Friday, December 19, 2008

Living Overseas - Prelude to the Present

Many of the people we grew up with have rarely been outside of the country. Some of them may have never been outside Ohio besides going to Pennsylvania for a little shopping or to visit family. I even know a few people who have never left the Mahoning Valley for whatever reason. This was one of most appealing reasons for my joining the Navy - to see and experience as much as I could all over the world. Rachel felt that way too, and that made it an easy decision for us to try to get stationed somewhere us military folks call OCONUS (Out of the CONtinental United States for you civilians!). When we first started dating and through the first couple of years of our marriage, we lived in Norfolk, VA. It was time to jump into the deep end and live a little!

We moved to Japan in the Spring of 2005. It was amazing to say the least, in all aspects. We made wonderful friends over there; many people were and are like family to us. Having them buffered the anxiety of being so far away from home and the fact that we missed our families so much (due to the incredible distance separating us and the cost of travel we could only visit home once a year). We had our bumps in the road and life sometimes wasn't easy, but we made it through our tour there better off than when we arrived. We visited some very interesting places and did and saw some very cool things that are in my opinion once in a lifetime experiences (having a Meiko dance for us was so special - thanks Betsy!)

Shortly before our transfer back to the US in Mayport, FL to go to my next duty station (about 2-3 weeks away), we were hosting some good friends of ours at our housing unit for a little get-together. Near the end of the night, while sitting at the table, Rach was rubbing her face and neck to relieve some stress I guess; as her hand reached the bottom of her neck around the area of her left collarbone, she felt a lump. Needless to say, her mood changed right then and there. It was like she had a premonition that something was seriously wrong. Immediately, she asked me to come and feel it, and then she asked her friends to do the same. We tried to think positive and tell her it was swollen glands or something and maybe she was getting sick; she knew though. She called the hospital and made an appointment with the ear, nose, and throat doctor first thing the next morning.

They did what is called a fine needle aspiration. A needle with a fairly long tip was inserted into the lump, or mass; using that needle, the doctor/surgeon pulled out liquid from the mass to send to the lab for a biopsy. We waited an anxious day for what Rachel knew was inevitable; they told us the next day when we returned that the biopsy from the aspiration came back as showing a malignancy, meaning it was cancerous. There would be know way to no for sure if it was melanoma or not without surgery; the liquid from the mass that was biopsied did not have enough volume or structure to be able to tell what kind of malignancy it was. We knew she had a previous bout with melanoma, therefore, we had an idea what the news would be.

The ball was quickly set into motion by all of the folks involved with doing so. The case managers and doctors at Naval Hospital Yokosuka worked hard to get Rachel MEDEVAC'ed (Medical Evacuation) back home. We decided it was in our best interest to have her transferred to The Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, OH. It was within an hour or so from our parent's homes, it has a great reputation for quality care, and it was "in-network" for our military health insurance (TRICARE Prime). She was sent home within 72 hours. Meanwhile, I worked with my command, Afloat Training Group West Pacific, to administratively get things in order for my early return and plans for once I met Rach back in Ohio.

Within a week of the initial diagnosis of the mass in her neck, she was home, our household goods were shipped to Florida, and I was on a plane to meet her back in Hubbard. I cannot begin to explain the gratitude, love, and most of all appreciation for everyone involved with helping us with everything in Japan, especially assisting with expediting our return. Many of those same people were the ones who befriended us, mentored us, shared experiences with us, and so much more.

Once at home, we had a few days before we met with the fine folks at The Cleveland Clinic. Some major events in our lives occurred there, and I will go into them in depth in my next entry...

Some more cold, dark, hard facts about melanoma...

  • Melanoma is the #1 diagnosed cancer in women under the age of 30 and is the leading cause of cancer deaths of women aged 25 to 30.
  • Melanoma, while being the least rare of all skin cancers at 4% of all cases, however, it accounts for 79% of all skin cancer deaths.
  • 62,480 new melanomas will be diagnosed by the end of 2008.
  • Melanoma diagnoses are increasing faster than any other type of cancer.
  • More than 1 million cases of skin cancer will be diagnosed this year.
  • There is a 1 in 5 chance of you developing skin cancer in your lifetime, and a 1 in 33 chance of developing melanoma.
  • 1 American dies every 65 minutes of melanoma.
  • The incidence of melanoma has increased 690% from 1950 to 2001, and the overall mortality rate increased 165% during this same period.
  • The estimated total direct cost associated with the treatment of melanoma in 2004 was $291 million. Of that total, office visits account for $101 million; hospital outpatient treatment - $76 million; prescription drugs - $78 million; hospital inpatient treatment - $35 million; and emergency room treatment - $1 million.