By Laura Deckelman
My friend and I went for skin checks and our follow-up biopsies came out negative. What a relief! Yet I have a certain “survivor’s guilt” because I passed the skin test while Paul’s skin cancer killed him.
As I emerge from the fog, I am trying to make sense over what happened. Paul was healthy his entire life (except for some mild asthma in later years) and he developed a skin infection on his arm. Two weeks later, he died.
It’s our reality but still doesn’t make sense. Everyone is baffled and tells me the same: It doesn’t make sense. If only we had known about the yearly skin screenings, we would have had them and maybe his cancer could have been caught early and he might be alive now. Up until the time that Paul had been diagnosed with melanoma, I had not been familiar with the severity of the disease. My son and I spent hours researching melanoma the same night and learned that it is a killer disease if caught too late.
Something was bothering Paul the last year or two of his life. He seemed different, not the same Paul. He was more tired than usual, and was moving at an extremely slow pace. I used to joke that he moved like a man in his nineties rather than a man in his early sixties. He stopped wearing nice clothes and wore old, worn clothes, some with holes and tears.
Instead of buying new shoes, he taped up his old ones until I threw them out. He stopped going for haircuts, stopped shaving, didn’t care about anything. He was also crankier and snapped at us more often.
Something about his face was also different — either he appeared older or his face was thinner. His color was too pale, but I thought it was because he worked crazy hours and didn’t get enough sleep. Friends of mine suggested that he could be depressed, especially when he fell asleep when we were out with friends in public places. Nobody had a clue that his body was reacting to the silent killer of skin cancer that had invaded his body.
Then he felt the bumps on his skin by the elbow on his right arm, and an infection began to form. He tried to treat the infection himself, thinking it would go away on its own. It didn’t. It got worse. Two months later, his skin was bleeding and the infection turned into a huge skin mass. The following month, he felt a huge lump under his right arm and that was the beginning of the end.
When he finally told me, he must have had a feeling that it was serious. I’ll never know the exact reasons for his keeping the arm infection a secret for three months. He didn’t want to “worry us.” He was in denial. He thought he could be “physician, heal thyself.” He was scared and didn’t want anyone to see it. Any one of those reasons …
If only I could turn back time and redo everything. He would have had skin screenings every year and would have been saved. His death was senseless, untimely, and catastrophic.
He was a wonderful man and I know how much he loved me, as I loved him. He put everyone else before himself. When his sister visited him in the hospital while I was at home, he told her that he was more worried about me than himself. He was the one dying, yet he was worried about me. He worried about how I would go on without him. He was protective of me and was my #1 fan. He was my best friend. I could tell him everything. I never held secrets from him. He loved me unconditionally.
He gave me strength, through his love and support, to be an aggressive ferry advocate, and to advocate for other causes in Rockaway. My surfing friend used to watch Paul enjoy watching me photograph the surfers. He stood next to me on the beach, just admiring what I did.
When he came home from work, I always felt reassured — he’s here, everything is all right. Now he won’t be coming home ever, and it feels as if things will never be all right or at least the same.
All of the tragic circumstances that led to his death could have been prevented. I urge everyone to go for annual skin cancer screenings to prevent such tragedy from happening again.