Living with Melanoma – Ingrid’s Melanoma Patient Story
Ingrid shows us that age is just a number and what is possible during diagnosis and treatment.
Story has been provided by Ingrid Fothergill
In May 2013, I noticed a small lump around the base of my right nostril above my lip and over the next few weeks I noticed it growing in size. I had an appointment with my dermatologist in June and had the area examined. He decided on a biopsy and the results came back as “fatty tissue”. At the time, he said I was lucky (meaning it could have been cancer). He then suggested I mention this to my dentist and ask if he could biopsy the lump from underside (meaning inside mouth and through my upper palate). Unfortunately, my dentist would not be able to do this at his dental office but suggested that I be referred to a dental surgeon. I went to that appointment 3 weeks later and I had 3 appointments with the dentist. His thinking about the lump was that it could be an area of inflammation and suggested a double strength antibiotic. This was repeated twice more. When I told him that my husband and I had a trip booked for Cape Town, South Africa for mid-November and asked him about removing the lump. He didn’t think he could remove the lump in that time period and suggested I see a plastic surgeon.
An appointment was received for September 2013, at this appointment my face was examined and my history noted; the surgeon said no problem to remove the lump in the outpatient clinic at Joseph Brant Memorial Hospital (JBMH). He thought the lump was probably nothing of concern. At this time, we also mentioned our upcoming trip to Cape Town. He thought he would not have the time to get in the surgery (in meantime his receptionist searched his schedule & found a spot in late September). I had the lump removed and 3 weeks later received the result showing a form of melanoma. He discussed this with me and sent a referral to the Juravinski Cancer Center and mentioned he didn’t think an appointment would be available before year end. The Dr. suggested I go on my planned trip and try not to worry too much, so Jim, my husband and I left November 14th for South Africa.
Ingrid and Jim getting ready to fly to South Africa
We returned late December, but during our travel I noted some swelling occurring across the cheek to the ear, through the excision line. I had my first appointment at the Juravinski Cancer Center with Dr. Young, after reading my history and examining my face, he was surprised at the size of the swelling. He then suggested a radiologist be called at this time to further examine my face. I was subsequently seen by a radiologist and after conferring with the oncologist it was decided for me to have a course of radiation treatments to the area on my face. Within a week, appointments for mask making and an MRI appointment were received. Then dates for 3 radiation treatments were received also. After 3-weeks the radiation treatments were completed (with no side effects), and by the next 3 weeks my face had almost returned to normal size. The radiologist was very pleased with the results.
While all this was going on I was given an appointment date to see a head and neck oncologist (Dr. Tozer) at the Juravinski Cancer Center February 2014. Over the next 5 months I did very well and was monitored on regular basis for any new symptoms.
In June 2014, I noticed some swelling again in the right side of my face and a new appointment was booked to see Dr. Tozer. I was given a course of chemotherapy (dacarbazine) which I tolerated fairly well. After this I felt well enough to go on a 7-day camping/canoeing trip to the north shore of Northern Ontario, as far as Wawa. At the follow-up appointment at the Juravinski in September, I was then started on a course of an immune boosting medication (an Immunotherapy, Yervoy) to be administered by IV infusion on a 3-weekly dosing schedule. This was completed by December, 2014 and
after explanation by the oncology team it was decided that no further appointment dates were to be scheduled unless necessary by me, and the results from the CT scan were satisfactory.
Over the next year, I was able to take several trips with Jim. In April, 2015 we took an Atlantic Ocean cruise to Barcelona, Spain where we disembarked and started a 3-week backpacking trip through Spain and Portugal flying home from Lisbon in May, 2015. During the summer months we had family visiting from South Africa and were kept busy and active (swimming, walking, and biking). Also, we were able to squeeze in a 7-day canoe trip to Georgian Bay (our favourite canoeing region) of Ontario.
Fishing in Manitoulin
Ingrid and Jim at Winterlude
We were able to get up to Ottawa for Winterlude in 2016, and try out our skates for a chance to skate on the frozen canal (very wobbly, needed an arm to hang on to), and skiing in the Gatineau Park was beckoning. Come spring we were booked for another trip to Cape Town for 5 weeks from March 2014 to April, in April I started with headaches which became worse by mid-April and needed to increase my dose of Lyrica (for nerve pain) plus use of Tylenol with Codeine. Then one morning, I woke up with blurred vision (only 7 days before due to fly home).
On return, we made an appointment to see Dr. Tozer, at this time I was examined and an MRI was booked and new medication to help reduce swelling in the brain was ordered (cause for headaches). Report from the MRI showed a small area of probable tumor on one of the cranial nerves. A specialist in radiation was called in (Dr. Greenspoon) to examine me and suggest a treatment plan for this area. It was suggested that I have a course (5 treatments) again after cyberknife radiation. All was explained to me regarding preparation of the special mask and the delivery method of this type of radiation, to which I agreed to have all completed by mid-June with no side effects and tolerated very well.
At my next appt with Dr. Tozer he offered me a 2-year course of another type of immune-boosting medicine (Keytruda) to be given on the same type of schedule as Yervoy and lab tests prior to each IV infusion. This started late July 2016. Over the next year, infusions were tolerated well with lab levels staying fairly stable; I only required few changes to oral meds as per lab levels. We were able to take a week holiday to a Cuban resort in March 2017 between infusion appointments. We loved walking the golden beaches for up to a km one way and back.
After a month or so at home we were itching to go elsewhere, so our travels included touring the upper peninsula of Michigan State to view the large sand dunes. The view is awesome, especially at sunset. Again, after a month or so, we took another trip to Mazatlán, Mexico to a wonderful resort at ocean side. Our room from the 14th floor gave us awesome views of the resort, 5 palm tree edged pools with the surf waves of the ocean a little further out. We enjoyed taking the local bus into the harbor side and old town of Mazatlán. We felt very safe here.
Meanwhile, I was getting my infusions regularly; having CT scans and MRIs with satisfactory results. I saw Dr. Greenspoon every 3-4 months and he was pleased with my progress. I was to continue my infusions until mid-July 2018 and this was accomplished. Our trip while on my infusions was a 2-week trip to Croatia to a small town on the Adriatic riviera (a town my hairdresser was from). She had been telling me about this place for several years. The place was a gem with many open-air small cafes to have many espresso coffees each day. The waterfront was nice and wide for strolling along. One could jump into the Adriatic every few yards and the water was so warm. We had a small room nearby, and would be out early each day exploring many streets of the town. By mid-day it was too hot to be out so this was siesta time and the many restaurants were filled late into the evening when it was cooler.
Now my 5-year story comes to an end with Dr. Tozer telling me that appointments every 6-8 weeks will be booked and CT scans and MRI’s booked every 3-4 months to monitor my progress. I had a few blips along the way, such as cellulitis 3 times requiring hospital stays for 2-5 day periods and 2 weeks of antibiotics by IV (with the use of our CCAC clinic to assist.) I am feeling well at present and will be forever grateful to the care and attention I received through Juravinski Cancer Center.
September 2018 sees me turning 80 and participating in the Strides for Melanoma (5km walk) fundraiser in Hamilton on September 23rd. My goal is to raise $300.00 CAD. Please join me in raising money for Melanoma Network of Canada. Your support will have a direct impact in the lives of melanoma patients, to help increase awareness and prevention of this deadly disease, and fund future critical melanoma research.