Licia Morelli, a stage 3 melanoma survivor, describes the moment she first learned the extent of her disease from head and neck surgeon Dr. Kevin Emerick, and the moment she began her treatment journey.
It’s a Friday I will remember for the rest of my life. After a long, cold spring I’m finally able to open the windows and let the stale air and stress of the last couple of months out of the house. It’s a sunny start to the weekend and I’m at home alone. The kids are out with my mother and my husband, Jed, is at work. I’m wandering around the kitchen, holding my phone, waiting for biopsy results. My heart is stringy and I distract myself through any means I can get my hands on – the dishes, the laundry, email.
My hand begins to vibrate. A Boston number I don’t recognize lights up the screen. I swipe the tab and answer.
“Hi this is Licia”, I say.
“Hi there, can I speak to Mary please?” he asks.
“Oh, Hi Dr. Emerick, it’s me, Mary. Well, Licia. I go by my middle name.”
There’s a pause. I fill the space.
“It’s okay, happens all the time,” I say, hoping to put him at ease. I don’t want him to feel the fluster that I imagine has entered his head.
“Licia.” he says.
My name lands with a thud. My eyes squeeze shut. He is gathering his strength as much as I am. We both know what’s coming.
“I’m afraid I have some bad news,” he says. “We did find melanoma in your lymph nodes.” He keeps talking and I sink into my chair, heart racing. The birds chirp behind me and reverberate in my ears. The sun sparkles on the long, farmhouse table. I run my finger over the lines in the wood.
“Dr. Emerick?” I ask. I’m asking permission to keep talking. Asking permission to take up more of his busy time. This is a fear that lives in me with all Doctors – I never want to bother them. I never want to be a nuisance.
“Yes?” he replies.
I muster up the courage to keep going. My voice quavers as I begin.
“I want to tell you how grateful I am for you and your team. Through this whole process, you’ve been amazing. I feel very lucky to have you as my doctor.”
A pause extends after the last word drops off. I can hear a waver in his voice as he answers.
“Thank you, Licia. Your appreciation is much needed today. It’s been a long week.”
I don’t know what allows him to show this vulnerability. I don’t know why he chooses to reveal to me, a new patient, this feeling. But he does, and that makes him human. A real person. Someone I can trust.
I can’t imagine standing in his shoes in this moment. I would only hope my heart was big enough to fill a role such as this. What I can imagine though, is that Oncologists are angels walking here on Earth. Guides trying their best to handle a disease from which we cannot escape and my heart fills with unending gratitude. Gratitude that will live on for years to come.
I hang up the phone and sit in the chair and the news sinks in. The disease is metastatic. There will be another surgery. There will be chemo.
I begin to understand that it’s there, at Mass Eye and Ear, where I will journey back to health. And it’s in the relationships that I forge with Dr. Emerick, his staff and nurses, throughout the process, that will help me build the stamina to go through the journey with them, together. I’m not alone, I have a team who will become a mainstay in my life. A team I will become fiercely loyal to as they are to me. It’s at this incredible hospital with these unique connections built on trust, guidance and friendship that I’m anchored in towards a cure and a lifetime of care.
Licia Morelli is the best-selling author of The Lemonade Hurricane: A Story of Mindfulness and Meditation and has been featured in The Huffington Post, Elephant Journal, Tiny Buddha, Publisher’s Weekly, Barnes and Noble and The Boston Globe. Licia was diagnosed with Stage 3 Melanoma in 2014 and considers Mass Eye and Ear her home away from home.