One in a Million
“It’s cancerous, Morgan.”
That was precisely what my dad said on the evening of November 14, 2011. The cancer, which took the form of a bump hidden under my hair, was one in a million. It was a soft tissue sarcoma known as dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans (DFSP). It had been in the same spot for as long as I could remember, and every doctor we spoke to told my parents the bump was harmless.
At age 15, I saw a dermatologist and had a biopsy, and the results were nothing I could have ever prepared myself for…
I imagined lying in a hospital bed, frail, with tubes snaking out of my body.
‘This has to be a mistake. Cancer only happens to old people,’ I thought to myself. After weeks of interviewing doctors to find the best treatment possible, my parents decided to pursue treatment at Northwestern due to their expertise with this type of cancer. I had one surgery in the doctor’s oﬃce to remove the shallower layers of cancer. I remained awake and numb. The prospect of getting my head cut open while awake terrified me, but the talented team of doctors and nurses made it as painless as possible.
I had a second surgery to make sure the deeper layers of my skin contained no cancer. Because this left a large wound that stitches would not be able to close, I also had to undergo a skin graft, which involved taking skin from my leg and placing it over the wound.
Being a teenage patient in a hospital designed for adults was both a blessing and a curse. I had access to some of the best medical care available, and the medical staﬀ were compassionate towards me and did everything they could to make this terrifying experience as comfortable as possible. At the same time, fifteen-year-old me felt that things, at times, were impersonal and rushed. On the day of surgery, when I felt as though my world was crashing around me, I cannot help but wonder if I would have benefitted from methods more commonly available in children’s hospitals, such as distraction methods and a greater emphasis on teaching patients about their treatment in a way that makes sense to them. I’ve often thought about how I might have been positively impacted if I had access to a Child Life Specialist, a medical professional who works with children and teens to help them understand their medical care, as well as engage in fun coping and distracting activities.
I am now 11 years cancer free. I will be forever grateful to my surgical oncologist, Dr. Jeﬀrey Wayne, for not only treating my cancer, but also for making me feel as comfortable as possible by including me in conversations and talking to me as a teenager and not as an adult. I am now a Social Worker working in a community mental health setting. I love working with kids and teenagers because I know how rough the teenage years can be, even without cancer. I am also working on a memoir about my cancer experience to help others feel less isolated should they go through the same experience.
My ending message to readers is: If you notice something weird on your skin or any part of your body, get it checked out. It just might save your life.