December always brings a lot of bad memories to the surface for me, as it was Dec 2017 when I had the recurrence of a new brain tumour after immunotherapy treatment and just 2 months earlier my scans had been clear. You can be drawn into a false sense of security and as most stage 4 cancer patients know with this vicious disease things can change all too quickly. So, as I made my way back to the Marsden earlier this month for my latest scans to say I was feeling anxious was an understatement. My previous scans showed an enlarged chest lymph node which can be caused for several reasons, infection, inflammation but can also be a sign of cancer. Six years ago in Dec 2016, I found an enlarged lymph node under my arm and that was malignant melanoma and growing very fast. I subsequently had surgery to remove all the lymph nodes under my arm. However, in the case of the chest lymph node, I had felt somewhat reassured when my Oncologist had said at the last appointment that he wasn’t overly concerned.
My scans went very smoothly and I was in and out of the Marsden quickly thanks to the efficiency of the radiologists. There wasn’t long to wait for the results as I had the follow up appointment with my doctor 3 days later. I was feeling nervous, all the yoga and deep breathing still don’t make it any easier even after going through this for 6 years. My doctor called David and I into the consulting room and I was told that my brain scan remains stable and my CT scan is the same as the previous one, i.e. still showing the enlarged chest lymph node but it hasn’t grown. He thinks this is unrelated to my melanoma and we discussed that I would have repeat scans again in 2 months. I left the appointment feeling relieved that there was no change, I was feeling healthy but obviously the best situation would be that the lymph node had returned to normal. However, I decided to put this to the back of my mind and get on with enjoying the festive season one which 5 years ago I thought I would be very unlikely to see.
The following Monday, I was back at the hospital to collect my medication and was en route home on the tube and I saw a missed call on my phone from “caller unknown”. Most patients will know that when you see this on your phone your heart normally jumps a beat as it looks like it is from the hospital. I had a jumbled message on the phone and my head went into immediate panic … maybe it was the results of my recent smear test and there was some issue with it. Anyway my Garmin watch told me to calm down and as I burst through the door at home to announce to David I was worried about a missed call from the hospital and couldn’t fancy another issue to deal with, he told me to calm down and he listened properly to the voice message on my phone. I called the number left on my phone and quickly realised that it was in fact nothing to do with any dodgy smear test result but was in fact the Marsden trying to book dates for my next scans. Anyway I immediately felt relieved but it does just show the heightened anxiety that cancer patients feel around medical phone calls, appointments, scan results etc. and this does not go away with time and/or getting used to it and the December time of year just has so many bad memories that it just makes the situation feel much worse.
I have also recently passed my 5-year anniversary on my wonder targeted drugs Debrafenib and Trametinib, which have successfully kept my stage 4 melanoma under control for 5 years, this feels a significant milestone. In Dec 17 when a new tumour turned up in my brain I honestly didn’t think I would be seeing another Xmas so the fact that I am still here to celebrate another one with family and friends makes it feel all the more special. I did become fixated with the fact that on average Debrafenib and Trametinib work for 12 -14 months and when that time passed I kept wondering how long they would work for and I do remember asking my doctor this question. My Oncologist of course cant answer that question but he did remind me that this was an average so for some patients the drugs can work for much longer especially if you have a low tumour volume (less than 3) which is the case with me. Also, I started the dab tram after responding to immunotherapy and the emerging evidence suggests that this provides a more durable response than the average 12-14 months.
After the recent hospital trips the festive season kicked off with gusto. This can be a very hard time of year for many people as we remember those we have lost. I was really pleased to attend the Royal Marsden Cancer Charity Celebrate a Life Carol Concert outside the Chelsea Hospital on Dec 8. It was a beautiful service and my 2 gorgeous girlfriends Liz and Jen also joined me for the service. This year I had a star on the tree for my cousin Brian Oates who died from bowel cancer in May 2017; we were both diagnosed around a similar time and used to share text messages. We sang loudly, remembered loved ones and listened to the words of the vicar giving such a beautiful service and it felt a very special evening.
Another highlight of the Xmas season is our annual festive drinks party. This year the party moved to No 1 Duke Street Richmond and it was also my rock star husband David’s pre 50th birthday drinks (his big bday is in February). The World Cup was in full force and it coincided with the England vs. France quarter-final so we had a large screen on to show the match. The England team didn’t quite manage to beat world champions France but it was a very close match. As soon as it finished we got on with the partying and the boys soon forgot about England’s world cup exit. It was really special to see all of our friends after 2 years of COVID and just let our hair down and have fun. The fact that I don’t drink anymore makes no difference to my party enjoyment. I was high on the excitement of seeing everyone to celebrate the festive season and David’s pre 50th bday. We have many special friends who have supported us through tough times and it was lovely for David to say a few words of thanks to everyone who has been there through thick and thin for us. We appreciate it more than words can express we love you all and just want you all to know that as we enter into another new year.
2022 has been another incredible year for the Team Shomelanoma Fundraising. Currently the grand total lies at £83,583 so a MAHOOSIVE thank you to all of our family and friends who have so generously supported and donated to the fundraising challenges it means the world and is hugely appreciated by the charity and the melanoma team at the Marsden Hospital.
I was also recently asked to write a guest blog for UK Fundraising, which is an online resource and community for UK charity fundraisers. My blog covered my Shomelanoma story plus lessons learned from the fundraising challenges. Here is the blog if you didn’t catch it on my social channels. : Meet the fundraiser: Shiona Ramage – UK Fundraising
As 2022 comes to a close I want to remember a quote from the wonderful Dame Deborah James who I found hugely inspirational and died of bowel cancer earlier this year. She said, “ find a life worth enjoying, take risks, love deeply, have no regrets and always have rebellious hope”
Sometimes dealing with a cancer diagnosis feels like climbing a mountain that is never ending but it also focuses the mind on what’s important in life. It’s not about the money and the stuff you cant take that with you, it’s the simple things having more time and adventures making special memories with those you love and that’s what I treasure every day as we go into 2023. Wishing you all a very happy new year, hug those closest to you and look out for more adventures coming soon from Team Shomelanoma and thank you again for all of your love and support.