pap smear my doctor gave me “the look”. I had learned to recognize this look from all of my doctors. I was lying on the exam table and just laughed. I remember saying “you have GOT to be kidding me? She shook her head and pulled out a gadget and a next thing I know another piece of me was sent off for a biopsy.
I now had a cancer hat trick. Melanoma, Breast, and now cervical cancer was joining the party.
I went through a very painful treatment process. I went for weekly cryo (freezing) treatments. Also more tests to make sure this too was not melanoma or breast cancer that had metastasized. My doctors were amazed. Seemed I had the cancer gene, but also, the cancer fighting gene. Then they had the talk with me that the chances of me having a child were not good due to the damage to my cervix. That was the second run where I crumbled in the street crying.