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The itch that was cancer; an unusual urge to buy magazines; selecting several at random from a display of some 400; opening the Post one night to an article that saved his life - was it more than happenstance?

THE ITCH THAT WAS CANCER

The letter to the Post began: "I would like to express my grateful appreciation for the article you recently ran on malignant melanomas in 'Medical Mailbox,' August/September, '74."

The letter ended: "If i had not read your article, I'm quite sure I would have ignored the mole for at least another year (until my next checkup), or until it started giving me some discomfort.

"I thought you might be interested in knowing what a profound effect your magazine has on its readers, even to the point of saving or prolonging lives."

In preparing a segment of "LifeCare Digest" on melanoma for CBN's "700 Club," I remembered the letter and decided to call the writer, Gerald W. Malky, of Oakmont, Pennsylvania, to get the story in detail. I found Mr. Malky not only very much alive but also quite willing to talk about his successful bout with this stealthy form of cancer.

Post: How did you first become aware of your melanoma?

Malky: It happened in 1974. Standing in front of the mirror shaving one morning, I suddenly had an itch on my side. Looking down, all I could see was a tiny mole. I didn't pay much attention to it, but I do remember thinking I'd have my doctor take a look at it on my regular checkup.

Post: How long an interval would that have been?

Malky: Only a couple of weeks. However, the doctor and I got to talking about vacations and such--we are good friends--and I forgot to mention the mole. Not long after that, my wife and I took our vacation at a beach in Delaware. And a strange series of circumstances began.

For one thing, the heat of the sun felt as though weights were pressing against me. So I spent most of the time sitting on the porch, shopping, and staying out of the sun as much as possible. And then I had this unusual desire to buy some magazines--something I hardly ever do. Throughout the week this feeling became more and more intense. Finally, on Thursday, I could no longer resist. I went to a drugstore and, out of perhaps 400 or 500 on display, chose 5 or 6 at random. But I didn't read them right away; I just threw them on the coffee table at the cottage where we were staying.

Post: According to your letter, you began reading them under unusual circumstances.

Malky: Yes, it was truly a singular phenomenon. I awoke at about 2 a.m. one night and couldn't get back to sleep. It is very dark at the beach, with only a few streetlights. Still--call it supernatural or what you will--there was a glow so bright that I could see objects clearly on the dresser across the room. While it struck me as strange, I put it out of my mind and tried to go back to sleep. But after turning and tossing for half an hour, I gave up and went downstairs to read some of the magazines.

Post: Do you remember what they were?

Malky: One of them I certainly will never forget. After shuffling through the pile, for some reason I picked up The Saturday Evening Post.

Post: An excellent choice.

Malky: I agree. But again--I now believe by divine providence--the magazine fell open to the medical articles. First of all, I never read medical articles in magazines. Whenever I would read magazines in doctors' offices, I would begin to experience symptoms of the disease I was reading about. Thus, it was a policy of mine to avoid this type of material. Anothere odd thing--the medical article was not near the center of the magazine where it normally would open. Maybe that is why I began to read it. It was about malignant melanoma.

Post: And did that ring a bell?

Malky: Not at first. As I went through the profile of someone likely to get the disease, I wasn't making the connection that the description fit me: Melanoma predominantly occurs on the back or the trunk of men, aged 30 to 50, with blond or red hair. Then my eyes fell on the picture of the melanoma. It looked familiar. So I went into the bathroom to compare it with the mole on my back. It was almost as though you could have taken my mole and pasted it on the page.

Post: And you were frightened?

Malky: I was scared to death. All kinds of thoughts went through my mind: Should I wake my wife? Should I see a doctor immediately? We were leaving the next day, so I decided to wait and see our family physician when we got home.

Post: What was his reaction?

Malky: After the examination, I asked the nurse what was going to happen. She told me they were going to remove the mole--something about using one of those electric pencils.

Post: Oh?

Malky: I still had the article in my pocket, luckily, because it said that no one should be treated in this manner until a biopsy had ruled out melanoma; otherwise, the cancer could be spread needlessly.

Post: And then?

Malky: When the doctor came into the room, I insisted he not remove the mole with an electric pencil, because I felt it was a melanoma. He became incensed and told me that in his office, he did the diagnosing.

Post: And did you give in?

Malky: No way. I showed him the article and pointed out that I fit the profile and that the mole was in the proper place for a melanoma. I told him I was concerned because it also said if you do this procedure to the melanoma, I will probably die.

Post: What did he say to that?

Malky: After he had calmed down, he looked at the mole through a magnifying glass, then called the plastic surgeon. But he still hadn't told me whether or not I had a melanoma. Well, the plastic surgeon began to talk to me as if I were a medical man and referred to me as the person who diagnosed his own disease--just because I had read one article. Nevertheless, he laid out the possibilities: The mole obviously would have to be surgically removed. If it was malignant, my lymph nodes would also have to be removed. If cancer was found in the nodes, the next step would be chemotherapy.

The surgery was scheduled for Monday. On Sunday, I finally told my wife what was going on. After a lot of weeping and wailing on both our parts, I checked into a hospital. The first day, the doctors performed a biopsy on me. The mole and a large area around it were removed on the following day.

After my discharge from the hospital, it was amazing how great everything looked. Even stop signs looked beautiful. I was very much at peace with myself. But I still had trouble believing the events of the past few weeks: selecting the Post magazine, having it open to an article about melanoma, recognizing the mole, and saving the article so the original specialist did not use the electric method to remove it. I seemed to have somebody looking out for me.

Post: You believe it was more than coincidence, then?

Malky: I'm sure of it. If I hadn't believed it before, a trip my wife and I made between surgeries convinced me and made a big impact on how I view the world. We were out driving one day when the driver suddenly asked if we would like to see the Pope's summer villa, which was nearby. Even though I'm a Catholic, it seemed a boring idea to me. However, the other people we were with wanted to see it, so we went.

I was standing in the garden, just looking around, when the Pope came to the window and looked down at us. The pontiff and I made eye contact. I thought I would just drop through the cement. I mean, a feeling came over me that I can't describe. I was soaked with sweat. When we left, the others began asking what was wrong with me. I guess I looked a little sick. There's just no way to explain how that affected me.

Post: Did you believe then that everything would be all right?

Malky: Truthfully, I had made up my mid by now that I was going to die. I had read the article and I realized how deadly melanoma was. The trip to Italy would probably be it for me. The doctors had not given me much cause to be optimistic. I can remember sitting in the conference room and my wife asking what were my chances of survival. The doctors were saying less than 60 percent. She asked what would happen, and they told her how upredictable cancer was. Although I thought I was going to die, I had a positive attitude. I never asked, "Why me, Lord?" I just decided to accept what happened and make the best of it. I went back into the hospital for surgery on my lymph glands. The results took three days. When the doctor finally entered my room carrying a clipboard and showed me the results of my tests, which were negative, I can never remember being so happy in my life. From my hospital bed, I decided to write that letter to the editor of the magazine, thanking you for the article. Without it, I would not have followed up on the mole for a lot longer period of time. After all, the only "symptom" had been a slight itch that morning while shaving. If I hadn't read the article, God knows what would have happened. I probably would be dead by now.
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Author:SerVaas, Cory
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Sep 1, 1986
Words:1634
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