What does it feel like having stage 4 cancer?
People are curious and even scared, maybe that’s why I hear this question so much.
Three years ago, doctors removed a purple mole from my wrist, taking muscle and a little bone too. But many times stage 2B melanoma returns within five years—and that’s what happened to me two years later.
I first had an odd pain that shot from my lower back down my right leg; the doctors thought it was sciatic-related. But from June-October of 2020 I began losing the use of my leg and could only fall asleep in the bathtub, surrounded by scalding water. It also felt as if a massive festering wound stretched across my back—in need of a vat of Neosporin.
After surgeons discovered that tumors had begun growing inside of my bones, and changing the basic flexibility of my spine, they decided to remove an entire vertebrae and fuse my L1-5. A new pain started then, when I walked, rolled over, and stood for too long.
Then the infusions (immunotherapy) started. This, coupled with the cancer, has caused flulike symptoms, aches, fatigue, and fogginess. This starts for me around 2-3 p.m. with some regularity, but can begin earlier when I’ve physical exerted myself too much.
The liver failure, from the immunotherapy caused diarrhea and vomiting so extreme that I began throwing up an alarming amount of blood. (I’m on blood thinners because of blood clots I got during two surgeries—probably why I needed a blood transfusion in 2020 and why it’s easy to throw up blood.)
All of this came to mind because I got the second COVID shot yesterday. My oncologist hadn’t been overly eager for me to get it since I’m “already going through so much.” I’ve had a fever on and off all day, but what’s intriguing is how much these vaccination side effects feel like cancer! I’m talking about the chills, flulike symptoms (or rigors as a NP at Huntsman says), nausea, aches, and fatigue.
This isn’t political, but for me, I’m grateful to have gotten vaccinated. My oncologist’s nurse told me today, “That’s why we’ve wanted you to stay home. An exposure to COVID could have been fatal.”
I blinked hard, so shocked with the reality. An hour ago I still had a low-grade fever, but I honestly felt compelled to ask Mike to help me write this post. I feel so bad for anyone who’s had COVID. I’m hoping I’ll be feeling my “regular” cancer stuff tomorrow. It’s astounding what we can get used to living with; I guess that’s what I’ve done. This new baseline required some adjustments, but this fever makes me grateful for the “normal” moments.
Cancer isn’t something to be scared of—people simply find the strength to carry on. But it is something to be proactive about. I wish I would’ve had that mole removed when my mom first told me to. My life would be completely different right now if I had.