Abby's Cancer Journey

43654716_1574900972805817_r.jpeg*Photo by Evan Prunty*

I know the story below is a lot to read, so I will offer a shorter version here:

I was diagnosed (after my dermatologist telling me the nickel-sized black mole on the side of my head was nothing at all to worry about) with invasive malignant melanoma. After a few issues with doctors, I finally found an amazing doctor at the Cleveland Clinic Cancer Center who decided to do a skin graft since the tumor was so deep along with a lymph node biopsy in my neck/face. I had to do it because of how quickly melanoma can spread. Luckily, my lymph nodes were clean. I am still going though testing to see if there is cancer in any of my other organs, but I'm staying positive. 
My medical bills now surpass my student loans. Four years of college have been toppled by one mole on my head. It's still so crazy to me. I had only graduated in 2017 and was working part-time in my field for nearly three years. 
I hate asking for help, I really do. But I don't know what else I can do as I either don't qualify for most of the grants my social worker has sent me to or the grants are closed until 2020.
If you can help, I would be forever grateful. You wouldn't just be helping my pay debt, you'd be helping me afford the care I need to make sure the cancer doesn't come back or spread.
If you can't donate monetarily, please send me your favorite inspirational quote or a photo of your pet or a song that always makes you happy. I need it all right now.

Thank you.

For those of you who want more (not all, cause it was A LOT) details. Keep reading below.

Five months ago I noticed I had an itch above my left ear. It kind of felt like a mosquito bite or like I had irritated my scalp with my hair straightener or something. After noticing it for about a week, I pulled my hair up to see what was going on. I saw a large, black
mole about an inch and a half above my ear underneath my hair. It was about the size of a nickel, much larger than any of my other moles. 
I showed my mom who is a nurse and she urged me to make an appointment with a dermatologist. I didn't rush because I was so busy. There was work to do and appointments for other things and a big birthday for my boyfriend coming up. I finally got something scheduled at the end of July. My mom insisted on coming with me because she was worried - I was still calm. I was 24, what did I have to be worried about?
The dermatologist came into the exam room, parted my hair, looked at the mole for no more than five seconds and confidently said I had nothing to worry about. It was just a mole that I may have bumped with a brush and made it itch. I was so relieved. But my mom wasn't. I decided to get the mole taken off that day. Better safe than sorry, right?
The doctor numbed the area, used a scalpel and cauterized the wound afterword. I hated it - I'm not afraid of medical things, but I don't want to do anything I don't have to do, you know?
The doctor had her assistant start to clean up and I was surprised they weren't keeping the specimen. Why did I get it off if they weren't going to at least send it to double check? It took my asking the doctor to note in my chart that she was deciding not to test it for her to agree to send it to the lab.
Five days later I was outside with my boyfriend and our dog when my phone rang. I wasn't going to answer, but I saw the number was local so I picked up. That dermatologist on the phone told me I had invasive malignant melanoma.
She told me she would be referring me to a doctor at University Hospitals but that's all I knew. I was in shock. I tried calling the doctor but they were on vacation until the end of the month. That scared me because I didn't know how this type of cancer worked. Could it spread? Where can it go? Is that enough time to make a difference? Plus, when one of the nurses at UH said I would need to come in for lymph node testing said that test would include injecting me with a blue dye and hoping I don't, "light up like a Christmas tree" I decided I needed to take things into my own hands.
One week after my diagnosis my boyfriend and I decided to go sit in the lobby in the Cleveland Clinic Cancer Center until someone could help us. To our surprise, a lovely worker named Bria was instantly motivated to help us once she heard what was going on. She called an appointment supervisor down to talk to me and got me scheduled with the melanoma clinic's best doctor, Dr. Brian Gastman. I had a consultation one week after that and my surgery was another week after my consultation.
Dr. Gastman was amazing. He educated me without scaring me. He made me feel at peace while still feeling aware. And his team of students and physician's assistants made me feel like I was a top priority. 
On August 28, 2019 I went in for an out-patient skin graft surgery and lymph node biopsy. Due to the melanoma being much deeper than expected, Dr. Gastman had to make a much larger graft (I'd say it's about the size of a playing card) and since my lymph nodes were cooperating that day, he was able to get 10 out of my neck and side of my face. But it was a lot. I came out of surgery with a hematoma in my neck that swelled my neck and face. It wasn't good. Dr. Gastman decided to keep me for a couple of days.
Now, I'm doing OK. I'm mostly recovered and doing physical therapy to regain my range of motion in my neck. My lymph nodes came back cancer-free but I'm still doing further blood tests and body scans to make sure the cancer didn't spread somewhere else.
The stress of the diagnosis and the way it put my entire life on hold made me have to drop down from my job. I was only part time so I wasn't able to have sick leave and some bad timing at the company meant they were going to be cutting my hours quite significantly. 
I have been able to get a filler job at Starbucks while I keep freelancing in my field, but it's a really physically demanding job. I am still having one to three appointments per week, each of which has a copay. My surgery was only partially covered by my insurance and I haven't been able to start chipping away at it. 
I'm not the person that asks for help. I like to handle things on my own. But paying my normal bills on a part-time salary is hard and that's not considering any of my medical bills. 
I have a one in four chance of the melanoma coming back in the same spot. I have a one in seven chance of developing melanoma. And I'm 75% more likely to develop another form of cancer. I'm only 25.
That is why I've decided to come here and ask for assistance. I would love to be able to pay off my debts to Cleveland Clinic and to the dermatologist who misdiagnosed me. But I would also love to be able to continue to keep up with my future medical appointments. I should be seeing my mole specialist every three months and getting some type of scan each time, but as of now I don't think that will be possible unless I have some help.
I am also trying to get into a psychologist to help me get over the mental scar this has left on me. The way I explain it to my loved ones is that I felt like I was a running full-speed on a treadmill - I had a job in my field, I graduated college, I was moving into a house - and all of the sudden the treadmill just stopped and I went flying off. But now, I'm trying to get back on my the treadmill is still at full-speed and I've got a sprained ankle. I feel like I just can't keep up.
Please consider helping monetarily if you can. If you can't, I would also love to hear something happy. Comment a picture of your pet or comment your favorite inspiring quote. I just need help staying positive and motivated. Thank you.


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Abby Burton 
Avon, OH
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