A dark-black mole above her right shoulder blade had itched “the way a mosquito bite does” for two weeks. So, Emily Edwards backed toward the mirror at her home on West Mills in fall 2006 and investigated the mole further.
“It had grown in size and changed color slightly,” Edward said during an interview at Adams Street Espresso earlier this month.
So, Dr. Sheryl Young, former physician at Greater Regional Medical Center (GRMC) in Creston, had the mole — about 1/4 inch in diameter — removed and sent it to Des Moines for testing. The results weren’t good.
Edwards — 26-years-old at the time — had melanoma skin cancer.
“I was shocked and scared when she told me,” Edwards said. “I knew very little about melanoma skin care. She tried to give me a basic understanding, but I don’t think I retained much. At that time, we didn’t know the staging process of the cancer so she told me not to go home and search for info on melanoma on the Internet.”
But, Edwards admits that’s the first thing she did.
“It was bad,” she said.
About one month later, Edwards had surgery with oncologist Dr. Daniel Kollmorgen at Mercy Medical in Des Moines in November 2006 whereby he did testing in all areas surrounding where the mole was removed. He also withdrew 10 to 12 lymph nodes from underneath Edwards’ right arm to see if the melanoma had spread to other areas of the her body.
Test results showed the melanoma had not spread to the lymph nodes nor to other areas on her skin. Removing the mole had eliminated the cancer and no radiation or chemotherapy was needed.
Edward’s was ordered by the doctor to see a dermatologist for checkups every six months for the next five years.
“The first five years after the skin cancer is discovered are the most important in making sure the melanoma doesn’t come back,” Edwards said. “And, on my fifth year (in late February 2011) I had a swollen lymph node near my right armpit. It swelled to about the size of a golf ball.”
Edwards said the swelling didn’t slowly incease in size.
“It seemed to happen like overnight,” Edwards said.
At that time, Edwards was preparing for a Hawaii vacation with friend Traci Kralik. So, she opted to wait until returning to visit the doctor about the swelling.
“I knew deep down it wasn’t good, but I didn’t want to ruin the trip,” Edwards said.
Upon returning from vacation, Edwards contacted Dr. Karen Krogstad at New Life Family Medicine who immediately scheduled an appointment with Dr. Kollmorgen in Des Moines for March.
Edwards had surgery in March 2011 to remove the swollen lymph node and more testing was done then.
“Three out of the 12 lymph nodes tested came back positive for melanoma cancer,” Edwards said. “I was speechless. I didn’t know what the future held. I was thinking, should I have had kids? I felt like I hadn’t lived yet.”
Edwards started radiation in to kill the cancer in June 2011. She did six weeks of treatments, five days per week for a total of 30 treatments at Greater Regional Medical Center. But, the radiation didn’t slow her down. She never got sick or tired. She worked full time at Bunn-O-Matic and even trained for the Des Moines Marathon during the treatments.
But, more bad news struck in October 2011.
“They found two (cancerous) spots on my lung,” Edwards said. “They were too small to remove by surgery. So, they did a biopsi with a needle in January 2012. I was angry and frustrated. It’s been an uphill battle. I thought, I’m too young for all of this.”
Edwards started chemotherapy in March 2012. She lost her hair immediately and wore a baseball hat each day that matched her outfit.
“That was devastating for Emily,” her mother Kathy Goodrich said. “She’s always took pride in her appearance, so losing her hair was tough. This whole process is tough though, especially for someone that young.”
But, through it all, Edwards remained positive and shockingly never quit working full time.
“I was able to work, I think, because of my healthy lifestyle prior to getting cancer,” Edwards said.
Since March 2012, she’s done a total of 28 cycles (months) of chemo since then and still received chemo three times per month.
“I was cancer free as of April 2014,” Edwards said, “But, I’m still doing chemo so we can stay ahead of cancer because with melanoma, or any cancer for that matter, it’s so unpredictable if it will come back.”
Edwards said she thankful for all the support from her family, especially her mother and husband Luke, co-workers at Bunn-O-Matic and cancer center and medical staff at Greater Regional Medical Center.
“That cancer center at Greater Regional is amazing,” Edwards said. “I’ve seen them once a week for the past two years and if I ever stop chemo treatments, I’ll would have to come by and give them heck. We are so lucky to have a medical center like Greater Regional here.”
Edwards is one of two honorary survivors for this year’s Relay for Life of Southwest Iowa event slated Friday and Saturday at Creston High School track. The other is Di Miller of Creston.
“We actually had cancer free/birthday party last month for Emily,” Goodrich said, “so her being an honorary survivor Friday will be the cherry on top. A lot of her family will be there supporting her and Di Friday night.”
The News Advertiser will have photos and coverage from the Relay for Life event in Monday’s newspaper.