I was sitting in the occupational health office of the hospital, waiting for my physical. Many hospitals require their own physical to ‘verify’ that a health professional is capable of doing their job. The University of Florida was no exception.
I had already accepted the job offer, so to me, this was just a formality. At 31 years old, I was the model of health.
Or so I thought.
A call from a local area code came in to my cell. Thinking it was something about my new job, I answered. On the line was the dermatologist’s Physician’s Assistant. She had that serious tone that medical people have in TV shows.
“Is now a good time?” she asked. I knew something wasn’t right. They had taken a biopsy of a mole the week before. But it was just a mole…what in the world could she want to talk to me about?
“Yeah, now’s fine. What’s going on?”
“Your biopsy came back as melanoma. We didn’t get clean margins and so we are going to have to perform another procedure.”
My mind instantly froze. Melanoma. This wasn’t good news. I already had a mini-crater where they had taken the mole – did they really not get it all?
As she explained the next steps to me, I realized that this would involve surgery. Not a procedure in an office. Like, for real surgery with anesthesia and removing lymph nodes and a couple weeks of recovery.
After I got off the phone with the PA, I sat there staring at the floor. Cancer? Really? I looked like the picture of health – young and fit with a great new job and the whole world ahead of me.
I went through the physical like a zombie. I answered all the questions and passed with flying colors. According to the exam, I was fit as a fiddle.
But I knew I wasn’t healthy. I knew it was all a façade. My body was hiding a dangerous secret that no one could see from the outside.
The news kept going from bad to worse. The surgery found that my melanoma had a distinct mutation that was particularly aggressive and my lymph nodes were positive. I was stage 3B melanoma.
The cancer had already started to spread, and I was the host.
My previous year had been filled with soul-crushing stress. I had worked my way up the ladder, but at a huge expense to my wellbeing. Twelve to sixteen-hour days were normal, with calls at all hours of the night. I ate out of vending machines. My only exercise was desperately running to catch the train because I had overslept yet again.
My husband begged me to quit. “This job is killing you,” he would tell me as he helped my exhausted body to bed. Deep down, I knew he was right.
I just didn’t know HOW right. When I changed jobs, I expected all the worry and stress to melt away. Everything was all planned out – the move, the career path, the future house and family.
My body, however, had a different plan that I just couldn’t ignore. I needed to fight for my life. I finally had my wake-up call.
So I did the opposite of what any career-driven young woman would do with such a diagnosis – I quit my career.
No, it wasn’t easy. Neither was the treatment. But I KNEW that if I could focus all of my attention on wellness as much as I had focused on my career, I would survive. I incorporated yoga, meditation, a new diet, and acupuncture along with immunotherapy to help me fight for my wellness.
Now, after 2 years of clear scans, I take my wellness journey with me at all times. I don’t want another wake-up call to force me to balance my life.
I’m lucky enough to survive the first one.