Kristen’s story

It won’t happen to me.

How many times have you said that? How many times have you heard that?

We’re not invincible; too often we think we are! So my advice is; know yourself and trust your gut feeling. Listen to your body and for crying out loud if something isn’t right get it checked.

As I sit down to write this, my body is already going into fight mode. I am clammy, scared, and have a stomach full of knots. Why? Because my story is real! I was diagnosed with a malignant melanoma about eight years ago; I am so honoured and overwhelmed to be an ambassador for the Australian Melanoma Research Foundation, I hope that by telling my story I can help grow the awareness around melanoma.

I am a happy go lucky, smile on my dial, always looking at the bright side of life kinda kid. In 2006 at the age of 22 I was diagnosed with a malignant melanoma. What does that mean? Cancer. A word that petrifies me to say; I have sadly lost family and friends to cancer, so I feel like an imposter even saying the word because my story has a sensational out come. BUT my story has a very serious lesson; one that right now (typing this) has brought me to tears.

For me it’s those fearful two words…What if?

What if; I did nothing? What if; I pretended that is was ok? What if; I never researched skin cancer? What if; I had waited? These questions haunt me. But they also ground me, they make me want to shake people that say, ‘I am scared.’ I don’t want to know the truth, What if; it is bad? Bad news can still mean you may catch it in time. And I did.

My Melanoma had spread wide, not too deep so at 0.71mm deep I apparently had the ‘better kind.’

So here I am, 22 years old. Blonde hair, blue eyes, never really been one to sun bake. My parents always looked after us in the sun. I was the girl at Schoolies (along with my best mate), to sit on the beach with our sombreros, sunnies, sunscreen and long tops. While others basked in the sun, we walked home to sit inside and chill out! Yep I was the ‘sunsmart’ kid, ask any of my mates!

Only old photos tell the story now but throughout my life I always had a freckle/mole on my left temple. Now that I look back, when I was younger it was small and light brown, nothing to be ‘worried about.’ As I got older, the mole on my temple grew and it got darker and darker. Now I look back, there were signs, small ones but they were there. The fact that the mole was on my face meant I saw it everyday, it was ‘normal,’ it was kind of my trademark. Sometimes I hated it, because it was there and people would look at it but I got use to it, hell… I ‘owned it.’

One day something changed, mainly in my gut feeling. That churning sick feeling, I knew something was wrong. However, like many people I ignored it for months, I didn’t tell anyone. I was scared shitless it was bad news…but surely not a melanoma? I talked myself out of it…It wont happen to me is exactly what I said….

One day I did mentioned to someone that I was concerned and that day it became real to me…I was worried and this was a real feeling. My mole has changed, it was big and dark…it started to get a little itchy and flaky. I will never forget telling Mum that I thought something was wrong, she was incredibly prompt in calling the doctor and we had it checked.

The doctor was concerned but not overly worried. So again I told my self I was ok and we booked a specialist appointment for a month later. However, that night I remember feeling sick within every fibre of my body, something was wrong with me and I wasn’t ok. So in a hysterical state of tears I asked Mum and Dad to get me an appointment with a specialist I wanted it to happen the very next day.

With a family like mine, the phones lines went crazy, my cousin’s friend could get me in to a dermatologist, which we did. The next afternoon I had an appointment with Dr Sidhu. So I sat at work all day, feeling sick with worry. Then, I sat for what felt like hours in the Dr’s office with Mum by my side. I knew it was bad news. My whole body knew! We are incredible beings and we should listen to the signs more often.

Dr Sidhu took a very close look and in a very clam tone said she would like to take a biopsy straight away.

What does that even mean?

‘Well we need to take a deep tissue sample of the mole, it is very dark and I do have some concerns. I won’t know until we send it to the lab but I do think we need to do the biopsy straight away.’

So in what I can only describe as panic and shear fear of the unknown, she injected the area to numb it and took the biopsy. Then the worst part started….we waited! For two days we waited. I had no idea if it was going to be a phone call to tell me it was a nasty mole and we should remove in case or that it was a malignant melanoma. So when the phone finally rang and we were asked to come and see Dr Sidhu, I figured it was not good news.

And it wasn’t. The melanoma was cancerous and needed to be removed asap. A lot was said in that meeting but all I remember was, we need to cut it out and make sure it hasn’t spread through your body! Sorry…WTF, I am 22 I don’t have Cancer. I can’t have cancer. In the same appointment, the plastic surgeon was called at the Waymouth Street Hospital and booked in for surgery that afternoon.

I was taken for a full body MRI scan to check it had not spread to my lymph nodes and as Dad and I sat making small talk in the waiting room that day all I could think was…I have to be ok. I have to…this is not an option for me. I have shit to do in life; this is just a bump in the road it’s got to be! What ever the news is…I will fight the crap out of it.

So from there we went to the hospital…lying on the bed 100% conscious the surgeon talked me through what was going to happen. I was going to be awake the whole time, he was going to cut the melanoma out and take a significant depth and circumference from around the area to make sure they get everything. They then leave the wound open until the test results come back then they stich it all back up once they know they have it all. But that wouldn’t happen until the next week. So that moment I very quickly over came my fear of needles as I had 18 put into my face and the surgery started. I think it was a complete out of body moment. I wasn’t scared.. instead I was rather happy that this thing was being taken out so it couldn’t do any more damage!

Two hours later it was gone and with clear instruction on looking after the area till next week we went home. And we waited! And waited!

Every time the phone rang my heart dropped and my stomach churned. Was this the call to say, they didn’t get it all and it was all through my system and I wasn’t going to be ok. Or was this the call to say, you’re ok let’s stitch you back up.

Monday afternoon the phone did ring…

So everything is ok? And they got it all? And the MRI, it hasn’t gone anywhere else? Oh thankyou. Thank you so much, we’re so happy to hear that, and so will Kristen, I can’t wait to tell her. That was the best phone call I think I have ever overheard. I was going to be ok. They did get it all!

So whilst sitting in the waiting room, full of 65+ year olds I did have the time to think to my self…why me? This doesn’t make sense I have never been a sun baby, so why me?

As the surgeon explained the next part of the procedure I really didn’t care; just stitch me up and let’s do this. So again, wide-awake but numbed on the left side they stitched me up. How he did it still amazes me but with John Farnham playing on the radio, being pulled, prodded and stitched up with 85+ stiches I couldn’t be happier. I was ok! I had my early 20’s face lift (haha) and I was ok.

There are so many parts of this story that scare me, The;

What if

Could it happen again?

And the sheer fact that it has happened.

But for me the lesson is simple. Be sun smart. Check yourself and know your body. Listen to your gut feeling. And if something is wrong get it checked out. I had three month check ups for 2 years, then six monthly for 6 year then yearly check up ever since. I will continue to go every year and I can tell you every time I go I’ll still feel sick to the stomach due to the past but as soon as Dr Sidhu says, it’s all looking great see you in a year that’s all that matters. In the mean time, I have learnt to check my self so if anything pops up…I am onto it.

Knowing is always better than not knowing. You have a chance to fight it that way. So my advice and my story are here to say; please be sun smart and get checked, you have a choice to look after yourself. So do it.

Kristen Werner

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