As I passed my 5 year cancerversary on June 16, I am feeling very thankful still to be here and also looking back thinking how naïve I was when I initially received my melanoma diagnosis. In fact just last month when I was at the Holy Trinity and Christ Church schools presenting to all the children taking part in the Skipathon one of them asked me ”Was I shocked when I was diagnosed” ? When I look back on that now the answer was probably no as I suspected something was wrong with the mole, but what I really didn’t realise was when the Doctor said to me , only 50% will survive 5 years and its not a great diagnosis, I did not appreciate the severity of it all. Many of you know the story from there or you can read the summary here. https://shomelanoma.com/about/
Whilst life changed forever on that day in June 2016, and the melanoma rollercoaster had only just begun, one of the most important things that happened was the plastic surgeon Mr Simon Wood who gave me the bad news that I had melanoma also referred me into The Royal Marsden to see Oncologist Prof Larkin. At the time I really wondered why on earth I was being referred there when my PET and MRI scan had been clear. However he knew that I had a thick 4.5mm melanoma that was ulcerated, I was stage 2C at very high risk of spread and how right he was. This decision got me under the care of one of the best cancer hospitals and melanoma specialists and for that I am forever grateful.
I have learned a lot about melanoma over the last 5 years. Just a few weekends ago I was logged onto the ASCO Cancer Conference – the world’s largest clinical cancer conference. As it was a virtual event they allowed patients to attend this year. As you know there has been much progress made in treating melanoma in the last 10 years with both immunotherapy and targeted therapy. However 50 % of advanced melanoma patients don’t respond to immunotherapy and many develop resistance to targeted therapy. The results of the latest clinical trials were presented at the conference and there are some promising new drug trial results. However it takes time to get the drugs through the approval processes plus every country has different funding requirements and many patients just don’t have the luxury of time. We have seen with COVID how quickly vaccines have been developed, approved and rolled out and whilst I realise cancer is a very different disease it is still killing hundreds of patients every day. I just hope that some of the learnings from COVID can be applied to cancer and help get these life saving drug treatments to patients more quickly.
It has been a hard few weeks for many melanoma patients in the support group I am a member of. We continue to lose patients far too young and there are many struggling as the disease advances all too quickly and they run out of options. It is heartbreaking watching all of this unfolding. As I have been approaching my latest set of scans I have found myself having strange dreams and whilst I have been feeling well in myself you just never know what is going on inside. Two weeks ago it was time to go back to Marsden HQ to find out what has been happening with my pesky breast tumour.
As many of you know I had a nervous wait a few months ago when a chest lymph node had popped up on my scans that then turned out to be due to my COVID vaccine so I did feel anxious going to my ultrasound to check if the tamoxifen was doing its job on the breast tumour. I am pleased to say that there is now no evidence of the breast tumour and the tamoxifen is doing its job. My doctor told me you are very responsive to drug treatment, a walking miracle and I left feeling massively relieved to have passed go once again for the next 3 months.
I couldn’t switch off yet as I still had the melanoma scans coming up this week and it was back to my second home last Tuesday for a CT and MRI scan. There were no dramas, it all went smoothly and the RMH radiography team were at their efficient best. I didn’t get much sleep on Thurs eve before going into the hospital on Friday to get my results. I had my best friend Jen’s 50th bday party on Fri eve so I was really hoping it was going to be good news and a double celebration and fortunately it was. Prof Larkin told me my latest scans are clear so its happy days and I can now go and have a good summer. As always a massive thank you to the wonderful team at the Marsden who look after me so well, you are all amazing.
I know that I have been incredibly fortunate to benefit from the advances in melanoma treatment over the past 10 years. But there is still so much more to be done and that is why the fundraising for the melanoma research at the Royal Marsden is so important to continue funding the research and helping the team develop further life saving treatments.
Over the month of May (Melanoma Awareness Month) the Shomelanoma team including the wonderful children of Holy Trinity and Christ Church primary school in Chelsea took part in a month long Skipathon fundraiser raising funds for melanoma research at the Royal Marsden. It has been such a successful and fun fundraiser and I want to say a HUGE thank you to everyone who has taken part so enthusiastically and also generously supported the team. There were many highlights to the month including bringing together friends and family from across the globe, the sheer enjoyment of seeing everyone skipping every day for a month, the fancy dress Friday which the team embraced and the improvement in skipping skills and tricks. It was getting quite competitive by the end of the month.
The top highlight for me was the day I spent with the children of Holy Trinity and Christ Church School. I spoke at all of their assemblies sharing my melanoma story, the care I receive at the Royal Marsden, why I am fundraising, the wonderful research they are doing and educating them in sun safety. They asked me lots of intelligent questions and were very engaged. After each of the assemblies I had a skipping session with all of the children. It was such an enjoyable day so lovely to see how much they were all loving the skipping and also to see how engaged they all were in the assemblies. A MASSIVE thank you to Headmistress Mrs Avis Hawkins and also Katie Rose for their incredible fundraising support plus all of the children, parents and carers. Also for my return to school I did forget to address Avis as Mrs Hawkins, black mark for that one must do better next time.
One of the parents wrote “Such an amazing inclusive fundraiser, our girls have not stopped skipping all month and are so proud of their new skills. Such an important cause and brilliantly organised. “ I was slightly sad when the month came to an end it has been so much fun. I know that for some they were delighted when May 31 arrived and they could put down the skipping ropes. We raised £6,382, which is just fantastic so huge thank you once again, and an update on the melanoma research projects the funding is supporting will be featured in the next blog.
Next up is the Giants Causeway Challenge, which is now just 2 weeks away. The team will be hiking 26 miles over the steep undulating coastal path of the Northern Ireland Giants Causeway. We are very much hoping that the weather gods will be kind to us and we wont be having a repeat of the Welsh 3000’s 2 years ago when it rained cats and dogs for 3 days. We will be prepared for all eventualities so look out for a progress update in the next blog and all support for the team is much appreciated.
As we celebrated Jen’s fabulous 50th birthday on Friday eve with her special friends and family, I briefly reflected on the fact that 5 years ago I never thought I would still be here and it really is thanks to the wonderful advances of medical science, a kickass medical team, rockstar husband and amazing friends and family. I have hope and options, it’s still one day at a time enjoy and savor every moment and live every day to the max. I hope to catch up with you soon, wear your factor 50, protect and check your skin regularly and have a wonderful summer. I’ll be back soon with more Shomelanoma adventures.