My story is like most stories I guess. I was blissfully unaware of Melanoma until it slapped me in the face in 2007. I was a sun lover, often bronzed in winter from frequent visits to the tanning bed and took no precautions with sunscreen. I admit it – I liked being tanned. I lived in B.C. and practically lived outdoors as a kid, winter and spring skiing, baseball, grass hockey, I swam in our pool – all of it in the heat of the day with no protection of any kind. It was the 70’s and 80’s and being tanned made me feel healthy and sporty. I was in for a big surprise.
An itchy mole on my shoulder blade turned into a little blueberry before I had it looked at. First to my GP then to a dermatologist who referred me to Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto where I now live with my family. Honestly, I thought that maybe they’d have to cut a bit of skin out with it but hey, it can’t be that bad I told myself. Don’t you just cut skin cancer out and continue on with your day?
I was a little shocked to hear I would need a surgery to remove the surrounding tissue. More shocked to see some 40 staples after I removed the bandage. I wondered aloud whether the surgeon knew it was just a mole? Shortly after we were told the cancer had in fact spread through the lymph nodes and that another surgery was in order to remove them. Ok, this was now getting real. Was I in trouble here? Surely not. I was in my 40’s and untouchable by something like a cancerous mole, right? I was clear for 3 years when I started having minor bladder problems. Sure enough, I had a tumor now growing on my adrenal gland on my kidney. Another surgery to remove the tumor and that should be it right? No. Only 3 months later I had 3 new tumors growing and was now stage IV cancer and officially in trouble.
It was then I was told about a clinical trial for GlaxoSmithKline’s BRAF inhibitor, a drug that targets my specific kind of cancer by binding to it and inhibiting the activity of BRAF and effectively choking out the tumor – it just shrinks and dies. The trial was taking around 345 people. I thought, oh man – it seems like there is that many Melanoma patients hanging around the waiting room whenever I’m there, and I can never get parking… what are my odds I wondered? I’ve never been good at math and I was alarmed to learn it was 345 people from 8 countries, not just my country, not just my waiting room. I had to get in this study to save my life. I passed all the medical exams and I was told on April 29, 2011 that I was in the study. I had officially won the lottery! Forget about a chalet in Switzerland, a trip around the world or that red sports car, who cares, this drug would extend my life! My tumors shrunk immediately and by the end of August 2011 I was cancer-free (as long as I take my BRAFF pills).
So, I’m winning my fight. Perhaps just for now, perhaps for the long term – no one knows. I’ll find out as I go but one thing is for sure, I’m lucky, no matter what happens, because I have family and friends to support me, make me laugh and let me cry when I’m feeling the weight of this. Today, I’m pleased to say that I have been on the BRAF inhibitor for 1 year and 9 months with no re-growth, so far.
You know, maybe I won’t be the last one to leave the party or maybe I’ll be leaving early. Whatever lays in store for me, I’m just focused on moving forward, keeping a sense of humor and enjoying life, and along the way recommending that others do the same.