Cancer Should Not Have Shades of Grey


One of the many things I hate (YES, HATE…that strong word!) about this disease, is what my doctor mentioned earlier this week… “that grey area”. NO!  I can’t hear about grey areas when it comes to diagnosing melanoma. I find it unacceptable. I’m fine with it as a literary theme of sorts, pop lit and such…but NOT in the area of diagnostic purposes, related to cancer. I just have to say NO (like a 2 year old). And I do; I say NO, out loud, to my doctor (out of fear, out of frustration, and probably out of knowing I have no control over the fact that shades of grey do exist).

Here’s what I’m talking about…
Three different people, three different answers, regarding the diagnosis of a single mole.
1) About 4 weeks ago, I received a call from a nurse with the pathology results of a biopsy taken from my foot (a mole that was less than 12 hours old…in other words BRAND F*CKING NEW). The nurse said, “Oh, so that mole came back severely atypical. We are going to schedule you for further excision, just to make sure we get all of the cells. It’s not melanoma.”

My anxiety level after this call was moderate.  I was not happy about needing to go back for further excision, but I was relieved to hear it was not melanoma.

2) A few days after that call, I am being prepped for the excision. The doctor (not my regular dermatologist) marks the area. I’m a little shocked by the size of the ellipse shape he has just drawn with that purple, pre-surgery pen. I ask him if this is a wide excision (which I knew was, by the size of the marking). He says yes. I ask why. I want to know why we are treating it like a melanoma in situ, if it is not melanoma. He looks at the path report on his computer. He tells me this, “Based on what the pathologist saw, the scatter, the bundle structure, etc. we are doing a wide excision. But it’s not melanoma.”

My anxiety level at this point, on the table, after seeing the large marking and hearing that the pathologist saw features that were in need of a wide excision, was ramping up.  This now seemed like a different deal than what the nurse reported to me on the phone.

I'm ready.  Not too worried.

I’m ready. Not too worried.



Um.  WTF?

Um. WTF?




Ok.  A wide excision.  Done.

Ok. A wide excision. Done.


3) A few days ago, I went in to see my dermatologist, about yet another new finding (this one on my right collar bone), but I had questions for her about my foot.  So, while she is looking at my collar bone, I am firing off questions about my foot mole…. “How can a mole that is less than 12 hours old become severely atypical so fast?”  “Why was it treated with such a wide excision?” And on and on I go.  Once my stream of questions begins, she stops me with, “Let me bring up your pathology report.”   She reads the path report out loud (MISTAKE!).  I hear various disconcerting words, unnerving sentences, and can feel my heart in my throat.  Ya know that thumping that hurts a little bit in the Adam’s apple area?  Yea that. Ugh.  After she finishes her reading, she matter-of-factly says to me, “Yes, this mole had features of melanoma in situ.”  <insert the sound of screeching brakes>  Waaaaaaaaaaaait a minute.  Stop!  I had some strong words come out of my mouth in reaction to hearing this, and some further questions (of course).  But her response was this phrase, a phrase I can not sit with…”There is a grey area in diagnosing melanoma.”

Now my anxiety is through the roof. I’ve unleashed my “to infinity and beyond” anxiety mode.





I have no patience for this grey area.  It’s not OK with me.  It’s beyond unsettling.  It’s terrifying.  It takes my breath away.  It induces tantrums within me…. like a 2 year old.  Not mature at all…..I want yes or no, black or white.  I want certainty; I want definitive answers.  I have no use for ambiguity here.  Acceptance would be the answer to my problem at this juncture….but…..I’m not there yet.  Right now, I’m just not.  What I do know, however, is that I won’t remain stuck in this toddler state of mind forever…that change will occur over time…but for now, I’m letting myself have a mini-meltdown, riding it out, trusting this process.

I am NOT mature when it comes to the grey area, obviously.

I am NOT mature when it comes to the grey area, obviously.

I find comfort in the words of Gilda Radner, as she so brilliantly stated, “Some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle and end.  Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next.”


'Cancer Should Not Have Shades of Grey' have 9 comments

  1. November 20, 2014 @ 9:01 pm Susan Hines

    DANG! That is scary!


  2. November 20, 2014 @ 10:07 pm Debbie

    I’m sorry there is grey area. You are allowed to have your tantrums and meltdowns. You are such a fabulous writer. I felt that “feeling” in my adam’s apple while reading your blog. So proud of all you are doing to be such a Melanoma warrior. Thank you for all of the knowledge and experiences you share to help others.


  3. November 21, 2014 @ 2:14 am roberta

    thank you for sharing your very frightening experience and your candid reactions. It is brave of you and gives the rest of us courage to face our own uncertainties with honesty.
    May you heal and stay well.


  4. November 22, 2014 @ 1:54 pm Meryl

    God Damn, I’m sick of “it might be this, it might be that”. Sooo do I have an angiolipoma or neoplasm? Ultrasound, 2 consultations, 3 radiology reports and a CAT scan with contrast later, a sigh of relief but only after 3 months of not moving forward for fear of not existing long enough to enjoy that purchase, that concert, that “new” anything. Thank you for so brilliantly put into words what so many have faced and will face in our lives.


    • November 24, 2014 @ 2:11 pm Pamela

      so so true mom….i love you….xo
      T….scary….thank you for your openness…..your fears…..your courage…..


  5. November 24, 2014 @ 4:14 am Heidi H. Watson

    Well I just gotta say….fuck!
    I haven’t had a melanoma (yet?) but am constantly freaked out by all the shit (pre-cancers) they burn off me. I can’t imagine what you’re feeling.

    p.s. I love your honest writing. xoxo


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