Cancer · Fundraising · Living with Cancer · Melanoma

Milestones, an anxious wait and a new challenge

It is feeling like we have turned a corner after what can only be described as an annus horribilis.  One year on we have been remembering all those who have tragically lost their lives not just from COVID but cancer, heart disease, strokes and other illness.  We are also feeling thankful to all of key workers especially in the NHS who have kept going through unimaginable stress.  As spring arrives we can start to feel hope with a vaccine programme that is currently going well and I cant wait to see family and friends again.  As I write this I am feeling very thankful to still be here 4 years on from that horrible day on Mar 31, 2017 that I was told melanoma had been found in my brain.  A BIG thank you to the fantastic team at the Marsden still doing a kick ass job of keeping me alive and kicking.

As you know from my last blog, 2021 started for me back on the cancer rollercoaster.  Many fellow patients will identify with this rollercoaster as it goes on from scan to scan (currently every 3 months) but doesn’t take much to disrupt the apple cart.  After the worry of the numbness in the ear in January I turned up for my latest scans feeling a bit more relaxed.  As I now have breast cancer checks along with the melanoma scans the team at RMH had booked all of my tests in for the same day so that I didn’t have to return to the hospital over several days.  It was all going well, I had my CT and MRI scan and turned up for my ultrasound on my breast when I noticed that my arm was bleeding badly.  The nurse patched me up and the ultrasound went fine and I set off to get some lunch, as I was starving not having eaten all morning.  

I usually enjoy a trip around Chelsea but with everything closed and it being a bitter cold day being sat on a bench outside Marsden HQ didn’t hold the usual joy.  As I munched my sandwich I noticed that blood was still running down my arm so headed back into the hospital where I was due for blood tests.  It seemed my vein had burst after the cannula was removed from my scans so the nurses were fantastic as by this point I was feeling faint probably a combination of the lack of food and the stress of seeing my blood covered arm that made me look like an extra from a horror movie.  It was decided to leave the blood tests to the next day they gave me cup of tea and a biscuit made sure I was ok and I headed off for my consultation with my breast doctor.  This was all going well; the tamoxifen continues to work when she noticed the results of my CT scan that had taken place in the morning had come through.  The scan showed I had a chest lymph node that was “indeterminate”, this could be caused by the cancer or inflammation but could also be a result of the COVID vaccine which I had recently and has resulted in several patients having lymph node anomalies pop up on scans.

Anyway I left the hospital with my head in a bit of a tailspin especially after the day I had just had.  I jumped in a taxi to head home and as I opened the door my nurse Nikki had called David as they had been told I had received my CT results and left the hospital worried. I spoke to her as soon as I got home and she reassured me not to be too concerned and I had my consultation with Prof Larkin the next day and we would discuss it further then.  I felt better and by the time I returned to the hospital the next day I was feeling less worried and in a better frame of mind than the day before which had been long and stressful.  After the meeting with my doctor at which my MRI brain scan results had also come through and these were fine it was decided they would bring my next scans forward a month to double check the chest lymph node.  He was positive the brain scan was good after all the concern in January, the tamoxifen was working for the breast cancer and fingers crossed the chest lymph node is nothing untoward. I left the hospital feeling much happier and have managed to put it to the back of my mind.   

One of the positives of my cancer diagnosis is that it has made me really focus on what’s important in life. The last year has been hard for everyone but it has taught us not to sweat the irrelevant and make the most of every day plus appreciate the small things.  I have also enjoyed channeling my energies into fundraising to support ongoing melanoma research projects at the Royal Marsden. It’s my way of saying thank you and giving back whilst the challenges keep me fit and active along with those that I love. The challenges have been curtailed for the last year due to COVID but are about to kick back into gear with a new challenge the Shomelanoma Skipathon , which will be taking place during the Melanoma awareness month of May.  Team Shomelanoma will be skipping  for 10 mins every day in May, having fun, counting their skips, getting fit, sharing photos and videos and raising valuable funds for melanoma research at the Royal Marsden. We would love you and your kids to join us. Full details are available here  https://shomelanoma.com/fundraising-skipathon

I also have to say a huge thank you to Phil and Sharone Slavin who made a very kind donation to melanoma research in memory of Phil’s father who sadly passed away last year.  In addition, Russell and Anna Bliss have also made a kind donation to the upcoming Giants Causeway Hike, which is due to take place in mid July.  The support we have received over the last 4 years for the fundraising has been amazing and I want to thank everyone who has participated in all the fundraising activities and generously supported them. This means the world to me, the melanoma team at the Marsden and the charity so a HUGE thank you. It also keeps me motivated to continue and also helps keep me fit and mentally well.

If you would like to join any of the upcoming fundraising challenges or organise your own please let me know. I will be doing a full update on the melanoma research projects the funding is supporting  in an upcoming blog.

As the lockdown starts to lift, I am excited to get back out to see friends and family and very much looking forward to a trip north of the border to see the Scottish family plus a trip to one of our favourite places the Outer Hebrides. We have been spending the last few weeks with regular trips to Richmond Park, which is a pretty beautiful spot and with the arrival of spring is looking lovelier each week.  It will be good to go further afield and catch up with the hiking gang soon as we have been missing them all and all of their banter.

As the weather starts to heat up with the UK forecast to have a mini heat wave this week we will no doubt see the excitement of the British public stripping off as soon as they see the sunshine. Remember that UV damage is cumulative and to protect you skin and stay out of the mid day sun. Most importantly don’t get burnt and if you do notice any changes to any moles or new skin lesions get them checked out by a GP or dermatologist. The motto is if in doubt get it checked out and don’t delay.

Thank you as always for all of your support. I’ll be back soon to report on an update on the Skipathon and to offer some training tips. In the meantime happy skipping and I’ll be back with more Shomelanoma updates soon.

I

Cancer · Fundraising · Living with Cancer · Melanoma

Back on the Cancer Rollercoaster and Vaccine Time

I hope that you are all surviving lockdown 3, it is starting to feel like groundhog day in the UK and when I woke up one morning last week I said to David, can you just wake me up when we get to spring.  In the last month there have also been more trips to Marsden HQ. I had settled into my routine and was happily going along with my 3 monthly scans and telephone consultations.  After the good news of my melanoma scans in early December, just before Xmas, I found out that the biopsy done on the right breast was cancerous and whilst it is contained and very small it does now require treatment.  I felt disappointed as if dealing with stage 4 melanoma wasn’t enough now there was another cancer to be dealt with too. However on a positive note it was 4 years since the precancer breast cells were originally discovered and the tumour was very small.  Just before Xmas I returned to the Marsden to discuss the planned treatment for the breast cancer.

I can’t tell you how good it is that both of my doctors are at the same hospital. I had a nightmare experience 4 years ago when this was not the case. I wouldn’t even like to think about how this would have been in the current COVID crisis.  Before my appointment both of my doctors had discussed my situation and there are two options for my treatment path and I was back to discussing the competing cancers risk assessment.  The first is that I take the drug tamoxifen with a possible course of radiotherapy if required. The second option would be a mastectomy with full reconstruction. I have currently started the tamoxifen and so far feel ok with no side effects. This week I had an ultrasound at the Marsden, which showed that I am responding to the treatment and the tumour has almost halved in size and is now almost undetectable which is good news. At this point I wont be needing any further treatment but will continue with the tamoxifen and be regularly monitored.

Not long after my last melanoma scans in early December, I started to experience a strange numb sensation in my earlobe.  Over the Xmas holidays I tried to put this to the back of my mind but I started to have this nagging doubt that something might be wrong. Three years ago when the last tumour was found in the brain I experienced a numb feeling in my mouth and the numb feeling of the ear was on the same side. I had a telephone appt with my Oncologist in mid January and told him about my concerns. He said given my previous experience, this had to be taken seriously and they were going to organize an urgent MRI scan of the brain. My head went into a tailspin as I became convinced that my targeted treatment had stopped working. I have been on my current melanoma treatment for 3 years and I have been fortunate that it has worked for so long for me as on average it works for patients for 12 months before the melanoma develops resistance to the drugs.

My MRI scan was organised for the following Monday and I had my follow up appointment scheduled for the Friday. My doctor asked me if I wanted to come into the hospital for the appointment rather than getting the results on the phone and I decided this would be better. It was a long few days  and although I tried to keep myself occupied I was feeling extremely nervous.  My mind was racing and I already had the next treatment plan set out in my head.  In addition, due to COVID you are not allowed to have partners in the hospital with you so I had to attend the appointment on my own. Friday morning arrived and I put on my big girl pants and headed off to the hospital.  David did come with me but he had to wait outside. Luckily I didn’t have to wait long for my appointment and I was very surprised and relieved to hear that the brain scan looked good and there was no change since the last scan in early December.  My doctor asked if I had noticed that the numbness in the ear lobe had been getting worse and I said no it hadn’t gotten any worse. As I mentioned I do have nerve damage from the previous tumour so its possible that could be the cause or it is unexplained. He said we would monitor it and leave the next scans in as planned. I left the hospital to find David sitting on a bench outside awaiting the news and whilst there were no trips to the Ivy Café Chelsea due to lockdown there was time for a coffee and a big slice of cake en route home.  

 Whilst I am feeling hugely grateful that my melanoma is still under control, the last couple of weeks have really highlighted to me how quickly things can change. You can be lured into a false sense of security feeling well and then strange symptoms appear and you immediately assume there is progression of the disease. It is hard to deal with mentally as you obviously start worrying and thinking the worst. I was also reminded how awful this disease continues to be as a friend I had met through an online support group passed away recently and I couldn’t stop thinking about him and his family.   

Like a lot of people I have found the latest lockdown harder than the previous ones. Of course it is mid winter and I am missing seeing friends and family. I was so excited to be going to Scotland for Xmas so that was really disappointing not to get there as planned. The COVID crisis has now been going on for so long there is a feeling that you are wasting time.  On a positive note I did have my vaccine this week, which was good. Due to my treatment I am classified in the highly vulnerable group (even although I don’t feel highly vulnerable) and I headed down to the local church last Tuesday. I was very impressed by how efficient the whole set up was, the nurse did ask me if I worked for the NHS to which I responded no I am in the clinically vulnerable group. I felt fine after the vaccine except for a sore arm for a couple of days and I should get my 2nd jab within 12 weeks.

I have also signed up to the Royal Marsden/Crick Capture Trial, which is investigating how the coronavirus affects cancer patients and the effects of anticancer treatments such as chemotherapy, immunotherapy and radiotherapy on the course of COVID 19 infection. The aim is to develop better treatments to manage these patients. It involves having additional blood tests when I attend the hospital and completing questionnaires about symptoms and risk factors for COVID 19.  

I have been keeping myself sane going out for early morning walks on Richmond Park, Wimbledon Common and Hyde Park which has been uplifting and it really makes you appreciate the small things in life. Last Monday a beautiful day in London I met my good friend Liz and we walked around Hyde Park, it was stunning and I have to say London looked at its glorious best. I simply cant wait to get back out hiking in the hills and am so hoping that the restrictions are lifted by May so that we can escape to Scotland and revisit the Outer Hebrides.

I am also back onto planning the 2021 Shomelanoma challenges to continue supporting melanoma research at the Royal Marsden. If anything the last month has simply highlighted how much there is still to be done to find effective treatments to help all patients with this awful disease. It may be the middle of winter but please continue to do your monthly skin checks. This video from Melanoma UK is really helpful. https://www.melanomauk.org.uk/news/21-of-melanomas-undiagnosed-during-covid-19

Thanks as always for all of your support and I’ll be back with more Shomelanoma updates next month.

Cancer · Fundraising · Living with Cancer · Melanoma

Its December 2020 – The Forgotten 2nd Cancer

We have arrived in the final month of 2020 and for many of us I am sure we will be glad to see the back of 2020. What a contrast to Nov/Dec 18/19 when I was fortunate to go on the adventures of a lifetime to Argentina and Peru. I have had the photos pop up for the last month to give me a reminder of those amazing trips. Back in reality the latest national lockdown has ended and we are feeling hopeful about a trip to Scotland to see family over Christmas. But first it is December and back to Marsden HQ.

As some of you may recall 4 years ago I discovered that along with melanoma I also had DCIS (precancerous breast cancer) found in my right breast. As if dealing with one cancer wasn’t bad enough there was also a second to contend with. At the time, I had a horror month of a lot of tests and appointments at different hospitals across London with different doctors and several opinions and the situation only improved after all my medical care was all moved to the Royal Marsden. Shortly after this, the melanoma advanced to stage 4 and the precancerous breast cancer was put on the back burner as the melanoma was treated as high priority.  As my Oncologist explained to me its all about managing risks. Last month I received a reminder to go for a mammogram so it was time to revisit and check up on the forgotten 2nd cancer.  

I had a mammogram 10 days ago and a follow up appointment to review the results. My doctor said the mammogram looked very similar to 4 years ago which I took as positive but there was one area of thickening that they wanted to double check so they were sending me for an MRI, ultrasound and biopsy. I have to admit that I left the hospital with my head in a bit of a tailspin.  As I have been so focused on melanoma for the last 3 years and have felt very fortunate that it has been brought under control and for the last 2 years I have been able to live a fairly normal life with minimal side effects from the drugs I am on.  I was feeling that a Pandora’s box had just been opened and the December factor was about to rear its ugly head.

It just happened that last week, my regular melanoma scans were also scheduled so it was a week of almost daily trips to the Marsden. I had an MRI scan of the chest; this was an uncomfortable experience as you are face down breasts in cones and arms over your head as you go into the scanner.  After lying still in that position for half an hour, I came to the conclusion that this made the brain scan seem relaxing and I never thought I would be saying that. On Wednesday, I had my body CT and MRI of the brain plus blood tests which proved to be a challenge as one of the veins in my arm burst.  Feeling stressed, I left the Marsden and headed off for lunch with my good friend Liz and chatting with her helped to calm me down. It is amazing what a bit of lunch and a cup of tea can do for you so big thank you Liz as by the time I returned to get the blood tests done again in the afternoon it was quick and successful and I was able to head home for the day.

On Friday morning it was back to the hospital for an ultrasound and biopsy of the right breast.  I spoke to the doctor and she told me that the MRI scan of the right breast had shown up 2 very tiny lumps which they were going to biopsy.  On the ultrasound they could only see one of the lumps so they did the biopsy and now I have to wait for the results later this month on to see what happens next. On Friday afternoon I was having my regular clinic appointment with my Oncologist to get my latest melanoma scan results and this was making me feel very nervous. I had a quick walk up and down the Kings Road to calm myself down before returning to the hospital. You are not allowed to have partners with you at the hospital just now due to COVID restrictions so there was no rockstar husband by my side. I just had to put the big girls pants on and get on with it and this is sometimes easier said than done. I took big inspiration from the amazing Bowelbabe who has recently been documenting her latest surgery on social media and thought if she can be getting through this on her own without any fuss then I can get on with getting my scan results.

It was good to see my Oncologist and nurse in person (well masked up)  as consultations have all been over the phone due to COVID. But since I was already in the hospital then it made sense for me to get my scan results in person rather than rushing home to wait for a phone call.  I was delighted to hear that the melanoma CT and MRI scans were good and 3 years on from started my targeted drugs Debrafenib and Trametinib my melanoma is under control and I was told as far as the melanoma is concerned we are in the best place possible. I felt a huge relief that at least it was good news. The other positive is that as both of my Doctors are at the Marsden then they will talk to each other if I do need further treatment following the results of the breast biopsy. I left the hospital feeling in a better mood although I do have to admit my delight was slightly tainted by the fact I have to wait for the results of the biopsy and what happens next.

At this point I have to say a big thank you to the teams at the Royal Marsden. I know that in the time of COVID it has been hugely challenging for staff and patients.  I know I am very fortunate to be treated by such wonderful teams and there is a village of them from the security guards on the door to the receptionists, cleaners, radiologists, pharmacists, nurses and doctors everything has been handled efficiently and quickly so whatever is next I know I am in the best hands and that is hugely reassuring.  

Since the last blog when we were just a week away from the Giants Causeway Challenge like all other events it was postponed to next year. It was disappointing as we had been training hard and were looking forward to it. But next year we will be back onto the challenge cause and raising more funds for the team at the Royal Marsden. If you are interested to join us we have a number of challenges planned for 2021 including a team at the Royal Parks Half Marathon, the Giants Causeway Big Hike in July and the Blenheim Triathlon in September.  If you would like to join us or plan your own challenge please let me know and thank you as always for all of your support.

Last month, the Duke of Cambridge laid the foundation stone to mark the building works of the new Royal Marsden Oak Cancer Centre, which will be a state of the art cancer research facility, based at the hospital in Sutton. The new facility will bring together over 400 researchers under the same roof as patients and clinicians in spaces designed to encourage collaboration and to put patients at the heart of research. The building is due to open in 2022 and you can find out more here. https://www.royalmarsden.org/blog/hrh-duke-cambridge-lays-foundation-stone-state-art-cancer-research-facility

In addition, I made my first billboard appearance on one of the hoardings going around the building.  I haven’t seen it yet but ones of the girls at the charity kindly sent me a picture. As the saying goes it’s never too late to make it onto a billboard.

In the meantime, I have been out and about staying active and doing some hikes during lockdown to keep myself sane and stay fit and well preparing for the next adventure. Enjoy the run up to Xmas and I’ll be back soon with more Shomelanoma updates.

Cancer · Fundraising · Living with Cancer · Melanoma

Scanxiety in Service Stations and the next Shomelanoma Challenge

On a high in the Peaks

Since escaping lockdown and the lifting of the shielding restrictions, I’ve loved the freedom of catching up with friends and family over the summer. It has passed all too quickly and after a lovely weekend in the Peak District last month to celebrate my mother in laws 75th birthday it was back to awaiting for the latest scan results. I had a new experience going to the Marsden for my latest scans as they took place in the car park.  I understand from the radiographer that the MRI scanner in the car park will be moving into the main hospital building later in the year but actually having it there was good given all the current COVID restrictions. The experience was efficient as ever but part way through the scan I began to need the loo and lying still became an issue for me.  The radiographer stopped the scan and told me I needed to stop wriggling as they had to repeat a section of the scan. I had to hang on a bit longer and then bolted straight to the nearest loo, memo to self always go to the loo in future before scans.

After a gorgeous weekend in the Peaks where I didn’t have much time to think about scan results, it was back in the car on Monday morning for the return to London.  The consultations with my doctor are currently taking place by phone so David suggested we stop for coffee around the time of my appointment. As my appointment time passed and I was anxiously looking at my watch, David said  “you didn’t expect to be called on time did you?”  And yes the clinic was running late so we stopped at a service station and I was feeling anxious.  It wasn’t helped by the fact there was nowhere to have a private call and there were lots of screaming kids in a playground and I kept needing the loo.  However, after the stress came the relief when the phone rang and I was told that my latest scans were all good. My wonder targeted drugs Debrafenib and Trametinib that I have been taking for 2 yrs 9 months are still working and I am feeling well which is amazing.  I left the service station feeling much happier than when I arrived but receiving scan results in service stations definitely won’t become the new normal.

Team Shomelanoma training around Henley

With the sense of relief that my scans are good comes the worry of the resurgence of COVID cases in the UK.  The thought of returning to shielding is just not something I can bear to think about and of more concern is the continued priority focus on COVID at the expense of other serious health conditions including cancer which are becoming part of the collateral damage of this pandemic.  Charities such as CRUK, Macmillan and Maggies are all making huge cuts to their funding which will impact cancer research, support services and end of life care. The reason I am still here alive and kicking is very much due to cancer research. Only 10 years ago the average prognosis for a stage 4 melanoma patient was just 9 months.  If it wasn’t for cancer research and clinical trials I would not still be here today.

The Royal Marsden cancer charity has also been severely affected by the pandemic and fundraising has dropped by 70%. As you are aware, we have been fundraising to support melanoma research at the Royal Marsden and now more than ever with so many fundraising events cancelled due to COVID it is a critical time to support the charity.  In just under 2 weeks Team Shomelanoma will be taking to the epic coastline of the Giants Causeway in Northern Ireland. In this tough one day challenge we will be trekking a marathon distance along  the  undulating terrain of the Giants Causeway ascending over 1000m along this dramatic coastline. The team have been training and we are so excited to get back out there and continue raising funds to support vital melanoma research to continue developing new treatments to save more lives. https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/shiona-ramagegiantscauseway

Over the last 5 years impressive progress has been made for the treatment of advanced melanoma with the introduction of immunotherapy and targeted treatment and for many patients who respond to these treatments the outlook is much brighter. However much still needs to be done as many patients (50%) don’t respond to immunotherapy and resistance is often developed to targeted therapy.  In the UK alone we still lose 2500 people every year to melanoma.

Despite the COVID 19 pandemic involving a partial closure of trials at The Royal Marsden the hospital is now in progress of getting trials back up and running as quickly as possible. One of the major programmes the melanoma research team is working on is trying to understand which patients with advanced disease will respond to immunotherapy treatment.  Immunotherapy drugs boost the body’s own immune system to attack cancer cells.

Dr Samra Turajilic – the Melanoma Unit’s Consultant Medical Oncolologist. – has found that a particular type of mutation in melanoma patients, called Frame Shift Mutation responds strongly to these kind of immunotherapy drugs. By analysing many different melanoma datasets over the last year, the Unit now have more information about Frame Shift Mutations.  From this information, the team is now developing a more precise way to stratify patients according to how likely they are to benefit from this kind of immunotherapy.

This research has also presented new approaches to information on locating and targeting cancerous cells.  Being able to identify Frame Shift Mutations may also allow researchers to look for and find cancerous cells in the body which are otherwise difficult to locate. This has great implications for the development of new therapy approaches.

Using techniques such as this to study the samples has enabled the team to make novel observations regarding the way that melanoma spreads to other sites in the body. This has shone a light on how these cancerous cells escape the immune system helping to understand why tumour response to immune therapies in melanoma cancer patients is so diverse.

These preliminary findings have already been presented at numerous scientific meetings and ongoing work in this area will significantly advance the Melanoma Unit’s understanding of how cancer evolves and remains undetected in the immune system.

A big thank you to the melanoma research team for providing this update on the melanoma immunotherapy project. Its thanks to your support and generosity that the Melanoma Unit at the Royal Marsden can continue to be at the forefront of melanoma research improving the lives of patients world wide and I feel very fortunate to be treated at such a wonderful hospital.

Team Shomelanoma has been out training for the next challenge in various locations around the UK and here are a few pics. The conclusion this week after a few steep climbs on the SW Coastal Path was that the legs may not have had enough hill training in preparation for the Giants Causeway. With just under 2 weeks to go we are praying that the lashing storms of the Welsh mountains stay away from the Irish Coast but at the end of October in Northern Ireland we will be preparing for all eventualities. A full update on the Giants Causeway Challenge will be provided in the next blog.

Team Shomelanoma training on Devon’s SW Coastal Path

In the meantime thank you as always for all of your generous support it means the world.  This has been a very difficult year for everyone and I hope that you are all staying safe and I’ll be back with more Shomelanoma Adventures soon. 

Stunning views on Devon’s SW Coastal Path
Cancer · Living with Cancer · Melanoma

Escaping Lockdown with Stage 4 Melanoma and Milestone Birthdays

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After 100 days of lockdown shielding I was feeling euphoric to leave London for a day of hiking on one of my favourite hikes in the South Downs over the Seven Sisters to Beachy Head. As many of you are aware, I have been in the shielding category, which has been a big challenge. Even though I have been going out more in the past month I was still feeling quite trapped in the city and had major cabin fever after spending so much time at home. The sight of the sea and the cliffs was good for the soul and felt amazing, it was so quiet, and we hardly met anyone on the 20km hike. It was a shame that the pub at Beachy Head was not yet open as that is usually the half-way lunch spot but we stopped near there and had our picnic before heading back. It was a stunning day and I really loved every minute. My legs on the other hand were screaming as they are out of hiking practice; definitely more training required before we take on the next challenge on the Giants Causeway in October.

Next up was my big milestone birthday, on July 12 I turned 50. At the start of the year I was feeling so excited about my birthday as we planned a big party in a gorgeous house we had rented in Kent. The girls were also planning a trip to Ibiza but as the lockdown progressed it became obvious that both the planned party nor the trip to Ibiza was going to be possible with the COVID restrictions so they have been postponed to next year and I’ll be staying 49 for an extra year. I feel quite emotional and grateful to be turning 50. I think before my stage 4 melanoma diagnosis I may have been dreading reaching such a milestone age and worrying about getting older. Now that has all changed, every birthday is to be celebrated, (this one even more than most) as it represents another year that I am still here, healthy, happy and able to make the most of every day with family and friends. I distinctly remember almost 3 years ago to the day being discharged from Marsden HQ after my 3 week inpatient stay after experiencing extreme autoimmune hepatitis from my immunotherapy treatment thinking would I see the next Christmas far less dream of seeing my 50th birthday. So the fact, I am celebrating turning 50, I feel hugely grateful to the fantastic melanoma team led by my Oncologist Prof Larkin and Nurse Nikki Hunter and all the team at the Royal Marsden for continuing to look after me so amazingly well. You are all superstars.

Although the birthday party was postponed, I had a gorgeous bday picnic at Cannizaro House in Wimbledon with family and friends. I was so excited to see everyone as I had been missing them all during lockdown and we had a gorgeous day. I was woken in the morning bright and early with my good friend Denise calling from Hong Kong where David and I used to live. As I was opening my birthday cards, in the middle of the pile were the forms for my blood tests that had been sent from the Marsden. I quickly put them to one side, as I did not need to be thinking about melanoma on my big day. The sun shone and we had lots of fun, I felt very spoiled and after the last 4 months of lockdown it felt that I was finally escaping. The next day David and I escaped to the Pig Hotel in Kent for a couple of days, which was really gorgeous. The hotel had put lots of safety measures in place to protect guests and staff against COVID and it was really lovely to eat out again in a restaurant after so much time at home. We then spent the day walking along the Kent coastline from Bottany Bay to Broadstairs, which was stunning. Here are a few pics. We both returned to London feeling rejuvenated and rested.

By Friday I was back at Marsden HQ for scans, mask on. The hospital was so quiet; I was quickly taken for my MRI and CT scan. Since I was last there in May it is now mandatory to wear masks in the hospital and I did wonder about needing to wear a mask in the MRI scanner along with the face cage, which is already very claustrophobic. Fortunately I was allowed to remove my face mask which was a big relief. As I had such a lovely birthday week and was feeling on a big high (I managed not to think too much about the scan results over the weekend) It was gorgeous weather and we met up with friends Phil and Jo to go hiking which took my mind off the scanxiety. I had also been feeling really well although that can lull you into a false sense of security. On Monday morning I was back at the hospital for results and fortunately the wonder targeted drugs continue to work over 2.5 years on and my melanoma is under control. This was just the best birthday present and a lovely finish to my bday week. I also saw my nurse Nikki which was lovely to catch up with her in person, as I hadn’t seen her since Jan as the consultations have all been taking place by phone. After picking up my drug supply it was off for breakfast with David to celebrate, we were too early for the Ivy café so that will have to wait. I feel very grateful that my treatment has not been disrupted by coronavirus, scans took place as scheduled, and I felt very safe at the hospital.

However the COVID situation has been very worrying for many cancer patients who have had their treatments postponed, scans cancelled and recently CRUK estimates that an additional 35,000 extra deaths could result due to treatments being deferred or cancers going undetected. Deborah James (aka) Bowelbabe a fellow Marsden patient recently presented BBC Panorama “Britain’s Cancer Crisis” which laid bare the impact of coronavirus on NHS cancer care and included some really heartbreaking patient stories.

We have seen this also in the melanoma patient community and this has a significant impact on patient survival. We are seeing too many young lives lost to melanoma tearing families apart. Covid 19 is also having a huge impact on cancer research and just a couple of weeks ago CRUK which is responsible for the funding of over 50% of UK cancer research announced it was making 500 people redundant and £44m cuts to its research.   

The Royal Marsden cancer charity had also been affected and has been running an emergency appeal. I recently wrote a blog for the charity and also spoke to the team in a short video about my experience at the hospital during coronavirus and why it’s so important to continue supporting the charity during this time.

Team Shomelanoma are back training for the next big challenge on the Giants Causeway at end Oct. It has been a shock to the system getting the legs back into hiking action but it has been good to be back out in the Surrey Hills training with the team. Next up we will be off to Scotland to see the family and tackle a couple of munro’s and we have everything crossed that the challenge will be going ahead. More details to come in the next blog.

As the heatwave returns to the UK this weekend we had the news today that Brits are spending 40% more time in the sun during lockdown than they did last year with over a third of us saying they don’t protect their skin in any way in their own outside space. The sun isn’t only strong abroad so please remember to protect your skin slap on the factor 50, stay covered up and out of the midday sun and most importantly don’t get burnt. Early detection saves lives, melanoma cases are on the rise in the UK and we are still losing 7 people every day to the disease. If you do notice any changes get an appointment booked with your GP or Dermatologist.

Thank you as always for all your support and look out for more Shomelanoma adventures coming your way next month.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Melanoma

Mastering the Melanoma Mind Game – Happy 2020

I have been thinking a lot recently about just how much melanoma messes with your mind. This can manifest itself in different ways and set me off on a whole spiral of worry in the last month. The feel good factor I had after the Peruvian holiday quickly disappeared. It had started off in Peru when I woke up one morning after having a very vivid dream (or nightmare) that my fingers needed to be amputated due to the fact my melanoma had returned (all in my dream). In reality, just before Christmas I started to feel a strange pain in my fingers and it was worse when I woke up in the morning. During the day the pain lessened. I checked the side effects of my drugs and joint pains are on the list and I also know from the melanoma support group that some other patients on the same drugs had experienced this too. However the thought that this may be something more sinister was at the back of my mind.

After Xmas the pain was still there in my hand and I also felt that my fingertip was feeling numb. It was two years ago when my gums became numb that led to the early discovery of a small tumour in my brain which was affecting the nerves, therefore my mind was running into overdrive that the fingertip could be related to further nerve damage. I had scans coming up at Marsden HQ so I knew that if there was an issue all would soon be revealed. Last Friday afternoon I was back in Chelsea for my scans. This was not without drama. Every time I go for scans I have a cannula put in my arm so that they can inject the radioactive dye to show up any cancer cells on the scans. As I have no lymph nodes in my left arm this is always done using my right arm. After 3 years of treatment, monthly blood tests and scans every 2 – 3 months the veins in my right arm are not in the best condition and last Friday it took six attempts to find a vein for the cannula to go into my arm. Normally I don’t find this process stressful but on the last two visits it has taken several attempts, making it much more stressful. I think the fact I was already feeling worried made me even more anxious. The radiology team at the Marsden are fantastic, these situations aren’t easy for them either and they do their absolute best to calm you down. I left the hospital with an arm that looked like I had been through a couple of rounds with Mike Tyson.

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By Monday morning I was in nervous wreck mode. I actually started to wonder if my dream back in November about the finger needing to be amputated was a premonition (the mind was playing games) of what was to come. David was amazing as ever keeping me occupied and was his usual calm self even as I had convinced myself the melanoma had progressed and the rollercoaster was about to go back up a gear. My scans had been very late on Friday afternoon and my nurse advised that that they were awaiting the radiologist to sign off the CT scan before we could have the appointment. Immediately sensing my rising anxiety levels, my nurse tried to reassure me by saying, “It doesn’t mean anything to worry about” however, it all added to my overall anxiety so the wait felt even longer. By the time I was in the door and sat down being told that my scans were good, I felt like I was about to burst (I probably looked that way too) and it was such an overwhelming sense of relief. I hadn’t felt as bad going into a scan results appointment for a long time and was also exhausted. The pains I was experiencing in my hands were put down to side effects of the drugs or nerve pain and as the week has gone on my fingers have been feeling better. So the mind games did play a big role in how I was feeling in the run up to the latest scans and as other cancer patients will know its hard not to assume that every pain you have is cancer related. I think I am quite in tune with my body and how it is feeling but I was pleased to be proved wrong on this occasion and massively grateful that the targeted drugs I am taking are still keeping my melanoma under control. Of course the happiness that the drugs are still working for me is tempered by the fact that for many patients the targeted drugs that I am on develop resistance and/or immunotherapy doesn’t work for them so they are currently struggling trying to get on drug trials or running out of options. This is why its so important to continue supporting pioneering melanoma research and raising awareness to help prevent melanoma by protecting our skin, doing regular skin checks and getting anything suspicious checked by your GP.

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Exercise has helped me with my mental health over the last 3 years and I am now ready to turn my focus to the 2020 challenge and get training for a triathlon. I have signed up for the Blenheim sprint triathlon on May 31 with some friends, which involves swimming 750m, cycling 20km and running 5km. Who knows if I am taking on more than I bargained for, I am not a great swimmer BUT am planning to have a couple of swimming lessons and then practice, practice practice. If you would like to join the Shomelanoma team and join me in the triathlon challenge it’s not too late and I’d love to have you. Full details are here.

http://www.livetotri.co.uk/blenheim

Just let me know if you’d like to sign up and I can ensure you are added to the team. My nurse at the Marsden asked David if he would be joining me for this challenge to which he responded absolutely NOT. I’ll keep you posted and entertained with the swimming attempts over the next few months.

There is more to come on this year’s Shomelanoma fundraising challenges and adventures. If you would like to take on your own challenge please get in touch. Wishing you all a happy and healthy 2020 and thanks as ever for all of your support it means the world. As David said on New Years Day Keep searching for your window on the world, above all enjoy yourselves and have fun. Here’s the lovely card my good friend Jen sent me this week, Thanks for listening.

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Fundraising · Uncategorized

The DECEMBER Factor and a HUGE THANK YOU.

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As December arrives with the festive season in full force, I always find myself feeling slightly nervous. This year I was very lucky to spend most of November on an amazing adventure to Peru (more of that later) and while away I found myself thinking less about melanoma. But it was back to reality last week with 2 appointments at Marsden HQ one to see the Dermatologist for my skin check up and the other on Friday to see my Oncologist. At my Friday appointment my Doctor reminded me that I had now been on the targeted drug treatment Debrafenib and Trametinib for 2 years and its good news that it continues to keep my melanoma under control. I did mention that I always feel a bit anxious when December rolls round as I had such horrible news in Dec 2016 and 2017 and I suppose its only natural that these memories rear their ugly head at this time of year. I also became quite obsessed last December with the fact that on average my treatment works for 12 months before the melanoma develops resistance. I have been repeatedly told that this is an average and for some patients it can work for years. I was also interested to know if I was still getting any benefit from the immunotherapy treatment I had or was it just the targeted treatment that was keeping my disease under control. I was told that is the million-dollar question and he didn’t know the answer. There were a number of patients who had both immunotherapy and targeted treatment and their disease was under control and that I should focus on the most important facts, which was that my melanoma is under control and I was feeling well.

Every 6 months I also have a skin check up with the Dermatologist Dr Fearfield and last week she noticed that the moles on my body have faded further and some of them completely disappeared. This is positive and shows the immune system response against the antigens shared by the normal cells in the melnomacytes and the melanoma. This could be caused by the targeted treatment that I am currently on or the immunotherapy treatment I had previously but it is generally seen as a good sign and will continue to be monitored.

Before leaving for Peru, I was at the hospital for my latest scan results, which were good, and also to present Professor Larkin with the big cheque for £50,000 to support the melanoma research projects at the Royal Marsden. This is a result of all of the shomelanoma fundraising efforts and I want to say a HUGE thank you to each and every one of you who have been instrumental in taking part and generously supporting all of the fundraising challenges. When I was hospitalised for 3 weeks in June 2017 for severe side effects from my immunotherapy treatment I had no idea what the future held but decided I wanted to give something back for the outstanding care I have and continue to receive by raising some funds for further melanoma research. There was no plan or target in mind but along the way so many people have contributed by organizing their own events, taking part in wild challenges, dancing for hours at the danceathon, laughed at the comedy night (or waxathon) and given so much to all of these efforts. David and I have enjoyed and had many laughs and a few tears (me not him) doing these challenges and have created many special memories along the way. I feel extremely fortunate to have such fantastic family and friends both near and far and your support has raised this incredible sum of money to support the research of my Oncologist Professor James Larkin and his wonderful melanoma team at the Royal Marsden who are doing a damn fine job keeping me alive. They have also involved me in the decisions of where the funds raised are allocated and are keeping me regularly updated on the immunotherapy research projects and the latest update of was included win my last blog. Whilst hugely impressive progress has been there are still too many patients dying from the disease and there is a long way to go which is why the fundraising to support melanoma research is so important and you will not be surprised to know we are already planning the 2020 challenges and David is already bracing himself.

Here are a few pictures from the latest fundraising efforts, which in mid October saw a big team running the Royal Parks Half Marathon and raising a lot of money. It was a wet muddy day but all of the magnificent eight runners Dave, Matt, Chris, Fraser, Jo, Tony, Christy, Ronan and Thomas did a fine job and raised over £7,000 towards the fundraising. Well done to all, David will be back for round 4 next year the under 2-hour target is there to be broken.

Last weekend the gorgeous Nicki Millward ran the Cayman Islands half marathon in very hot conditions in a speedy 1.57 so huge congratulations to her plus a big thank you to all her family and friends who have generously supported the fundraising efforts. Last Saturday we all got into the Xmas spirit when Liz, Johnny and Clem had an incredible joint birthday/anniversary party for and in lieu of presents had their lovely family and friends donate to the Shomelanoma fundraising. Their incredible generosity helped us reach an overall total over £57K, which is simply incredible.

In early November David and I went to see adventurer Ben Fogle on his tour Tales of the Wilderness at the local Wimbledon Theatre. I have followed Ben’s adventures for the last few years love his TV show “New Lives in the Wild” and his maverick adventurer approach to life. One thing he said in his talk really resonated, as I was about to head off on the latest adventure trip to Peru “Smile, Look up and Dream, Dare, Do”. I thought back to experiencing the horrid side effects when I started the current Dab/Tram treatment, spending New Year 17/18 in A &E fearing I would never again be well enough to leave the UK far less go on adventures to South America and I felt very grateful and fortunate to be well enough to go on the latest adventure and take some of Ben’s maverick adventure attitude with me.

Peru is such a diverse country; we started off in the crazy city of Lima, which made Bangkok look calm. We loved the arty district of Barranca where we stayed in a colonial guesthouse – Second Home of the renowned Peruvian artist Victor Delfin. We then moved onto Arequipa and the stunning sights of the Colca Canyon. From there it was onto staying with a Peruvian family in Lake Titicaca (the highest inland lake in the world at 4000m) on the island of Uros where the lodging was remote and built on an floating island made of reeds with solar power and a compost toilet. It was utterly stunning, had no wifi and felt lovely to be totally away from the craziness of modern life, chilling out on a boat, learning about the Peruvian way of life and watching my favourite blue-beaked duck of lake Titicaca. It was a long way from London. The last night we were reminded of the remote location when a fellow traveller developed a bad eye infection and had to cut short his stay and be taken for medical help. I then read in the Lonely Planet if you do get sick in Lake Titicaca don’t think twice about heading to La Paz which is the Bolivian capital as the medical care in Puno is poor. Fortunately I didn’t have any issues and was happy to move on to Cusco, Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley where we spent a week exploring, hiking in the mountains and staying at the fabulous Explora Hotel, which exceeded all expectations. Finally we had the last few days in Mancora in the north of Peru chilling out by the beach before the long journey back to reality. It was an incredible trip and I loved every minute. Here are a few pics.

 

With Xmas just over a week away I want to wish you all a happy festive period with all your family and friends and thank you once again for your amazing support. Here’s to a happy and healthy 2020 and to more Shomelanoma adventures … stay tuned.

 

 

 

Uncategorized

Hope, Fundraising Research and Stage 4 Melanoma

Melanoma has been hitting the headlines recently with the release of the 5 year results of the checkmate 67 trial for combination immunotherapy drugs (ipilimumab and nivolumab) which shows the drugs can stop or reverse the progression of advanced melanoma in more than one in two patients. This is truly ground breaking when you consider that less than 10 years ago only one in 20 Stage IV patients survived for 5 years or more and most faced a life expectancy of between 6 to 9 months. My Oncologist led the trial and here he is at the European Oncology Conference (ESMO) discussing the trial results

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xgk54YXpL1E

However, whilst impressive progress, immunotherapy doesn’t work for around 50% of patients and it can have seriously life debilitating side effects; there are still far too many melanoma patients are still succumbing to the disease. There is so much work still to be done and that’s why the fundraising to support the melanoma research at the Royal Marsden is so important (more details on the melanoma research later). The team working on the research is pictured here led by Dr Samra Turajilic, Dr Lewis Au and Dr Lavinia Spain who all work with Professor Larkin.

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I was recently back at Marsden HQ and my latest scan results were good now 21 months on from starting Dab/Tram it continues to keep my melanoma under control for which I am hugely grateful. At my latest consultation I met the new team of registrars who have recently joined the melanoma team. After hearing my results I was asked “So Shiona how are you” and my response was “Well we’ve booked to go to Peru” at which my doctor replied “Most patients when I ask that question would answer with how they are feeling from a medical perspective and any side effects experienced but you have gone straight to the important things” I was then feeling slightly embarrassed but I hadn’t experienced any side effects in the previous month and did have questions about the drugs I am on and the high altitude in Peru. I was also thinking perhaps I had not made the best impression on the 3 keen new junior doctors who I had just met for the first time. Anyway my Oncologist knows me well and David was finding it all rather amusing. I guess it did show I am getting on with my current “living in the present life”.

The living in the present can be hard as anyone going through stage IV cancer treatment will know. I have gone from the utter fear of planning anything early last year due to bad side effects and cancelling trips to now feeling lets just book the trip. I like to have scans close to going away on holiday for peace of mind and also of course the insurance company requires it too. Recently though I had a sharp reminder of how quickly I can go from feeling well to feeling awful. A couple of weeks ago I was attending my lovely brother in law and gorgeous new sister in law’s wedding in Manchester. It was a stunning day with beautiful September weather and so much fun seeing all the family and partying at the wedding. We returned to London the following evening and at 3am on Sunday morning I woke up bolt upright feeling awful knowing I was going to be sick and that was the start of a horrible 36 hours of vomiting and diahorrea that I wondered if it would ever stop. I couldn’t get my head off the pillow all day on the Sunday, as I was feeling so awful. At one point David said to be don’t you think you might feel better if you come downstairs so I dragged myself out of bed and went downstairs only to be running to the bathroom 5 mins later. It definitely wasn’t the alcohol from the wedding, as I don’t drink anymore. Although I was feeling awful, I didn’t have a fever and I knew if I phoned the Macmillan hotline at the Marsden on a Sunday I would probably get sent to A and E so decided to just hang on and see how I was by Monday morning.   The following morning I had stopped being sick and the D and V was under control so no need for an unscheduled trip to Marsden HQ. I think I just caught a vomit bug as Dave’s cousin it materialised had caught the same bug. Anyway it has certainly made me rethink any long bus trips planned in Peru and also remember how quickly I can go from feeling good to very unwell.

 

 

Over the last couple of months since finishing the Welsh 3000’s there has been a lot more time to see family and friends as I treasure spending time with them and I know that it may sound a bit of a cliché but its what’s important in life. There has been a lovely trip to Scotland to see my parents and also some of the Scottish family, Anne and Fred’s Golden Wedding Celebration Party in Derbyshire, a trip to Salcombe with my good friend Jen, the Hadcroft wedding in Manchester and a girls trip to Hertfordshire to celebrate Liz’s bday. Here are a few pics from the recent adventures.

 

The Shomelanoma fundraising has also received a boost over the last couple of months. Anne and Fred (David’s Aunt and Uncle) celebrated their Golden Wedding Anniversary and had a party to celebrate which was a lot of fun. Their guests generously donated to the melanoma research at the Royal Marsden rather than give gifts and an incredible £730 was raised so huge thank you to Anne and Fred plus all of their guests for their generous donations.

Next up the Shomelanoma team will once again be running the Royal Parks Half Marathon. We have a big team this year including David, Matt, Fraser, Chris, Tony, Christy, Ronan, Thomas and Jo who are all training hard and will be taking to the parks of London on Sunday 13 October. If you would like to support them full details are below and BIG thank you to all of you, look out for the photos in the next blog.

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/shomelanomarphm2019

Thanks to all of your generous support we are now less than £1k away from the Team Shomelanoma £50k fundraising target which is just incredible and I have to say a massive thank you again to everyone of you that has taken part in a fundraising event or donated to support all of the various challenges. The funding is being allocated to support the melanoma research programme and here is the latest update from Dr Lavinia Spain.

The Melanoma Research Programme is currently working on samples collected from 2 complementary studies, involving >300 patients.  The first, Melanoma TRACERx (TRAcking Cancer Evolution through therapy (Rx)), is a research study aimed at transforming our understanding of cancer heterogeneity (differences in cancer genetics from cell to cell even within the same patient) and evolution (how cancer evolves over time within the same patient). Through longitudinal analysis of genetic information, Melanoma TRACERx ultimately seeks to understand how and why melanomas progress as well as examine the variation in response to treatment.  The second is the PEACE study, a national post-mortem study enabling sampling of tumours at multiple metastatic sites. 

At present we are focused on cohort of 14 cases for analysis, leveraging samples obtained through both studies. Between 10 and 70 samples have been collected from each patient. In a normal study, usually only 2 to 3 samples are collected. This now means the team has around 500 – 700 patient samples to analyse. With this depth of data we hope to answer important questions about immunotherapy and tumour heterogeneity, making a unique contribution to the scientific literature.  Both DNA and RNA samples have been extracted for sequencing, a process that can take up to two months to prepare accurately and to the required standards of quality. Using the latest genetic sequencing technology hundreds of patient samples have been sequenced. This data is now being interpreted by our team’s bioinformaticians based at the Francis Crick Institute. This is a specialist role which applies information technology to analyse the vast amount of biological data. The aim is to identify specific mutations or proteins that influence immune response which can be investigated further. The analysis of the preliminary data is currently on-going. 

The team aim to publish their preliminary data in a leading scientific journal in order to significantly advance our basic understanding of why there may be heterogeneity in tumour response to immune therapies. Over the next 12 – 18 months the team aim to complete their final analysis of the data collected.

In parallel we are continuing with a number of other results projects: 1) collecting blood samples from a large cohort of patients in order to evaluate how tumour DNA circulating in the bloodstream may be used to predict relapse and response to therapy, 2) looking at matched primary melanomas and their metastases to elucidate the nature of evolution and spread and 3) determining how ‘biomarkers’ (distinct measurable characteristics of a tumour) may be used to predict treatment response.  

We are always incredibly grateful for the generosity of our patients and their families who contribute to these studies.

Stay tuned for more Shomelanoma adventures soon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Uncategorized

Friendships, Welsh Mountains and Melanoma

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The week before the Shomelanoma team set off for the latest mountain challenge I was back at Marsden HQ for the latest scan results. It feels like the time between scans passes so quickly as I try to cram as much as possible when feeling well knowing that everything could change at the next consultation. Fortunately the latest scans were good and the Dab/Tram continues to work 19 months on from when I started the latest treatment so I am feeling very thankful.

Managing anxiety before scans is never easy but I have found that it helps to be away from London the weekend before getting results as I am occupied and thinking about other things. Dave and I were in the Peak District the weekend before the latest scan results as I was celebrating my birthday whilst getting in some last minute training on Kinder Scout for the Welsh 3000’s. After getting my scan results and telling my Oncologist about the latest madcap mountain challenge we had the green light to set to off for the Welsh mountains.

We have a wonderful group of special friends who have accompanied us on these challenges and this year was no exception. Tony and Sam, Phil, Colin and of course the rock star husband Dave all took precious time away to train with us, spending the last few months walking up and down hills across the UK from the Brecon Beacons to Cornwall and the Malvern Hills to Scotland. There have been many amusing moments and lots of banter on the walks that keeps us all entertained and I always looking forward to our precious time spent together

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After last year’s extreme heat on the Jurassic Coast 100km, this year the Welsh mountains had the opposite weather in store for us. An idyllic summers eve in the beautiful coastal town of Conwy in a lovely pub on the north Welsh coast was a false dawn as the next morning the gales and rain had set in as we arrived at the hostel for the safety briefing before setting off to start the Welsh 3000’s. A message from our guide the day before telling us to have enough clothing to get soaked for 3 days was the warning that the weather gods were not going to be on our side.

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What followed was 3 days of extreme weather high gales and driving rain, which made the steep terrain difficult to navigate, and the ground underfoot slippy. Over the whole 3 days there were hardly any breaks in the relentless wind and rain and it is safe to say that you often had to question is this really July in the UK. This was an extreme challenge and a big step up from the 3 Peaks that we had completed 4 years ago. With the exception of summit night on Kilimanjaro this was the toughest challenge yet. We all had moments over the 3 days thinking (what the fXXX are we doing this for and get me to a dry pub ASAP). There were no comfy beds to go back to in the evening and the boy’s dorm with 10 bunks and low ceilings reminded me of travelling in my 20’s and not in a good way. We were all longing for the comfy bed of the pub in Conwy. We weren’t allowed up two of the peaks: Tryfan and Crib Goch due to the dangerous windy conditions. All of the team were amazing and showed real determination to complete the challenge. The Charity Challenge guides were the right mix of encouragement in difficult conditions and also keeping us safe. The final day was a real struggle for me as I was full of the cold, tired, wet and after 3 days I had had enough BUT the gang were great at keeping me going, my smile had pretty much deserted me by this stage and it was just blissful to arrive at the bottom of Snowdon, have an ice cream and get changed into dry clothes before heading back home. As I reflect back on the weekend now I feel super proud of all of the team there was never any doubt of anyone giving up, we have raised more valuable funds for the wonderful melanoma team at the Royal Marsden who are doing a fine job keeping me well enough to undertake these challenges. In addition, I didn’t think of melanoma once over the whole weekend, as I was too busy worrying about not falling flat on my face. It was a privilege to undertake the challenge with all of the team and big thank you also to the Charity Challenge guides looking after us so well Andy, Rich, George and Fiona were all fantastic as was Sarah with all the lovely food.

Now that the team are home, rested and recovered I have been feeling a bit sad that its all over (you may think this sounds strange but I can assure you that Dave is over the moon that its over!) but there is such a build up and focus goes into these challenges that when they are over you naturally start thinking about what’s next and hoping that I will be well enough to continue undertaking these challenges. They really do help keep me motivated and having a goal to work towards helps me to stay fit plus I can honestly say that it’s as much about the mental side as they help to keep my head clear and I love being out in the mountains.

Of course a massive thank you has to go to everyone whose generous donations have supported the latest challenge. We have now raised over £46k in a little over two years, which is almost beyond my comprehension and for everybody that has donated, taken part and/or organized an event, thank you from the bottom of my heart. It really does inspire and motivate me to do more in the future. We will be receiving a full update on the melanoma research project that the money raised is supporting and I will provide a full update in the next blog.

The last couple of weeks have seen some of our lovely Hong Kong friends passing through London and it has been great to catch up with them. The summer is passing quickly and after spending so many weekends away from London to climb mountains it is nice to spend some time at home. As you head out to enjoy the summer sun remember to slap on the factor 50, cover up, stay out of the sun between 11 and 3 and check your skin regularly and watch out for the ABCDE rules

https://www.melanomauk.org.uk/signs-and-symptoms

You may remember Alfie Ranstead who earlier in the summer did a 50km bike ride to raise funds for the melanoma research at RMH. He also created this fabulous video to help raise awareness about melanoma and how to prevent it. It has been shown to all of the pupils at his school and only takes a couple of minutes to watch. Well done Alfie you are a superstar. https://youtu.be/LpD99yihrNw ,

Thanks as always for all your support and tune in for more shomelanoma adventures next month.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Uncategorized

Mountains to Climb, Milestones and Melanoma

I woke up at 3 am one night last week and the first thought that came to my mind was Mountains, Milestones and then I remembered the dreaded Melanoma. I did think right with the upcoming Welsh 3000’s mountain challenge what a perfect title for the next blog, so I wrote it down and went back to sleep. As my 3 year cancerversary passed on June 15, I have been reflecting on how life has changed over the last 3 years but also feeling very fortunate still to be here.

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I have been on a 6-week break from the hospital, which has been totally blissful, of course I love the medical team at Marsden HQ but not having to visit the hospital has been good for the mind and soul. I also count myself very fortunate to have been well enough to travel to some amazing places over the last few weeks. I find that getting away from London even for a short period clears the mind and helps me to forget about melanoma for a while which is only a good thing. In the last month I have been lucky to go back to New York, spend a few days in Fife with the parentals, climb hills in the Brecon Beacons and am just back from a week in my happy place Cornwall (more of that later).

Summer has fully arrived in the UK and its very much a case of sun’s out guns out (well those of you watching Love Island know that anyway). I have recently returned to the local gym to up my fitness levels for the upcoming mountain challenge. A couple of weeks ago, I overheard a discussion amongst the girls about wanting a tan now its summer and one of them mentioned going on a sunbed. Another girl then tried to dissuade her saying its much safer to have a fake tan and relayed a story about a friend who had died of melanoma. I honestly can’t believe how many young people still use sunbeds in the UK and are not fully aware of the killer machines that they are. Melanoma UK has been trying to get these banned as they are in Brazil and Australia

https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/237086

Whilst in Cornwall beach season was kicking off, temperatures rising and the Brits were at the beach crisping themselves to a shade of beetroot. This did make me realize just how much awareness still need to be done to educate people in protecting their skin. You don’t have to burn to get a melanoma and there’s nothing healthy about a tan. I recommend you fake it and if you are looking for a good fake tan I can recommend Vita Liberata Body Blur that is idiot proof to apply covers up scars and gives a light colour https://www.boots.com/vita-liberata-body-blur-instant-skin-finish-100ml-10208481 . But most importantly stay safe in the sun wear factor 50, cover up and stay out of the sun between 11 and 3.

The next big challenge coming up in 2 weeks is the Welsh 3000’s . As many of you already know, I love being in the mountains and after having back surgery 5 years ago, my surgeon told me no more long distance running, I replaced it with hiking up mountains. Since my melanoma diagnosis, I have loved being in the mountains even more. I find it focuses the mind, I forget about melanoma and it helps keep me fit. It also provides me with a goal and as someone who is generally positive and motivated I love to have a challenge.

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Every year for the past 5 years we have done a mountain challenge and this year is no exception. From the Three Peaks to Kilimanjaro this year it is the Welsh 3000’s. This is a HUGE challenge especially for me currently on treatment and involves climbing the 15 Welsh peaks over 3000 feet in one weekend involving steep ascents and descents of over 4000 m in one weekend. The challenge is rated as extreme and I am starting to feel nervous at the prospect of what’s in store. Dave and I are doing the challenge with the fantastic Tony, Sam, Phil and Colin who have undertaken many of the previous challenges and we will be raising funds for melanoma research at the Royal Marsden where I continue to be treated for stage 4 melanoma.

Full details of the challenge are here and if you would like to support the team it would be hugely appreciated and there will be a full update on the next blog.

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/shomelanoma-welsh3000s

Earlier this week David and I attended a patient evening at the Royal Marsden, which was discussing “Pioneering Treatment: What does the future hold for Melanoma and Urological Cancers? “ which was a very informative evening and covered topics from the current landscape for melanoma and kidney cancer treatment to advances in the precision of radiotherapy to the impact on patient quality of life of new melanoma treatments and the evolution of cancer where Dr Samra Turajilic describes how cancer evolves to resist treatment and how we need to understand how different cancer cells in a tumour change and how to adapt to improve patient outcomes. This is a hugely complex subject and the fact that everyone’s cancer is different makes it even more challenging. It was a very enjoyable evening and was lovely to see some of the other patients who are treated at the Marsden. I even had a couple of them come up and introduce themselves as they recognized me from reading this blog, which was lovely. There was also a patient in attendance from the original clinical trial, for the drugs I am currently taking, whose melanoma has been successfully controlled for the last five years.

A couple of weeks ago, there was a very informative programme on BBC4, following George McGavin “A Year to save my Life” and followed the entomologist and TV presenter through his treatment for malignant melanoma on his heel. Given his scientific background, he was intrigued at understanding more about melanoma and how it evolves. The programme also highlighted a very real benefit and development that was not available to patients like myself just 2½ years ago. George’s melanoma had spread to his lymph nodes in his groin (classified as Stage 3) and rather than have surgery to remove his lymph nodes, he was able to have adjuvant treatment and took dab/tram (my current medication) to treat his melanoma. In George’s case, this successfully treated the melanoma and prevented intrusive surgery. Previously the only option for patients at Stage 3 was surgery and thereafter to “watch and wait”. For patients, this is a huge step forward in that they now feel that the disease is being proactively treated. If you would like to watch, here is the link :

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000696j/a-year-to-save-my-life-george-mcgavin-and-melanoma

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The latest superstar Shomelanoma fundraising efforts for melanoma research at the Royal Marsden Cancer Charity come from from Alfie Ranstead, and Jacqueline Varty. Alfie Ranstead (14) cycled 50 km along the Ridgeway in Wiltshire. He had never cycled that far before and successfully completed his challenge cycling with his 2 brothers Tom and Will in 3.5 hours. Also in cycling mode young Will Baldock (6) recently completed a hilly 10 km cycle in St Albans. He had plenty of snacks, his Dad cycling with him and a big cake awaiting him at the finish to keep him motivated. Finally my school friend Jacqueline Varty completed the Edinburgh half marathon last weekend and also did a PB. Massive congratulations and thank you to all of you.

 

The latest fundraising efforts have sent the total Shomelanoma fundraising efforts to close to £42k in 2 years and are helping fund further melanoma research to help keep cancer patients like me alive . We have now set the target at £50k and are hoping to reach that milestone by the end of the year.

Finally here are a few photos from the recent travels. I really loved returning to New York a city I used to visit frequently with work but since the melanoma rollercoaster I hadn’t been back. It was lovely to be there as a tourist and stay in lower Manhattan to explore the city that is up there as one of my favourite cities in the world. We were also very fortunate to have fabulous weather for our week in Cornwall, this really is my happy place as my Grandfathers family comes from Sennen Cove/St Just I have this feeling of being at home when I go there. I love the area around the Lizard and it’s really hard to believe you are in the UK. We had a wonderful week there and I was sad to return to London but my 6 weeks of no visits to the Marsden had come to an end and it was time to return to Chelsea to see Professor Larkin and the team.

Stay tuned for the next installment and full details of the latest mountain challenge when the Shomelanoma team tackles the Welsh 3000’s.