Survivor Stories

Ruth Oviatt

For about a year, I had noticed that a mole on my back had been acting weird. I had always heard about skin cancer, but I never really thought too much about my mole. I decided to mention the mole to my doctor. She and another doctor decided to remove the mole right away and send it in for tests. I still didn’t think too much about it.

I’ll never forget that particular day. I realized that I had missed a call from the doctor’s office, and I also had a voicemail. I called my dad to see how I could get in touch with my doctor. Since I did not answer the doctor’s call, she had called my dad with the results. She told him that my mole was in fact Melanoma.

My next step was to have a wide excision around the initial area of Melanoma to see if Melanoma was also located in the skin around the mole. During that surgery, I would also have a Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy to see if the Melanoma had spread to my lymph nodes. The doctor who performed this surgery told me that they would run quick tests in the hospital on the sentinel lymph nodes that they removed to see if they could see Melanoma in any of them. He informed me that this test is not always accurate, but they still do it. They would also send the sentinel lymph nodes off for more accurate tests, and these would take about a week to get the results back.

The quick test showed that there was no Melanoma present in my sentinel lymph nodes. Everyone was very excited to hear this. I was very nauseous for about 3 days after surgery, and I was also sore. My Dad was my care-taker, and he always has been. Because of my nausea, I did not want to eat much of anything. This caused me to become very weak and even pass out a few times. My Dad helped me with the dirty work like changing my bandages. I stayed positive because I thought that surgery would be the end of my battle.

When my Dad got home from work on the 7th day since surgery, I just casually asked him if the doctors had called him. When I asked him, I could tell that something was wrong. He sat down with a concerned look on his face. My sentinel lymph nodes actually did have Melanoma in them, which meant that it had spread. Because it had spread, I would have to have another surgery and undergo chemotherapy.

I had many doctor appointments following this news. We had more than one opinion, but they were all the same. Since Melanoma was present in my sentinel lymph nodes under both arms, I would have to have all of my lymph nodes under both arms removed. The same doctor who did my first surgery also did my second. It took about 3 hours, and a few more to recover before being moved to my hospital room. After 3 days in the hospital, I was able to go back home.

My recovery was emotionally and physically hard. I remember waking up in the middle of the night after a whole week feeling the same as I did the first night I got home. My pain medication made me sick, and my improvements seemed very slow. I had tubes/drains and incisions under both arms. They had to cut through muscles and tissue to retrieve all of my lymph nodes. This left me very sore. During my recovery, my dad and doctor got in touch with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. I was referred there by my doctor, and I was accepted. After almost three weeks of recovery, still very sore, I headed to Memphis. Over the next five days, I met many people and had many scans/tests completed. Luckily, my PET scan did not show Melanoma in any other organs. I was also informed of the type of chemotherapy I would go through. I would be spending the next 5 weeks in Memphis for treatment.

My induction period consisted of chemo through my port 5 days a week. This was rough for me both physically and mentally. I have nothing but great things to say about St Jude Children’s Research hospital, the nurses, Ronald McDonald House of Memphis, and the people who work there. I met so many sweet people whom I will never forget.

After 4 weeks of high dose chemo, I was able to go home. I would have to give myself a shot of chemo once a week for 48 weeks (standard treatment is 3 times per week, but I am part of a clinical trial). I made my first trip back to Memphis in August. Hair loss was minimal at first, but I began losing patches of hair around September. I have 3.5 months left. I am a strong believer that everything happens for a reason. I have accepted my diagnosis because I have faith in God, and I know and trust that he has his own special plan for me. I appreciate prayers above all else. I cannot even begin to describe how thankful I am of those who have been there for me through this tough battle.