Melanoma #5

Those of you who know me, or have followed this blog, know that my husband and I have had recurring melanomas. I started it, with a melanoma (stage 1, .9mm) on my ankle in June, 2003. That followed with one on my shoulder (stage 1, .8 mm) in 2013.

My husband has Parkinson’s, and astonishing as it may sound, those with Parkinson’s are 4-7 times more likely to have melanoma. His first was on the back of his neck (stage 1, .2mm) in 2015. Another followed in his ear (stage 1, .2mm) in 2018. This year, it was on his face.

WARNING! GRAPHIC SURGICAL PHOTOS FOLLOW!!

I post these photos and these blogs because when I was first diagnosed, I obsessively looked at photos of melanomas on the internet. Turns out, it was a good thing I educated myself like that, because I found the one on my shoulder, and all three of my husband’s.  Well, I didn’t like the look of them, so flagged them for his annual dermatologist visit. It is in that spirit that I post the following pictures of Al’s most recent diagnosis and surgery, because melanoma is a real thing. It is deadly, and you (every one of you) ought to have a thorough, annual skin check by a dermatologist. Just in case. 

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Melanoma next to right eye

This was the melanoma as of January, 2019. I had seen it, and photographed it the previous year, because I didn’t like the look of it. (Just so I don’t run to the dermatologist every other day, when I see something weird, I photograph it and put it on my calendar to photograph again six weeks later, for comparison. Most things have resolved by then. This got darker and a little larger.) The dermatologist at the VA initially said it was nothing. A year later, I insisted he look at it again, and he scraped it for a biopsy. A scrape should never be done on a suspected melanoma. A punch biopsy is what’s called for, so just in case it is a melanoma, we can get an accurate depth of the tumor. Still, he scraped, so we have no depth. Still, melanoma.

Wisely, the VA declined to do the surgery so close to his eye, so he sent us to a fantastic oncology dermatologist/surgeon. She held a black light to the lesion, and this is the area that glowed.

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The melanoma, including in-situ

Then she mapped out a 5mm margin. It looks all puffy in the photo below because she had already injected the anesthetic before I snapped the picture. (Interesting detail: When I asked her if it was all right that I took photos, and told her why, she said that most people do.)

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Surgical lines with 5 mm margins

Then she cut.

She was doing what they call “Slow MOHS.” In normal MOHS surgery (for basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas) they cut with a tiny margin, then examine it right in the office to make sure they got it all. If the margins aren’t clear, they cut a little more, put a bandage on it and have the patient return to the waiting room while they test to see if they got it all this time. When they have clear margins, they stitch it up and send the patient on their way. Melanoma is a little different and they don’t have the capacity to test it in the office. They have to send it out to a pathologist.

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Melanoma surgery

So they took the skin and sent it to pathology, put a bandage on his open wound and sent him home.

Fortunately, the pathologist said she got clean margins, so we went back the next day to be stitched up. I have to say, she was a master at it.

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After melanoma surgery

This is how he looked when we left there, but bandaged, of course. A week later, the stitches came out and they put tape on it, which they said would fall off in a week to ten days. Right on schedule the tape fell off in the shower, and this is how it looks, 18 days after surgery.

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18 days after melanoma surgery

Know your ABCDEs of melanoma:

A: Asymmetric. One half does not match the other half.

B: Border. Melanoma is unorganized. It does not grow in a uniform way. Borders have a “notched” appearance.

C: Color. Al’s melanoma had no particular color, but many times moles turn bad, and they can look pretty colorful. Al’s lesion (not a mole) just got darker. (Interesting point: most people don’t get new moles after they’re 30 years old.  In fact, most moles begin to regress as people get older. If you are middle aged or older and suddenly have a new mole, have it checked.)

D: Diameter. Any mole or suspicious lesion that is larger than a pencil eraser needs to be looked at.

E. Evolution. Melanoma is cancer. Cancer grows, changes. That’s why I take photographs for comparison. I would add to this Elevation. My first melanoma was a standard flat mole that grew tall.

Wear sunscreen and long sleeves in the sun.

Be safe out there. 

 

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Why do we read True Crime stories?

The world abounds with true crime stories. Dateline, a show on NBC, is all about that. The Epstein horror show is all about that. When people go missing, we all engage about the search, and (hopefully) successful recovery. If the recovery is ultimately not successful, then we obsess about the perpetrators and demand their comeuppance.

But all of those things would continue to happen without all the attention we pay. Why do we pay attention like we do?

My new book, Divorce by Grand Canyon, is all about that. Why? Because I’m as fascinated as the rest of you. I got my start when I was doing research on the famed Lizzie Borden case (still unsolved). I wrote a novel about her.

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But that doesn’t explain my (our) fascination.

On my website, I try to explain why writers write, and why readers read. I hold to this explanation, as it’s the best I can do.

Why write?

Writing is a process by which we can answer the unanswerable questions about ourselves. We don the skin of a character (who is of us, but yet not us) and we throw them into situations that we find difficult, challenging, or abhorrent, and we watch our characters (ourselves) as they endeavor to climb their way out. We watch them make decisions that we would never make and watch them reap the rewards, or suffer the consequences. And by so doing, we not only hold the mirror to ourselves, but speak our truth.

Writing is a calling.

We write because we must.

Why read?

We read because we lead lives of desperate calm. We go to great lengths to avoid conflict, yet fiction is all about conflict. When we go to bed at night and pick up a book, we slide into the shoes of a character embroiled in outrageous conflict and we learn about ourselves as we watch that character act or fail to act, in ways we would or we would not, and cheer as they triumph or despair as they fail. All along the way we say to ourselves, “I would never do that,” or “I would love to do that,” all the while knowing we would never, could never. This is the nature of escapist literature; we learn about ourselves as we live vicariously through the thrilling escapades of others.

Reading is a passion.

​We read because we must.

While this addresses an aspect of fiction, I believe the same holds true as we try, in vain, to figure out why killers (particularly serial killers) do what they do. It’s interesting to me, and it’s likely interesting to you, too.

Divorce by Grand Canyon is published by IFD Publishing, as part of their Horror That Happened imprint.

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Divorce by Grand Canyon

My new book, Divorce by Grand Canyon comes out today.

Included are eight true-crime stories. Seven are case stories of heinous serial killers, and one is a treatise on forensic entomology (maggots, and so forth) and how they help solve crimes.

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My interest in true crime is not new. I was first intrigued when I was researching information for the infamous Lizzie Borden case. Since I’m primarily a fiction writer, I am always interested in the motivation behind peoples’ actions, particularly when they resort to murder. And in most of these cases, one murder leads to the next. What are they thinking? And then, how in the world do they think they’re going to get away with it?

And then, what do they do to get caught? How outrageous (or clueless) is their behavior that they leave a trail behind them that leads the authorities straight to them?

Seven of these stories were written for Court TV’s Crime Library, and one was published as a stand-alone book called “Something Happened to Grandma.”

This book is published under the Horror that Happened imprint of IFD Publishing.

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I hope you’ll enjoy these stories, and remember to lock your doors at night.

 

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A Parliament of Crows – Part 3

IFD Publishing is reissuing Alan M. Clark’s historical novel A Parliament of Crows as part of its new boutique imprint Horror that Happened – Based on a True Story. This is a continuation of my experience re-reading the book.

You can find Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

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As the three Wardlaw sisters (renamed Mortlow for the purposes of this work of historical fiction) continue their reign of criminality, they alternate from being sneaky co-conspirators to being suspicious and intolerant of one another. Clark handles these back-and-forth changes in demeanor very well, as the women seem to delight in tormenting Carolee’s daughter and Mary’s remaining living son. They present a united front when investigated for their nefarious doings, but behind the scenes, they don’t seem to appreciate one another.

Tensions ratchet up as they take sides with one another, alliances always shifting, as they commit more and more murders, as they perpetuate more and more crimes of insurance fraud.

The horrific climax of the book melds the wretched turning point of the sisters’ starvation at the end of the Civil War and the turning point of the trial, and Vertiline’s illness in jail.

No one does well in the wake of these sisters, and this true tale is chilling in its cold-bloodness, stepped in historic culture.

An excellent work of historical fiction.

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A Parliament of Crows – Part 2

IFD Publishing is reissuing Alan M. Clark’s historical novel A Parliament of Crows as part of its new boutique imprint, Horror that Happened – Based on a True Story.  This is a continuation of my experience re-reading the book. You can find Part 1 here.

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When the Civil War ended and their father died, the three sisters were left with nothing but worthless Confederate notes. They were destitute, and needed to find a way to begin to rebuild their lives, and pay their own way.

Clark deftly moves from the days of the trial and their time in jail back to the days that formed the women’s personalities, including hiding from freed, starving slaves and Union soldiers during the Civil War and beyond.

Carolee’s convenient marriage to a Civil War soldier set them up for a time, but Carolee wasn’t cut out to be a wife and mother. The three women all wore black, all the time, and looking much alike, were continually misidentified as one another. They made their way in the world, discovering that despicable crimes of insurance fraud and murder could pay that way.

The courtroom drama plays out with increasing tension as the prosecutors, looking into Orphelia’s death, make accusations that ignite indignation and therefore inappropriate outbursts from Vertiline. Is she her own worst enemy in every way?

 

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Next week: Part 3

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A Parliament of Crows (Part 1 of 3)

IFD Publishing is reissuing Alan M. Clark’s historical novel A Parliament of Crows as part of its new boutique imprint, Horror that Happened – Based on a True Story.

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I’m re-reading this fascinating bit of history that took place in Georgia just after the Civil War, and will review the work here in three parts.For creative license, the author has changed the names from Wardlaw to Mortlow.

The story opens with three Wardlaw sisters, Vertiline, Carolee, and Mary, on trial for the murder of Carolee’s daughter, Orphelia.  Between court sessions, they are housed in a particularly disgusting jail, kept in cells far from one another. Vertiline, the eldest, tries to keep control of the situation, or at least control of her younger siblings. Carolee and Mary. But of course she was not in control of anything. Not anymore.

Carolee and Mary, twins, have an almost supernatural connection of communication, but as the trial goes on, Mary appears to lose the will to live, and pressure mounts on Vertiline.

Clark draws on his vast experience and knowledge of Civil War society in this book, interspersing a lot of the women’s history in the war-torn south. There’s a reason the three were charged with this crime, and he paints a very disturbing picture of their upbringing with a father who was a harsh disciplinarian.

In the Author’s Note, Clark discusses the fact that very little information is available about these women and their personalities, or their inner lives. This is the fictional part. The horror of their lives and deeds is pure fact.

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I’ll continue my assessment of this book as I continue reading.

 

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Lizzie Borden on Tour

My publisher, IFD Publishing, is launching a new line of books, Horror That Happened. My Lizzie Borden book was re-released under this new imprint, in the Based on a True Story category.

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We decided to do a blog tour with Silver Dagger Book Tours to promote this new release of a much-published book.

The first step was to decide when to do the tour, and how long the tour should last. We chose the entire month of July. Now I say a month is too long. I can blog, and post on social media, but my universe is small, and I can only annoy my readers/followers so much. A month of such posts turned out to be too much for me. Two weeks would have been perfect.

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Maia, of Silver Dagger, did a stellar job. She asked me for all kinds of materials, from answers to interview questions, to history behind the writing of the novel, to personal information. This, she parceled out to her bloggers, who quite faithfully posted the appropriate information on the day they said they would. Maia also posted it all on her Silver Dagger website, which got quite a bit of attention. Could be the $25 gift card we offered to participants. Could be she just has a nice following.

This was not the first time I’ve done a blog tour with Maia. When Benediction Denied came out through ShadowSpinners Press, the publisher set me up for a tour with her. This was in Maia’s earlier days and most of her bloggers turned out to be geared toward the romance market. Definitely not a good fit for my dark fantasy Labyrinth of Souls book. But Maia has grown her business and branched out into what appears to be all genres.

The results aren’t in, of course. Did I get book sales? I won’t know yet for a while, as Amazon reports their book sales in a weird way. But I can tell you that I also blogged about it several times on the Shadow Spinners blog and on my personal blog, and the publisher also did a fine job of blogging, all during the month of June. I think I picked up north of 30 new subscribers to my personal blog. So it’s all good.

Fortunately, this coincided nicely with a bump in Twitter subscribers because When Darkness Loves Us has had an astonishing resurgence with its new publication under the new Paperbacks from Hell imprint from Valancourt Books, curated by Grady Hendrix.

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There is more news, but I will keep that for another post at another time. Suffice to say, it’s good to have a whole new audience for my favorite books. Consider booking a blog tour and report back your successes.

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