Gary Sweeney – 05/01/2013

Diagnosed  05/01/2013

I was looking forward to hopefully the final stop in a career marked with many changes in the healthcare imaging industry. When I went in for a routine check-up, little did I know that many of the diagnostic products I’ve sold and serviced over the past 30 years would come into play in such a dramatic way.

A small scalp mole that had been evident for approximately 5 years apparently had been changing and growing, as observed by my wife and daughter-in-law. In late May of this year, I was in the process of deciding to accept a new position with friends and former colleagues forming a new healthcare sales company and went to my GP for a routine check-up. He had monitored a mole for several years and, being convinced it as a mere “age-related” mole, just kept it under observation from time to time. While there, I asked him to remove the suspect mole. He once again stated that he didn’t see the need, so I practically had to beg him to remove the mole and send it to a pathologist under the guise of humoring the women in my family. This was on a Tuesday, and on Friday I received a call from my GP’s office asking me to call the doctor personally. After apologizing profusely, he told me he was “sorry to give me such bad news” and that I had melanoma, suspected by pathology at between Stage II and III. He suggested either he could arrange for a consultation with a surgeon or I could make the contact. Still in shock, I immediately contacted my daughter-in-law, who is a melanoma survivor herself.

I was put in the care of her own oncology physician/surgeon and received a wide excision of my scalp and sentinel node biopsy procedure. There was a 4×4 skin graft taken from my thigh to cover the hole in my scalp, and half a dozen lymph nodes taken from behind my ear and my neck and shoulder areas for pathology. Then I experienced over 2 weeks of prayer and processing of being a cancer patient awaiting the pathology results. I won’t get into the detail of some of the challenges of healing from the surgery, as they pale in comparison to what could have happened had I waited just a bit longer. You see, I am fortunate in that there was no lymphatic spread of the melanoma evident in the pathology. I was put in the care of what I consider the finest oncology group in my area and had an amazing support group of caring, loving family and friends. To this day I believe the surgery served as confirmation of answered prayer.

I now am trying not to harbor animosity to my GP for ignoring my “age mole,” but I am changing that part of my care cycle and vow to take charge of my own body and care by not ignoring the observations of my family and myself. The story here is that I am blessed that the melanoma was Stage IIC, but even that could have been avoided had I been more diligent in listening and seeing what my body was telling me. I plead with those that may read this to not simply rely on the opinion of one physician or healthcare professional and to take charge of their own health … the only one who can be hurt by inaction is you. Others will move on and get over it. By the way, I did take the new job with my friends and now am involved in women’s healthcare, specifically selling breast cancer diagnostic imaging products. Talk about irony, or …?