Facing a Future with Cancer

Ian Campbell’s melanoma story

My name is Ian Campbell. I am 60 years young and have a beautiful wife, and two wonderful adult children. My cancer journey started when I moved to Alberta from Ontario. There I found a family physician who took my fair skin, red hair, and the significant number of moles on my body seriously and ensured I was checked routinely for possible skin cancer.  In Ontario I lived and played around the water, I used to get sunburned at least 4 to 5 times a summer. I wasn’t aware of the damage the sun could do, and had no idea what melanoma was, I never used sunscreen.

In 2004 my physician in Calgary spotted a lump on my left arm, about the size of a pencil eraser, and I was quickly referred to a dermatologist. This is when I learned the importance of finding a good dermatologist; who is thorough, and makes you feel confident in their care. When you find one, I encourage you to maintain regular visits and build a good relationship. 

When I was doing some yard work in 2018, I rubbed my arm against a door causing a small bump to scrape off. I put on a Band-Aid, thought nothing more of it and expected it would heal. When it didn’t heal, I knew it needed to be checked. A visit to a dermatologist and a biopsy led to the diagnosis of invasive melanoma. In the middle of a two-week vacation in British Columbia we returned home to undergo additional testing to determine how invasive the cancer was. The melanoma was removed during surgery along with two lymph nodes. I learned there were traces of melanoma in the two removed lymph nodes, however the surgeons felt they were able to remove all the cancer and that it had not migrated past the lymph nodes. 

In the summer of 2020, I was once again doing some yard work, and when reaching down I experienced a very sharp pain in my side, it felt like a broken rib. When the pain did not go away, I underwent an x-ray which led to additional testing as nodules were found. A CT scan was booked by my family physician, unfortunately months out. Coincidently I had to see a plastic surgeon for another spot and discussed my concern about the wait for a CT scan; she was able to expedite the CT scan. I am so very grateful for this intervention as it initiated a cascade of testing that led to the ultimate diagnosis of metastatic melanoma, the melanoma had taken up residence in my lungs.

I will forever recall that phone call – I was returning home from a road trip to Edmonton with my boss when my phone rang. I took the call, (hands-free) and with my boss listening, I heard those words that everyone fears, ‘I am so sorry to tell you this, you have cancer’. All I wanted to do was pull over and cry, but I managed to remain composed, my boss was great as we talked about medical advancements and what they could mean for me. 

When I arrived home, I shared the news with my wife, we broke down and hugged each other like there was no tomorrow. Once we had processed the news and talked, we knew we had others whom we needed to inform. We called both of our kids, and my wife’s parents with whom we are very close. I was very concerned about sharing this news with my 94-year-old mother in Ontario who, in her life, had already lost her husband and two sons. That’s another story. With help from family who lived close by, we shared the news. 

I now faced a future I had not planned, and I had to make a decision – would I fight, or feel sorry for myself, and give up? It hit me hard, and I really struggled for about the first 3 weeks after meeting my oncologist and having planned for my first immunotherapy treatment. I reached out to the Melanoma Network of Canada and was put in touch with some very caring people to talk to. I also scheduled an appointment with a therapist to find out where my mind was…imagine that. I found out I had cancer and I was going to talk to a therapist to see where my mind was. 

Talking to the therapist and some very helpful people at the Melanoma Network of Canada has helped tremendously. I have accepted what is in front of me, and I have decided that I cannot sit and feel sorry for myself. I plan to fight with all I have to keep living each day, appreciating what I have, and whom I have around me.

While undergoing immunotherapy I have experienced setbacks; I almost had to have dialysis as my kidneys were shutting down, I have undergone apheresis treatments in hopes of reversing, or at least slowing, some vision loss.  At the time of writing, I am days away from meeting with my oncologist to learn the results of my latest scan – have the nodules grown and multiplied, shrunk or perhaps even disappeared? Whatever the result I will accept it, continue to appreciate each day, and fight from the moment I wake until I go to bed.   

A melanoma diagnosis can be overwhelming. But you don’t have to face the challenges alone. The Melanoma Network of Canada offers a wide variety of free services to support patients, families and caregivers through every step of their journey.
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