My name is Elana Schwam and I’m 30 years old. I travel all over the country playing competitive ultimate Frisbee with Boston Brute Squad. I am a graduate student in an accelerated direct-entry Nurse Practitioner program pursuing a degree in Adult/Gero Primary Care specialty at MGH Institute of Health Professions. I also was diagnosed with Stage 3B Malignant Melanoma at the end of June 2016. Melanoma is an aggressive form of skin cancer and Stage 3B means the cancer moved to one of my near by lymph nodes and formed a palpable tumor.
This Blog/site serves several purposes. For one, it’s an easy way for me to update all my loved ones at once without filling up everyone’s inboxes. Another, I am finding it very therapeutic to write this all down and compile information that I’m learning as I go. And finally, I hope to raise awareness about melanoma, current treatments & research, how to advocate for yourself as a patient, and many many other issues in the world of health and health care.
If you want a quick summary of the chain of events that led to my current situation, please read my Timeline.
What’s the deal with “Melanie”?
For one, she’s a huge bitch. If you see her on the street, run the other way and yell “shame!” and don’t ever look back. Okay, but actually a quick facebook search proves that I don’t know anyone personally named Melanie. Melanie is the name I gave my cancer, Melanoma. I am a little embarrassed that this isn’t the first time I’ve named a traumatic bodily event. For example, many of you remember Sally. Sally is the bony callous that can be observed protruding from my right tibia. She’s been with me since I broke her in 2003, and renamed Sally 2.0 when had surgery to put a titanium rod through her in 2011. We’ve been through a lot together.
In the Spring of 2016, during a particularly stressful semester at school, I developed a GIANT tonsil (precursor to a peritonsillar abscess) that sent me to the ER during finals. Her name was Priscilla the Killah. She has since been taken care of.
It’s ironic that I spent many of my teen years raising awareness about the hidden culture of aggression in teenage girls. I promise you, no humans named Melanie, Sally, or Priscilla have ever been hurt (either physically or verbally) by me, my friends, or my family. So anyway… Melanie is a real asshole, so we are going to fuck her shit up. Also, I should mention that my dad actually suggested I name it “fuckwad” but I thought Melanie was more appropriate for public discussions. Either way, that was hilarious, coming from my dad.
What does “Schwaming” mean?
Hopefully you know by now that Schwam is my last name. Throughout my family’s history, we’ve all been nicknamed some variation of Schwam – like “schwamy” or “schwambomb” etc. On my ultimate team I didn’t always have the best control of my body in space and occasionally I would accidentally take someone out when trying to be athletic. Often times that person would be myself. Eventually it became a thing people would say even if I wasn’t involved in the play but the play resulted in someone getting an awkward D or goal of sorts. You get it. So now I’m fucking up cancer.
Who are all the other people with strange names that you talk about in your blog?
I realize as I get deeper and deeper into updates that I am no longer explaining who anyone is and that might make it difficult for people who are new to the site or who don’t know me personally to have any idea what is going on and who I am talking about. So here is a cast list/character description to hopefully decrease some of the confusion.
Schwam/Elana/Schwambomb/Lany = me
Melanie = My cancer, melanoma (not a human)
Louise = My liver – The newest organ to get a name due to continued bad behavior
NED = No evidence of disease, the new man in my life.
Eric Schwam/Dr. Schwam = my Dad who also happens to be an ER Physician
Sue Ellen Schwam/ momschwam = my Mom, who also happens to be an LICSW
Aaron Schwam = One of my older brothers who lives in Chicago with my sister-in-law, Kristina/Krissy and my niece Talia.
Giovanni Schwam Greci = my oldest brother, who lives locally in Brighton and has his own amazing story of triumph and resilience. He also taught me how to dance.
Lege/Aaron Freedman/A2 = my Fiancé and partner of 2+yrs whom I live with in Cambridge. You see how this gets complicated seeing that he shares a name with my brother. Hence I refer to him as “Lege” (frisbee nickname) in my blog to avoid confusion and my family refers to him as “A2”
Sadie = Family dog that lives with my parents. I knew my dad would yell at me if I didn’t mention her.
My TEAM Brute Squad & Other friends: I mention many friends in my posts and talk a lot about my TEAM. I usually explain who they are in the posts. When I refer to my TEAM I usually mean Brute Squad.
Health Care Team:
Dr. Donald Lawrence = My Oncologist at MGH
Riley Fadden, NP = My Nurse Practitioner at MGH – I see her more than any other member of my healthcare team.
Dr. Carolan = My Liver Specialist (hepatologist) – newest member of my healthcare team
Dr. Cusack = My surgeon at MGH
Daunielle, RN = My Primary Infusion Nurse
Karyn, RN = My other infusion nurse (for when Daunielle isn’t there)
Dr. Elena Hawryluk = my new Dermatologist at MGH
Dr. Karen Rothman = my original Dermatologist in Westborough
Dr. Rachel Stark = my PCP at CHA
Dr. Faje = My neuroendocrinologist at MGH