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Life Is Too Short To Drink Bad Wine: 51 - Shocking News

…“What is it?” I asked. “Melanoma,” he said “cancer.” I would need urgent surgery to remove it and my prognosis was not very good. I stared at him. I could not speak. I’m too young, I thought….

Gayle Woodward hears dreaded words after finding a mole on her leg.

One night in August I was shocked to find a mole on my right inner calf was bleeding. It was a big black mole and the same one which Mr Dunn, the doctor at the maternity clinic, had noted. I did not know what it was but knew deep inside me that this was bad.

I put a sticking plaster on the mole so that I could not see it and got an urgent appointment with our new doctor. He took one look and made an appointment for me to see a specialist in Lower Hutt. I could not get an early appointment so one was made for two weeks away. The mole stopped bleeding but did not go away. I felt sick every time I thought about it.

But the Gemstone Drive house was ready and we moved in. We loved it. Our bedroom had mauve wallpaper with vivid purple flower sprays scattered on it and the curtains were purple. We gulped but moved in our bedroom furniture.

Karyn’s bedroom had yellow floral wallpaper and the boys both had masculine looking plain paper and all curtains were installed. Karyn had a bed to move into as she had been successful at climbing over the bars of her cot and running away. We determined that she would have to be watched closely but that a bed would safer for her.

Everybody was happy. The laundry was on the same level as the living and the kitchen was very modern with dark wood grain finish. The lounge had a large fireplace which to our great surprise had a wetback attached so that when the fire was hot our water would be heated at the same time.

Woody built a workshop bench on one wall of the garage and the cars could both be stored inside. Jeff had a longer walk to school now but his new friends, Danny and Bruce lived close to our new house and he could walk with them. He would transfer to the new school when it was completed. It was expected to be ready by start of year, February 1978 so that Mark would start here when he was five.

The dreaded appointment date arrived. Woody collected Karyn and me and took us to Lower Hutt. He stayed in the car with Karyn who was asleep and I went in. The doctor looked grave as he told me I had a very serious, malignant melanoma. I was puzzled when he said he would take a biopsy but that he was sure of what he was seeing. I hardly felt the needle or the stitches so great was my shock and confusion.

“What is it?” I asked. “Melanoma,” he said “cancer.” I would need urgent surgery to remove it and my prognosis was not very good. I stared at him. I could not speak. I’m too young, I thought. He asked if I had a husband and when I nodded, speechless, said that a meeting would be arranged for the two of us with a plastic surgeon.

I left the surgery in a daze, stumbling out to the car. Woody took one look at my face before it crumpled into tears and said, “What’s wrong?” “Cancer!” I sobbed. “Oh Gayle” he said and gathered me in a tight embrace. I told him about the surgery needed as I cried. We decided to try not to worry till the results of the biopsy were returned. We still had no real reason to think this was urgent.

That night, the cut on my leg, where the mole had been cut from, hurt badly. I slept only fitfully. I was more worried about dying and leaving Karyn barely weaned and still not toilet trained than I was about myself. It seemed unfair. I could not really believe it.

The next afternoon at work, Woody got a phone call (the phone at the Gemstone house was days away from being installed) from the surgeon’s nurse. Could he bring me urgently for a preliminary appointment tomorrow? She stressed the urgency of this and it worried Woody enough to have him phone my parents in Auckland to ask them to come down to us.

Mum left as soon as a flight could be arranged. Dad stayed on in Auckland to work. Woody collected her at the airport and brought her to me. She and I hugged and cried together. She went straight to work, getting dinner and bathing the younger children. I was numb with fear. I did not know what would be done to me and how this disease would progress. The leg still hurt. There was no getting away from this. I remembered the maternity doctor looking at my leg and wondered if he suspected what he was seeing why he did not tell me 18 months earlier.

Our meeting was high in the fashionable medical belt in the hills of Tinakori Road in the city. The rooms were posh but I was rather blind to my surroundings. We were told that the melanoma had been caused by sun damage in my earlier years and that I had left in rather late to get it excised. He did not listen to my remonstrations that I didn’t know what I was looking for and merely told me of the extensive surgery and reconstruction, using plastic surgery, which would be required. Apparently a melanoma spreads quickly under the skin and mine was well advanced. I would be left with a five inch diameter gouge scar on my inner calf which would take away some of the calf muscle. I did not want a scar like that and asked him what would happen if I did not have the operation. He was quick to answer, “You will be dead in three months.” There was nothing more to say. I was told to present myself to Hutt Hospital for surgery the next morning.

Mum was shocked by this news and said she would of course stay on as long as we needed her. She did not know if she could manage the household alone so she arranged for Dad to drive down from Auckland to help with the boys and as support for her.


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