Before my diagnosis, I was 46 years old, newly remarried, working at a job I loved and enjoying my first grandchild.
I had recently begun immunosuppressant therapy for Crohn’s disease but otherwise was in good health. Life was great! That was, until I noticed a bump on the side of my left thumb which intermittently drained clear fluid and a red cuticle, then suddenly everything changed.
Around Christmas time, during a holiday gathering, a family member noticed the bump and red cuticle and expressed concern. I felt fine, experienced no pain and brushed it off as possibly being nicked while having my nails manicured at a recent appointment.
My brother, a physician, who was also there at the time, questioned me, examined my thumb and recommended following up with my healthcare provider if symptoms persisted.
The symptoms did persist so after the New Year, I followed the advice of my brother and made an appointment with my healthcare provider. He took a culture and I soon received a call informing me I had a MRSA infection, possibly from working as a nurse manager in a cardiac rehab program and caring for post-surgical cardiac patients.
I went out on medical leave, was seen by an infectious disease specialist and started on antibiotics. After a month, my symptoms resolved and back to work I went.
Six months later, the symptoms returned. I called the infectious disease specialist, had cultures taken, and stopped my immunosuppressant medication. The cultures came back showing I had a different nail infection and they started me on a new antibiotic.
I later learned fingernail infections were typical symptoms of fingernail melanoma. Unfortunately, the infection persisted despite multiple treatment strategies. I was referred to a hand surgeon to have small parts of my nail removed to try to resolve the infection.
After multiple visits to the hand surgeon and treatment failures, I became frustrated and had this “gut feeling” I had cancer. I expressed my concerns to the surgeon and requested a biopsy. Initially the surgeon was reluctant but eventually agreed. Three weeks later, I received a call that changed my life forever.
The hand surgeon called me at work to inform me I had an “extremely rare fingernail melanoma, was going to die and they were going to amputate my thumb the next day.” I was in shock and hysterical!
From that moment on my cancer journey began. I was extremely fortunate to have a brother who worked in Boston as a physician that researched and navigated my medical care.
My cancer was not responsive to chemotherapy. I had a partial left thumb amputation followed by an experimental protocol of interferon. After 18 IV treatments, my liver and lungs both failed, and my treatments were terminated.
I was told there were no other options, I had a 50% chance of dying and that I needed to be followed regularly with CAT scans and skin exams for 10 years. I am blessed and so grateful to say, I was in the 50% survival rate.
I am healthy, happy and have been discharged from oncology and will continue to have regular skin exams.
Looking back, I can now say, having cancer was the worst and the best thing that happened in my life. I learned so many life lessons during this journey and believe I wouldn’t be the person I am today had I not gone through this experience.
My advice for people is to be educated, know your body, follow your gut instincts, don’t be afraid to get a second opinion and seek care from the top specialists in the field. Check your finger and toe nails for any discolorations (usually starting from the cuticle), drainage or redness and follow up with a dermatologist immediately.
Finally, never give up hope even when it seems like nothing else can be done. Pray, have faith, and surround yourself with you friends and family. Miracles do happen!
- bump on side of thumb that drained clear fluid
- red cuticle