Ladies and gentlemen, I would love to introduce you to Alicia Bowling!
My name is Alicia Bowling and I’ll never forget the phone call that changed my life forever. It was a Wednesday, September 13, 2006 to be exact. I was feeding my six month old baby girl and waiting for my husband to come home from work at any moment. The phone rang and I noticed the number was from the doctor’s office. I realize that no news is good news but why were they calling me so soon? I just had the ugly bump on my hip biopsied just Monday. Well if it’s cancer at least its skin cancer and they can just cut it off and I’ll be fine……These were the thoughts going through my head.
I answered the phone and the nurse on the other end was very persistent that I come to their office right now!!! The urgency in her voice immediately made me cry. I asked “is it bad?” She said, “I can’t give you that information over the phone. I’ve already contacted your husband and he is on his way to get you. We just need you to get here as soon as possible so the doctor can go over your biopsy results and we already have you set up to see a surgeon today.”
All the way to the doctor’s office we felt numb. I guess just in shock and preparing to somehow absorb what the doctor was about to tell us. She came in with my report and said, “Your biopsy came back as Invasive Malignant Melanoma. At this point it’s already a stage two just based on the biopsy but we suspect it’s already spread to your lymph nodes because of how deep it’s spread into your subcutaneous tissues. Your chance of survival for stage 2 is 60% in 5 years and if its stage 3 your 5 year chance of survival is 30-50% depending on the extent of lymph node involvement.” I was in complete shock. All I could say was, “so this could kill me?” I thought skin cancer was something you just cut off and you’re fine. I had no ideal just how serious this was.
Later that day we met with the surgeon and he scheduled surgery for Friday, September 15. I was not prepared for how large the excision scar for the melanoma and lymph node removal would be. I looked like I had a huge shark bite on my left hip that had been sewn back together.
I remember going to the chemo suite for the first time and reading the warning label on the drug the nurse was getting ready to pump into my body. It read “WARNING: Alpha interferons, including INTRON A, cause or aggravate fatal or life-threatening neuropsychiatric, autoimmune, ischemic, and infectious disorders. Side effects include neutropenia, fatigue, myalgia, headache, fever, chills, elevated SCOT(liver enzymes), nausea, vomiting, depression, alopecia (hair loss), diarrhea, and thrombocytopenia. Depression and Suicidal Behavior, including Suicidal attempts and Completed Suicides have been reported with treatment with Alpha Interferons. Patients should be monitored closely with periodic clinical and laboratory evaluations.” When in these kind of situations you just do what you have to do to survive and for me it was letting this nurse pump this toxic stuff into my body and pray it works.
It angered me to see people complain about doing tasks that are considered a privilege to those fighting to live. It was the most humbling thing I’ve ever been through to allow others to help take care of me. We had an enormous amount of medical bills and it was amazing to feel the people who rallied around us. It was as if God was using these people to help hold us up. I was taken off the drug three weeks shy of finishing the entire year due to severe effects from the drug. I had a TIA (mini stroke), blood infection (treated with Vancomycin), and blood levels severely low that landed me in the hospital for a while.
I wish I could say my cancer journey ended after treatment in November 2007 but it didn’t… In November 2008 I became pregnant with my baby boy Andrew and He was born July 23 2009. I wasn’t supposed to have any more children and was on birth control when we became pregnant with Andrew. In July 2010 I developed a second Melanoma Primary tumor on my shoulder and had surgery. Then In January 2011 I developed yet another Melanoma Primary and endured yet another surgery. After testing at Vanderbilt’s Melanoma Clinic I was told I have a genetic mutation which puts me at high risk for developing multiple melanomas. I’m already at high risk for this disease spreading since its spread to my lymph nodes so I get scans every 3-6 months.
My life consists of getting anything unusual on my skin biopsied and getting scans. I live with lymphedema in my left hip from having my pelvic lymph nodes removed. I have over 20 scars on my body and yes it’s disfiguring but it’s better than the alternative.
Living with the thought that this cancer could come back and kill me is a reality but I’m not going to let that thought control my life. It’s a daily battle and especially when it’s scan time to not let my mind run away with the anxiety of what could be. The Lord says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” It’s in those moments when life feels completely out of control that God reminds us that He is in control. I had to also remind myself that Fear is not from God. God does not give us a spirit of fear but of POWER, LOVE, and a SOUND MIND. We can’t forget the reason we fight so hard–WE FIGHT TO LIVE! Each day we grow older is such an honor and a privilege. Don’t take one single day for granted. Get out there and live!