My name is Jessica. I’m 34, I live in Toronto, I’m married and we have a beautiful daughter, Naomi. When I was pregnant with my daughter, I noticed a mole that seemed to have changed colour. I told myself it was likely nothing—normal pregnancy changes—and eventually saw a dermatologist about 5 months post-delivery. It was clear to me that it could be serious when the derm removed it right then and there, along with his solemn demeanour and concern. It was August 2015, and my worst fears were confirmed—I had Melanoma. I was referred to an oncology team, and after having further surgery, it was determined my cancer had spread to my lymphatic system and thus I was diagnosed Stage 3a.
My family and I were immediately thrust into the cancer world, having to make massive decisions about my treatment, learning about survival rates, and attempting to process news that has forever changed our family.
The level of despair I felt being given an aggressive cancer diagnosis with a young daughter and family at home is difficult to describe. I can only say that those were the hardest days of my life.
I come from a medical background, and believe so firmly in advocating for my own care. My family and I aggressively researched the treatment options available to us, which unfortunately at my staging were limited. I made the decision to begin a one-year treatment of a drug called Interferon. This drug boosts your immune system, but is notorious for leaving patients extremely fatigued, depressed and potentially suicidal. My team warned me that the benefits of this drug were extremely limited and the side effects were morbid. My other option was to do nothing. Thinking of my family, my daughter, doing nothing wasn’t an option for me, so I went for it, knowing I could stop if things got bad. The time spent on Interferon was incredibly difficult (I lost 12kg, ½ my hair, along with extreme anxiety, depression & fatigue) but I’m equally proud I was able to make it through ten months.
Today, I’m approaching two years since my original diagnosis, and as of my last CT scan I am cancer free.
I’m so thankful to the Melanoma Network of Canada. I have found incredible strength in the support system that they provide but most of all in feeling like I’m not alone in this journey. My family and I have gotten involved in fundraising for the network through their annual Strides for Melanoma Walk for Awareness, and we have found strength in feeling like we are helping in some way. This amazing walk helps bring in funds for their patient information sessions, support programs, and patient education materials, which have helped provide my family and I with valuable information and support related to melanoma that we could not get elsewhere.
Two years out, I and that I am starting to feel like myself again and I believe that there is great hope for this disease. I encourage anyone else going through this fight to get involved with this organization because it has made all the difference in the world to me.