I was 25 years old and excited to be pregnant with our second child. A couple of weeks earlier I had gotten a spot removed from my temple but I really wasn’t too concerned about it. My GP and the surgeon didn’t seem to think that it was anything to worry about and at my last doctor’s appointment I was told that it had come back benign. So I was very surprised to get a call from the surgeon who had removed it wanting me to come over to his office. It was my last day of work before going on maternity leave. I ran across the street to his office and he gave me some pretty shocking news. I had melanoma.
He seemed nervous but assured me that with an additional wide excision of the area, my prognosis was really good. I’m thinking now that his nervousness was more about him worrying about me going into labour right then and there. Two weeks later they decided to induce labour and we had another sweet baby boy.
I went in for the wide excision surgery just a couple of weeks after that and we were so relieved to have melanoma behind us. My follow up visits became an annual reminder of the fact that I had melanoma but our focus was on raising our family. It changed the way that we looked at our lives, showing us that the most important thing to us was our boys and each other. We had our third little man and our family was now complete. We were busy with life, we had moved closer to my family and I had decided to go back to work full time.
I started having some headaches and after many trips to the doctor’s office and being referred to an allergist they decided to send me for a CT scan. When I came out from the scanner the technician asked me to wait in the waiting room. I thought that they were just checking out my pictures from the scan but then started feeling like something was terribly wrong. Two doctors in white coats came to escort us to his office and my mom and I were given the news that I had a very large brain tumour and they were pretty sure, because of my history, that it was melanoma. I was given the option to leave it and go on steroids to just reduce swelling,or to start steroids and have surgery to remove whatever they could. I obviously chose surgery.
Ten days later, on December 15th, 2009, I had the surgery that saved my life. They removed a fist sized tumour from my brain intact. The team celebrated as this was the best possible outcome and my family felt like we had been given a Christmas miracle. I was discharged home the following day and recovered at home over the holidays. I went in for gamma knife surgery in the beginning of the year to clean up any stray cells that may have been left behind. We really felt so grateful that things were going much better than expected. Our boys were 5, 8 & 11 at the time and life would never be the same again for any of us. All of a sudden life was even that much more precious. We celebrated everything like never before. I started on Interferon and had an incredibly difficult year, yet we still somehow were able to always find the good to smile and laugh about.
Since then I have had many recurrences which led to 2 lung surgeries, 5 trips in for gamma knife surgery and many moles and spots removed. I started on Vemurafenib when it was found to have spread to my liver and some areas in my abdomen and chest. This drug worked quickly to shrink the tumours and I was NED again. I was then switched to Dabrafenib when the side effects became too much.
A recent brain MRI showed some regrowth of the tumours, so after my 6th gamma knife procedure and switching to Pembrolizumab to get a handle on these stubborn ones in the brain, I am happy to report that the tumours are stable – a couple have even shrunk!
Life with melanoma has been a very scary roller coaster ride full of ups and downs (and I really don’t like roller coasters), but through it all we have been able to hang on to what’s most important. I’ve been able to watch my boys as they grow into such amazing young men, now 12, 15 & 18, and I look forward to being here with my husband to see all that they accomplish in their lives. I’m very fortunate to have such supportive family and friends and an incredible health care team guiding me along the way. Living in limbo, never knowing what will happen next is not always easy for us, but I am so very grateful for this life that I’ve been given and cherish every day of it!