When "you'll be fine," isn't fine

After a wide excision for melanoma. Photo courtesy of Jillian Knowles.
After a wide excision for melanoma. Photo courtesy of Jillian Knowles.

A few months ago, I wrote an article about skin checks in the emergency department. What I didn't mention was that I was dealing with a skin issue myself. After going to the dermatologist to have an unusual-looking mole removed, I was horrified to find out that it was melanoma. I am 28 years old, and being a redhead has finally caught up with me.

I scheduled an appointment to have my wide excision performed. When I made the appointment, I asked the receptionist if I would still be able to go to Europe. I had planned this trip months in advance and was scheduled to leave 3 days after the procedure.

“Oh yes,” she exclaimed, “you'll be fine.”

Reassured, I went to my appointment, excited that I was leaving for my upcoming trip and relieved to be taking care of my melanoma issue. My expectations were that the wide excision would take place, my wound would be sutured back together, and I would be on my way to Paris and Barcelona. I was taking the trip with a fellow PA, so I had no concerns about what to do if we had to remove some sutures.

The dermatologist explained what was going to happen to me. He explained that 2 cm margins were still the standard of care and that I would not be getting any sutures. Because the melanoma was on my anterior shin, the margins were too wide to suture. Instead, he would be leaving the wound open to heal by secondary intention. Mentally I began to put the pieces together: 4 cm open wound + foreign countries = possible trouble.

Anterior shin, post-wide excision. Photo courtesy of Jillian Knowles.

“Are you sure I can go to Europe like this?” I asked hesitantly. “Paris and Barcelona?”

“You'll be fine,” he replied.

The only problem: I wasn't fine. Hobbling out of the office, my leg was completely numb. Maybe this won't be so bad, I thought to myself. But when I woke up at 4 in the morning because of searing pain, I began to panic. How in the world was I going to make it in 2 different countries when I couldn't even walk?

I talked it over with my friend. We decided that we would take our trip one leg (pun intended) at a time and approach it the best way we knew how – with a sense of humor. If we had to spend the trip taking more breaks and eating more baguettes than planned, then so be it.

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