Next Saturday I will be joining Martha and Team Mela-No-Mas at the Melanoma Walk. Martha is a friend who is living with stage 4 Melanoma. If you are cancer clueless, that means it’s serious.
Martha is sharing a little bit about here Melanoma journey today. I hope it helps build awareness for the seriousness of the disease and also the hope that funding research brings.
I grew up in Tucson, and my parents were always careful about sun safety. I rarely participated in outside PE class because of allergies, so you can imagine that my sun exposure has been limited.
When my kids (now ages 6 and 8) started preschool, I decided it was time to get caught up on doctor’s appointments. I showed my dermatologist a mole that I had had since my daughter was 3 and he said it looked harmless, but I asked him to check it out to be safe. The next week he called and told me that my mole was malignant – it was cancer.
Shortly after, a surgical oncologist removed the mole and some of the tissue around it. They tested my lymph nodes and decided that the cancer had spread to one of them. I had Stage 3 Melanoma. Stage 3 means the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes, but hadn’t metastasized to other parts of my body.
I had one year of immunotherapy – the hopes were that my immune system could be stimulated enough that it would destroy the tumors.
After the year, I had a scan that could detect the presence of tumors. Another tumor was found in my back, which meant my immunotherapy didn’t work. The tumor was surgically removed and another appeared after about a month. Then another. My doctor kept removing the tumors and taking more and more tissue with each one. After the third tumor was found (I could feel them under my scars), my doctor recommended radiation.
I went through fives weeks of radiation. During the last week, I found another tumor on the front side of my body. I was officially at Stage 4. My cancer had metastasized to distant lymph nodes and other parts of my body.
With a stage 4 diagnosis comes new drugs – and if there was ever a good year to become stage 4, it was 2011. Two new drugs came out in 2011, which is a lot!
The first new therapy I tried is called IL-2, which is actually an older treatment. I was hospitalized for 10 days while I was given an immune booster that made me very very sick. When I couldn’t take any more, I had a week break before I went back for another week of the treatment in the hospital. I don’t remember any of it, but my husband Danny remembers it as a very scary time. We ended up moving into my parent’s house because it was impossible for Danny to take care of the kids and I at the same time.
I recovered for three months, and then went for body scans. Unfortunately, we found out that the IL-2 didn’t work – the cancer had spread to my lungs and liver.
IPI was the next drug – It’s one of the new ones that was recently approved. IPPI takes a while to work, which is ok because my cancer isn’t life threatening at this point. I call IPI my “sparkle medicine.” It’s very, very expensive, so obviously it would make me sparkle, right? I wore sparkly shoes and earrings to my doctor’s appointments and chemotherapy treatments. The first scans after my IPI treatment showed that my tumors were smaller, which meant the treatments worked. Upon further examination and scans, we realized that wasn’t the case – my cancer had spread.
Recently, I began taking Zolboraf (oral chemotherapy). The medicine is tough, and it’s difficult to find the right dosage. It has to be strong enough to fight the cancer, but I have to be able to get out of bed in the morning. Zolboraf doesn’t work forever, though. My oncologist is hoping that I’ll be able to take it for 18 months.
Right now I’m on a therapeutic dose of Zolboraf – the doctors are still learning about the drug. It causes bad joint pain, nausea, swelling spots on my hands (inflammation of fat under the skin), and my skin is peeling. A lower dose of this is tolerable, and I hope I can continue to take it.
2011 was a great year for melanoma patients, like I said. Several FDA drugs were approved. If my diagnosis came in 2009, only one medicine would have been available. The funding of research about Melanoma comes mostly from donations – donations like your entry fee for the Melanoma walk in Tucson. All money stays in Tucson for education, research at the University of Arizona, and community outreach.
The walk isn’t a 5K or a half marathon, don’t worry – it’s a 1.5 mile family and dog friendly walk from the cancer center to the community gardens and back. It’s more of an event, with activities, education, live music, a silent auction, and food.
I’d love for you join me on October 20 from 2-6 pm as part of my team, Mela-No-Mas!
Registration is $30 for adults, $15 for children ages 5-12, and free for the little ones.
You can register for the walk at fightmelanomatoday.org
As part of your registration fee, you can have a free skin cancer screening by a dermatologist affiliated with the Skin Cancer Institute! You can schedule your skin exam on the day of the Melamoma walk, or the week before or after! My whole family is taking advantage of this benefit! After you register for the walk, call 888-724-2749 to schedule your screening.