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Catherine’s Story

My story begins in 2006 with a metastatic melanoma Stage 4 located on my left ankle found by my general physician during a physical exam. It was surgically removed and followed by several re-occurrences. My oncologist recommended Interferon treatment which I completed in 2008-2009. Anyone who has undergone this treatment understands the side effects, which are severe, making this a very difficult period in my life. It was not until about ten years later that the melanoma fired itself up again. This time a GI tumour was located in the small intestine which required emergency surgery.

This was the beginning of a new journey with my oncologist. Our meetings are scheduled on a monthly basis. Given the current pandemic restrictions we are still able to meet in person. In some circumstances the appointments maybe delayed within a reasonable amount of time. The appointment times can vary in length of time depending on the oncologist’s pressures of the day. He is forthcoming to answer any questions I bring to the appointment.

To begin the treatment, I was scheduled for CAT scans to determine the extent of melanoma present in my body. Finding various sites, monthly infusions of Opdivo (Nivolumab) immunotherapy which began in February of 2019 in conjunction with quarterly CAT scans to monitor progress were recommended. Since then, there have been mixed results with the shrinkage of some lymph nodes while others have grown, specifically, in the neck and chest areas.  It was then deemed appropriate to be referred for radiation treatment targeting those particular areas of concern.

Recently I had a one-hour telephone consult with the radiation oncologist who will begin radiation targeting the growth sites, over a two-week period. Given the constraints on physical distancing and hospital access due to the COVID-19 situation, the telephone appointment was punctual and satisfying. I felt confident with clear and thorough information as to the procedure that will take place. There was not a moment where I felt rushed through the appointment and all my questions were answered. For clarification, the specialist asked me to repeat what I had heard avoiding any possible confusion.

At this time, I am asymptomatic which indicates no urgency to begin radiation immediately. However, there is the emotional aspect of living with growing nodes and, if I am overwhelmed with emotion, the radiation oncologist will begin treatment with no wait time between my decision and starting radiation.

Going back to the initial discovery in 2006, I was naive to cancer, particularly melanoma, never thinking for a minute I would be a victim. Therefore, when the original diagnosis came, I was shocked, frightened, in denial, angry and anxious about ‘what now’ all leading to thoughts of death and dying. Thank goodness my general physician supported me with comforting words of hope which were “I did not need to dig that hole yet”

At this time, I have traveled a long learning curve to understand that treatment rarely travels in a straight line and that there are a variety of treatment therapies which I continue to undergo. I have never felt so close to death with fear and anxiety knowing I will not be cured, but that we can only ‘attempt to control’ this disease. The anxiety is compounded by living with the worry during a worldwide pandemic lock down. The challenging piece for me is the waiting game of results and recommendations to determine what direction is next. I have come a long way this year and I won’t give up!

Naturally, I get anxious and worried after reading online statistics for a metastatic disease.  It is serious only so much can be done. It is important to have continue to hope that something will work unless I am told otherwise. I keep focused on the present and on the things my family and I can do to help cope and hopefully overcome this. I realize none of us know what the future holds and what might be. I do not have a crystal ball. Arranging a large birthday celebration for my 65th birthday was a perfect distraction and helped lift my spirits.

My goal is to remain pragmatic and plan by focusing on the present and not worrying about the future. While challenging this attitude helps to reduce anxiety and enjoy life with the cards I have been dealt. I have a wonderful support system with family and friends to help lift me up. There are many stories of survivors and radiation can work extremely well. I hope and pray for a positive outcome.

In closing, I wish to thank Melanoma Network of Canada for inviting me the opportunity to share and contribute an article, which was therapeutic and can possibly help others. Until we meet again.

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