“Just wear darker polish”

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A cautionary true story
By Vikki Moran

A few short years ago, I discovered a brownish black streak forming on the nail of my right big toe. As I think back, it seemed like it appeared overnight, but I’m sure this was not the case. It is hard for me to admit this now without laughing, but I have always admired my own feet! They were what I considered one of my “best looking parts” and I’ve always loved sandal season to show them off.
Because of this strange love, I wanted to get the mark off. First, I showed it to my pedicurist, and understandably, she thought it was nothing. She put my mind at ease that it was not nail fungus, which is what I personally suspected.
Time went by and the mark grew darker. At an upcoming doctor’s appointment, I showed her my big toe. She looked at it, shrugged and said, “I do not think it is anything.” But I protested, it’s right there and getting darker. “I hate it,” I whined to her. She then said, “You have light polish on,” (I purposely wore it to show her my toe) “why not just wear a darker color if it bothers you that much?”
I left the first of two different medical practices having been given that sage advice (note the sarcasm). I felt a bit silly and went on to live my life wearing dark pink or red polish. If this was nothing perhaps it will just go away if I, too, ignore it. I banished the toe from viewing and only peeked when the polish was changed.
A year or so longer, I had a regular appointment with a dermatologist for my precautionary bi-annual exams of my many moles. On that day, I didn’t get to see the doctor, but rather a nurse practitioner. After the very fast look over, I once again gathered my courage to ask about the dreaded and now long-hated mark on my toe. Seemingly annoyed, she looked and snickered, “That is nothing.” “Yes,” I said, “but could we have the doctor look at it because I have read that it could be something.” (I could not even bring myself to say the word cancer.) “No, it is fine, no need to see him, just make your appointment for two years,” she responded. “Yes, but it is beginning to split a bit,” I said. And much to my shock, I heard the same response as my other doctor: “If it really bugs you, just wear a darker nail polish.”
Off to work I went, but with a very funny feeling from somewhere inside me. That place inside us that we should always trust, but rarely do – our intuition, instinct, maybe even our guardian angel – whatever you want to call it, we should all listen harder to it.
Fast forward to the end of 2011 and a new doctor. During an examination, I bring it up again and this time someone listens! He wanted me to see a dermatologist for my many moles and he added: “I am not sure about your toe thing, but I do not like the look of any of this. He can give you a better exam and advice.”
Within days of that appointment I broke my ankle, but didn’t realize it and continued on with work. I probably should have cancelled the dermatologist appointment because of the pain, but, thankfully, I finally listened to my inner voice and kept the appointment.
The nurse examined me first and pointed out that she wanted the doctor to come in and look at my toe. Even without my mentioning it! He entered the room and looked at my pitiful state. He went right to the toe and said, “I do not like the look of this and want it biopsied.” Then added…”Oh, and I think your ankle is broken, get yourself an x-ray.” He would turn out to be right in both cases.
The ankle healed and I had the toe biopsied in early 2012. The nail was removed and it showed a dangerous type of cancer, melanoma of the nail bed (Acral lentiginous melanoma). I sat in shock with my two very dear friends and heard the words that my little voice had been screaming to me over the past few years. Trust me when I tell you there is nothing like hearing the words that change your life forever. The thoughts that ran through my head ranged from my loving husband to my only son and daughter-in-law to my two grandchildren who I wouldn’t see grow up to how would I tell my 80-year old mother to my cousins, who were more like brothers to me, to the magazine and my charity work.
My brain shut down…doctor is still talking and my friends, between their tears, are now my ears. We are all crying. Thank God they are now asking questions that I should be asking,
I just knew I was going to die even though I can hear the kind doctor though my mind-screaming panic say… “This is insitu (it means it is contained and laying on the surface) and that is a great thing. Vikki, you will be fine when we get this out of you and we will do that next week.”
“Go home,” he ordered me, with the warning to not research melanoma online as it will “scare the heck out of you.” “Trust that I will get it all, it is insitu. I will call your husband now and explain. Go home and relax, I will get it out.”
I started to get my nasty-betraying brain power back and calm down, but still cried for three days when I had to talk about it. Everyone is notified and plans are made. I characteristically make my lists of what I will need during recuperation: my work, my nook, my Italian CD’s, my travel guides.
I make a list of calls for my family to make after surgery, and even put together a box with sterile bandages and tape and anything else I might need. This, after all, is me – the real me, not the panic-driven maniac that expected to die. The cancer may have changed a lot in me for good, but not the organized part that I love.
Well tomorrow is my surgery and I will add an addendum to this that will hopefully be a happy one, but I am writing this for you, our readers, so you can read this cautionary tale in real time. I am still facing the surgery and nightmare tomorrow, but you do not have to if you listen to this advice.
Fast forward one more time. Surgery is over and I am now cancer–free. My toe is not pretty and my sandal and sunning days are over. I have many doctor appointments ahead of me and I will be monitored closely for the rest of my life. My LIFE, not my death, as this type of cancer often delivers.
My family, friends and I are so very happy. I am planning a trip that I have always wanted to take with my husband to my ancestral Italian hometown and I am planning one more thing: to make everyone aware of nail cancer. This story is my first step. If you read this and have concerns, contact your doctor or call or email me (518-294-4395/vikki@crlmag.com) and I will happily talk with you. Copy this article or pick up extra copies of this issue and pass along to your friends. Make everyone you love checks their nails!
Lastly, I would like to thank Dr. Maria Pesquuera, Dr. Ted Pan and Dr. Joshua King for saving my life.
Please check out www.writers4net.com/miscellaneous/other-misc/nail-cancer-symptoms-that-you-should-be-looking-for/ for more information.

Here are some facts and nail cancer symptoms from the Archives of Dermatology, April 2009:
• Listed as a rare disease by National Institutes of Health, meaning it affects less than 200,000 people in the U.S. • Higher incidence in people of color.
• Has a lower survival rate than the other three types of malignant melanoma.
• Occurs mainly on nail beds, palms of hands and soles of feet.
• Poor survival rate may be in part because of delayed diagnosis.
• Incidence in men and women is similar.
• Mean age at diagnosis is 62.8 years.
• Diagnosed with biopsy.
• Treated with surgery, chemotherapy, radiation.
• Jamaican musician Bob Marley died of nail cancer at age 36 in 1981.

Further advice
• Only use good doctors. If they do not listen…dump them quickly. All medical practices are not the same and some are not good.
• Trust that inner voice above all others. Everything else is noise, only your inner voice has your best interests.
• Check your nails as often as you check everything else! If you see something strange, insist that someone look at it and give you answers.
• Check the nails of your children and speak loudly on their behalf. Their inner voices are not developed yet.
• Never stop seeking answers even if it leads to scary places like biopsies.
• And NEVER EVER just wear darker nail polish!

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