The grueling ten-month journey into Ontario’s healthcare bureaucracy to get a melanoma removed from a woman’s neck.
Delays, misunderstandings, and a lackadaisical attitude
You can review the Timeline of Events here
You can read Part 1: The Bump here
You can read Part 2: Collateral damage from the Coronavirus here
A small sore appeared on the bump. It was dry and featured a crusty gap in the middle. Slowly, alarm bells began to ring. This bump started as something so innocuous and harmless back in the Spring, but this new development coupled with the incessant delays now dark clouds of uncertainty were now looming in Maria’s mind.
“It felt like I was stuck in limbo,” says Maria. “I felt totally helpless while staring at the thing that was possibly killing me in the mirror every day of the week.”
The holidays were fast approaching, yet it seemed like time was crawling by. Those three weeks leading up to the appointment with the dermatologist were intolerable. It had now been close to nine months since she first noticed the bump and this process had taken longer than she had first anticipated.
Maria’s November 26 appointment with the dermatologist finally arrived and three things happened on that day:
- The dermatologist removed the bump and arranged for a biopsy.
- A follow-up was scheduled on December 3, one week later, where she would get the results.
- She was told that there was a 50% chance that it was cancerous.
Her heart sank. Those are not the odds you want to hear from your doctor.
So, she spent the following week doing what we would all do: She went online and did some research. What she learned was that melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer, but also has a very high survival rate if caught early.
“That phrase was like death sentence,” says Maria. “Everything was working against me even though I tried my best to get it resolved early.”
Her fear then turned to anger towards her doctors. Why had she not been prioritized? Why is the Ontario healthcare system so rife with delays? Why did the Ontario Government have to bungle the response to the pandemic and cause even more delays? And, eventually, she got mad at herself for not pushing harder to see a doctor.
And that is the quintessential origin story of any skin cancer diagnosis: Delays, misunderstandings, and a lackadaisical attitude.
“Skin cancer does not have the caché other cancers have,” says Dr. Colin Hong, a Plastic & Reconstructive Surgeon in Ontario and co-founder of Skinopathy.com. “For example, both breast and colon cancer have large and active communities who work tirelessly to organize awareness campaigns year-round, meanwhile one in every three cancers diagnosed worldwide is skin cancer.”
Most people are shocked when they learn skin cancer cases outnumber lung, breast, prostate, and colon cancers combined or that the economic burden of skin and subcutaneous tissue disease was 2 Billion Dollars in 2010 in Canada. A 2017 research paper even suggested the presence of a skin cancer epidemic amongst the elderly population.
While skin cancer is not as deadly or as resource intensive as other cancers, it can still cause great pain as well as infections, which in-and-of themselves can profoundly affect a person’s quality of life. Typically the most adverse effect is disfigurement. Since most skin cancers present on the face, neck, or hands, the cancers themselves can be unsettling to look at and surgical procedures can lead to scarring.
And this is where we find Maria. Ruminating about her potential future as a 40-year-old mother of four; With a potential melanoma on her neck; Who is patiently waiting for the results of her biopsy.
In Part 4 Maria’s quest to a diagnosis comes to a terrifying, and infuriating, halt.
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