It may be a cliché, but it is true that nothing can prepare for you for being told you have cancer. At 45 years old; healthy, active and enjoying the prime of my life, it was a shock. When I look back walking into the doctor’s office last June to be told the dodgy mole that had been cut from my back was a thick (4.5mm) stage 2c melanoma cancer, I had no idea how severe the journey I was about to embark on would be. I was ignorant in thinking that once it was cut out, this would be the end of it. Melanoma is an unpredictable and aggressive disease.
What followed was a series of scans (brain (MRI), body (PET) and a wide local excision (WLE) to remove more tissue around the original mole site. All of the scans came back clear and I was referred to the Royal Marsden Hospital to see oncologist “Dr James Larkin”. I wondered why I was being referred to an oncologist when everything was clear at that point, but this proved to be a great decision for my journey ahead. All my care was transferred to the amazing skin team at the Marsden, and no further treatment was required at that point. This led to a path of regular monitoring.
The summer passed and I slipped back into normality, enjoying the simple things in life and spending quality time with family and friends. I put the cancer to the back of my head, went back to work and got on with training for the WellChild Kilimanjaro Challenge. I had scans just before setting off for Tanzania in late October and luckily they came back clear. We felt even more excited to get on the plane – to take part on our WellChild charity climb to the summit of Kilimanjaro. I have been fortunate to experience a lot of adventures having lived in France, Beijing and Hong Kong, but this trip goes down as perhaps the most unforgettable. I love traveling, hiking and exploring the world, and this one proved to be all of that and more.
But soon after we returned from Tanzania, I started to experience a strange pain in my right breast. After numerous tests and scans, it was discovered that the melanoma had progressed to the lymph nodes under my left arm. I was booked in for an axillary lymph node clearance at the Royal Marsden Hospital on February 8th. Although the operation to remove the infected lymph nodes was a success, my surgeon warned that he found more melanoma than appeared on the original scan and that this could mean it was an aggressive form of cancer. It obviously was not the news I had expected or hoped for, and it naturally led to a tremendous amount of worry. I didn’t sleep that night. But the next day was different. Many friends and family turned up to the hospital to visit and that propelled me on a positive route to recovery.
As anyone who knows me would attest, I am a glass half-full girl and do not wallow or whinge. Springtime is a beautiful time of the year in London, and so there I was back at the Royal Marsden. As someone who has led a healthy life and fortunately experienced little injuries, it was weird but indeed accepted that this was the new norm. I am now a frequent visitor to the world-famous cancer hospital in Chelsea. I was feeling good and my oncologist explained what the next steps in my treatment plan would be. Scans were planned for late March, and in the meantime we had booked a weekend to Barcelona. It was fun and relaxed, but soon after we were back I started to feel some abdominal pain and as you can imagine by now that played on my mind. If there’s one thing I have learned since my cancer diagnosis, it is to trust your instinct and flag it up to the medical team when something does not feel right.
The next few days were plagued by worry and anxiety. I decided to phone the team at the Marsden and ask them if they could move my scans forward. They agreed and my scans were brought forward to the next day with results due by the end of the week.
Friday, March 31st arrived as somewhat of a doomsday. By then I had convinced myself that there was something wrong, as I now find it easier to prepare for the worst going into these meetings. Still, I was not expecting to walk into the Doctor’s office and be told what I was. The MRI scan had detected a tumour, albeit small at 4mm, in my brain. At this point, I was speechless and the appointment went foggy from there. My head ached as I tried to process the awful news. I did not digest much about the planned immunotherapy treatment except that there was a laundry list of side effects.
We spent the weekend at a friend’s gorgeous wedding, drinking too much red wine yet smiling and feeling distracted with the lovely company of good friends. The weekend after that we escaped to Devon to chill out and clear our heads before starting the immunotherapy treatment. This really was ‘What the Doctor ordered’ before returning to London and commencing the first of many trips to the Marsden in Chelsea.
My hope in writing this blog and sharing my story is to raise awareness of this dreadful disease. It is one that is actually considered 85% preventable. It also is the fastest growing cancer amongst 15 to 34 year-olds in the UK.
This blog is also meant to keep my amazing friends and family up-to-date with my melanoma ride. In the past 10 months, I have come to realise how lucky I am to have a wonderful husband, true friends and an exceptionally caring family. All of you have supported me every step of the way so far and there are no words that can describe my appreciation for it. My mantra has always been to live and enjoy every day to the max, but ironically I have found that there is even more to that. I feel grateful for the simplest of things and I don’t take one thing for granted. I feel good, loved and I am not going to let this beast take the best of me.
I am going to pour my energy into raising awareness about this disease and I hope that it makes a difference to other potential patients. We are planning a number of fund-raising activities and all proceeds will go to Melanoma research for the Royal Marsden, where I am being treated.
Please stay tuned…