“It’s in your bones now, Chloe” AND thats the moment I realized I was done with western medicine.”
I grew up in Rancho Cucamonga, Ca. Normal girl, normal life. I graduated high school in 2012 and quickly began my journey into the United States Air Force. By June 2013 I was a graduated security forces member working 12 hour shifts active duty in Albuquerque, New Mexico at Kirtland Air Force Base. I was independent, living on my own and making decent money with a stable job at the age of 19. My biggest dream come true and the only reason I had achieved this was because of my stubborn drive to make it completely on my own. I can thank my mom for that one and now that I am where I am now, under the circumstances I am now, I am nothing but grateful that I was raised to be self sufficient and to be an advocate for myself. Extremely, extremely grateful. I was living the high life for quite some time. I enjoyed my independent bliss for four amazing months. No complaints were coming from me until some time late October when a small mole I had on my outer labia started growing and ulcering. Everyday became the same dreaded routine. I woke up in pain, dealt with the sensitivity all day and watched and felt the now formed scab peel off every single time I pulled my uniform down to use the restroom, change my clothing or shower. I kept my issue to myself out of fear and embarrassment. A bleeding mole in that area? How do you even begin to tell someone about that, let alone your MALE military doctor? As a 19 year old female in a career field filled with males it was my worst nightmare and discussing it was clearly not going to happen. I dealt with the issue for one week before I couldn’t take the pain any longer. I tried desperately to set up an appointment with my base PCM and gynecologist but the answer remained the same,”No, you can not have a pap smear until you are 21 in the military”. WHAT!? is there some magical life rule I don’t know about where young women under the age of 21 are not susceptible to gynecological problems? I continued to persist to be seen because I could not live with the pain. Finally, two months later in the month of December, the base gynecologist agreed to make an exception for me and see me.
“Thats a cosmetic issue and just because you are embarrassed of the placement of your mole does not make it an issue to your health. We won’t cover for you to get it removed.” WOW, I was in shock. Here I was in physical pain, at this point to ignorant on the subject of skin cancers to even be concerned that’s what it was, and I was being denied medical help. Is that even legal? To this day I still think about the doctor that told me that. I was sent home yet again and denied any help for my health. completely in shock and feeling hopeless, I struggled through the pain for two more months until January 24, 2014 when I had finally had enough. With my problems still a secret to every one else but myself and the base doctors, I made the most desperate call of my life. I called my base PCM crying, yelling and demanding to be seen. Enough was enough and something was clearly wrong. This was a big deal for me(at the time) because the military is all about “not asking why” “doing as your told because someone higher ranking than you said so” and “yes sir, no sir”. Completely understandable and I know exactly what I signed up for but those things should never be applied to one’s health. Ever. That day I marched into the base hospital determined to resolve my health issue. I sat on the hospital bed and watched as my base doctor pulled out A RAZOR. A FRICKEN RAZOR. He said to me “Alright, let’s take care of this problem”. My heart sank, my stomach dropped and my eyes watered. I knew what my mole looked like now after four months of rescrabbing and growing and I knew there was no way he was going to razor it off without any anesthetic in this tiny, ill equipped room. No way. No how. He lifted up my hospital gown and immediately took a step back. “This is not at all how the gynecologist described this. Holy shit”. I wanted to scream “I TOLD YOU SO” right in his face but I resisted. I cried as he continued to tell me I needed to see a dermatologist. Despite the normal six month wait, he got me squeezed into a dermatologists office that very day. I left my base hospital and drove straight there but not at all worried because despite my doctor admitting to not being able to help me in his office he continued to sugar coat things by saying “it’s nothing serious” and “it’s really nothing”. I would eventually learn that sugar coating would become a very significant thing in my life starting from that very day.
That day I had my mole biopsied right then and there on the dermatologist’s patient table after a few shots of lidocaine in a very uncomfortable area. I was told once again that it was nothing to worry about and they would call me with pathology results in two weeks or maybe not at all and if so, to call them in three weeks. I left. End of story. I never heard from them and the mole wasn’t cancer and I lived happily ever after.. SIKE. They called me two days later and rushed me back to the office where the doctor sat me down, grabbed my hand and proceeded to tell me I had stage three melanoma spread past the margins. The rest from that moment on is all a blur. I called my mom right after to tell her and I felt guilty for dropping a bomb she never even saw coming because I had not even mentioned my problems previously. She flew down and lived with me for a month in Albuquerque while I had my first surgery on January 31st, removal of my entire right outer labia and three lymph nodes all returning cancer positive. My second surgery, February 14th, removal of 25 more lymph nodes followed right after leaving me with no feeling in my right upper leg, as well as a week in the hospital due to infection from a botched surgery. The military continued to make things difficult by refusing to use the financial funds they were given for this exact type of situation to help house my mother. At this point I realized financially, emotionally and for my own health I needed to be moved closer to home. They made a fit about that as well but by April 2014 I was stationed at Los Angeles Air Force Base, living in my mothers house and making weekly trips to my new found oncologist and surgical team.
For the sake of saving time and because my expected audience is cancer patients who can pretty much expect what the next two years after that were like, I will wrap it up into a few sentences. I spent the time between April 2014 and January 2016 on 4 clinical trials that only gave me life long medical issues I now deal with, 4 more surgeries on top of my first 2, and most recently a transplant trial after my scans in January came back worse then ever. It all clearly wasn’t working after we received those scans therefore I was a candidate for the TIL therapy trial. I was the first one to be administered the trial and it consisted of a week of chemo, a transplant, and a week of a strong drug called IL2. I had all the hopes in the world for this trial and I truly thought it was the one but all I came out with from that mess was no hair, possibly being infertile, 3 horrible weeks I will never forget and a beautiful scan four weeks later that lit up like a freaking christmas tree scattered with cancer. “It’s in your bones now, Chloe” AND thats the moment I realized I was done with western medicine.
A combination of my refusal to give up, my constant thoughts of knowing there was a cure out there they weren’t telling me about and now feeling more hopeless than ever led me to search for something else and thats when I found it. C.H.I.P.S.A. hospital in Tijuana, Mexico. After some more research and phone calls, a week of fundraising and lots of love and support from friends and family I found myself taking the picture featured above, arriving at C.H.I.P.S.A. to start three weeks of curing. This is where “My Story” stops…. for now. I say “for now” because I know this is just the beginning to a healthy, spiritual, purposeful life.