When the Doctor Told Me My Biopsy Came Back Positive for Cancer


It was a beautiful spring morning. I had the day off from work and was enjoying the birds singing and the warmth of the sun on my shoulders. The phone began to ring. Answering it, an unfamiliar voice asked to speak to me. Stating it was me, she proceeded.

“This is Dr. Hash from the dermatology center. That biopsy I did last week has come back as positive for a very rare form of cancer…”

At that moment, everything suddenly seemed to go into an echo. I suddenly felt as if my legs became weak, and I quickly moved over to a nearby chair. My throat closed up, and my mouth became so dry, I could barely form words. I sputtered in my speech, asking her to repeat the rest of what she said. “You have a very rare cancer, called dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans. Get a pen, and I’ll spell it out for you. Then I want you to research it and call me back. Then I can answer your questions. I’d like to get you scheduled for surgery as soon as possible.” I was numb at this point.

On a cold November afternoon in 2009, I got thrown off a horse I’d recently adopted. I
landed in the emergency department with two fractures of my left hip and pelvis, three fractures of my left shoulder, and a mild concussion. I was out of work for three months recovering from all of that. I had developed a rash on my right arm that wouldn’t go away. Finally, after all the fractures were healed, I made an appointment with a dermatologist about the pesky rash.

While in the exam room with the dermatologist, I was busy showing her my arm and going on about the rash. The exam gown I had on had slipped off my right shoulder. The next thing I knew, she was staring at my shoulder and touching it, looking puzzled.  She then said, “I’d like to get a biopsy of your shoulder here. I’m not happy with this shiny area.” It was something I’d had on that shoulder for many years and never really paid any attention to. In a few minutes, an assistant was bringing a tray into the exam room with a scalpel, sutures, and a syringe with numbing medicine in it. I sat there as the dermatologist injected the local anesthetic on my right shoulder, took the biopsy, then sutured up the area. It all happened very quickly.

Walking to my vehicle, I dismissed it all from my brain. I was sure the doctor was simply being overly cautious.

After getting off the phone with Dr. Hash, I quickly began reading about the rare form of cancer. I discovered that it’s slow growing, grows outward, is found mostly on the torso, arms, legs, and sometimes on the shoulder.

If successfully removed, it has a good prognosis. I called her back and we discussed my
findings. She sounded optimistic, yet already had her assistant schedule me for the following week for surgery.

A week later, I was being wheeled into the operating room. It actually took two surgeries. The first surgery was performed by a specialist, a MOHS surgeon. The second surgery was done by a plastic surgeon to reconstruct the gaping foot-long wound over my entire right shoulder. The MOHS surgeon had to remove everything right down to the bone, so the area was very deep and long. The plastic surgeon was able to get it all back together without a graft, but the skin was pulled so tight, I wasn’t able to turn my head to the left for over two months.

It wasn’t the surgery and scar that caused me great pain. Yes, of course there was physical pain from all that. But the emotional scar of having cancer, and always wondering if it will come back. It makes you feel as if you always need to look over your should because it is stalking you. Even though I go for follow-up visits, I still never feel free. It makes me realize how precious each day truly is. It makes me work harder to get my message out as an autism advocate.

Even when you are in remission from cancer, that word stays in your mind, tucked away, and affects you for the rest of your life.

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