For all I knew, I was just going for a routine consultation with a dermatologist. I did not feel ill. I just noticed a small bump next to my ear.
When I arrived in New York as an immigrant, there were many things on my mind, and I prioritized them all over my health. Not only did this small bump not bother me, but I also never gave it much thought until one day my primary care physician suggested that I get it checked by a specialist. I was referred to a dermatologist, who, without asking how I felt or if this skin condition even bothered me, sent me to get a biopsy. I felt misunderstood and a little lost. During that time, I lost my health insurance and missed my follow-up consultations. In only a couple of weeks, the lesion grew.
I soon came back to seek attention, and this time the dermatologist gave me the option to remove the bump through a minor surgical procedure. I soon decided to go through with the surgery. A couple of days later, I received my pathology report, which confirmed the diagnosis of cancer.
I truly did not feel as worried as one would think after receiving such news. I had no time to feel upset. I was working two different jobs and had to be healthy and well for my family. As they say, cancer is only a word, not a sentence. I took things as they came, one problem at a time. I was not in denial, but I also decided not to worry.
Soon after, I met with a surgeon, who took my case and scheduled me for surgery within a few weeks after we first met. During that time, I attended my doctor’s visits alone. I hadn’t shared my diagnosis with my family. It wasn’t until I called my mother in Mexico and heard her cry through the phone that I felt preoccupied with what was happening. I was more worried about the costs of the surgery than the procedure itself. Fortunately, social workers helped me to cope and to make the surgery happen. I will be eternally helpful to the wonderful people I met all through this journey.
On the day of the surgery, I came in feeling like a stranger to everyone. I saw other patients being taken into the operating room and come out later. What would happen to me when I would be taken for my procedure? I vividly remember being walked to a gurney, but nothing more. I remember listening to a nurse confirm the names of all the people in the room, describe the procedure that I had been scheduled to undergo, and then suddenly, I was asleep. When I woke up, I felt like I had slept for days. A bandage covered my surgical incision. I had many doubts about what had happened, but the doctors came and explained it all in clear language. I still had many doubts, but I didn’t ask any questions. I felt that anything I asked would not be understood and just wished I could speak my Spanish—my native language—to ask some questions and clear up my worries in my head. After a couple of hours, I finally saw a familiar face – my sister-in-law who had been waiting for me to come out of surgery- who helped me get back home.
As days went by, I slowly recovered. I went back to my surgeon’s office to hear that the entire tumor had been removed and that I should undergo additional radiation therapy. After two months and 30 sessions of external radiation, I started feeling like all of this was beginning to be put behind me.
Throughout the whole process, I always did my best to stay positive. I needed to stay on my feet and to resume work and my normal life. Today, I can say that the scar on my face reminds me of difficult days, but also how we can overcome those days with a good attitude and help from family and (good) doctors.