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My Warrior Story with Melanoma & Lung cancer

I am a cancer warrior, with stage 4 metastatic Melanoma, currently stable and stage 4 Lung cancer, unfortunately terminal.


My story starts back in 2008 when my GP noticed a suspicious mole on the inside of my right thigh. It was removed and came back from pathology as a level 2 melanoma. I had a wide excision done to clear all margins and continued with regular skin checks.


In 2013, i felt a little lump on side of knee and in the groin of my the left leg. After an ultrasound and fine needle biopsy I was told I had malignant metastatic Melanoma, stage 4 as it had spread to distant lymph nodes and it was deadly. It was a very frightening time, that consumed my every moment. I was not able to work for about 4 months.


I was referred to the Melanoma Unit of PA hospital. I had 30 lymph nodes removed from knee,  groin and pelvis and 6 were affected by melanoma. A pet scan showed there was no other metastases in my body. There was no further available treatment and I  continued with regular scans. At this stage I needed help mentally and used the Cancer Council counselling service, including completing their Living Mindfully course, free to cancer patients and their families. 


In 2015 I developed Lymphodaema in my left leg and had numerous hospital admissions for cellulitis.


In Feb 2017 a routine pet scan showed a tumour in my lung. Due to my melanoma history, it was diagnosed as metastatic melanoma and I was referred to an oncologist.


I started on Keytruda, an immunotherapy drug that had become available on the PBS for melanoma patients. Unfortunately i developed an auto immune disease, Sarcoidosis, and had to stop this treatment after only 4 infusions. Routine scans continued and an attempt was made to biopsy the tumour with a bronchoscopy but it could not be reached due to its location, attached to pulmonary artery , the tumour remained stable for 6 months.  



Melanoma Institute Australia

Melanoma is a form of cancer that develops in the skin’s pigment cells (melanocytes). 

Melanocytes produce melanin to help protect the skin from ultraviolet (UV) radiation i.e. sunlight. When melanocyte cells aggregate together in the skin during childhood or adolescence they form a mole.

Most moles are quite safe, however sometimes the melanocytes in a mole begin to grow and divide in an uncontrolled way. If they start to grow in a unregulated way, either expanding outwards or down into the lower layers of the skin, they can become a melanoma.

Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer and grows very quickly if left untreated. It can spread to the lower part of your skin (dermis), enter the lymphatic system or bloodstream and then spread to other parts of the body e.g. lungs, liver, brain or bone.

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In January 2018, a scan showed the tumour had increased in size and had spread to lymph nodes in my chest. A biopsy was done again on the lymph nodes and I was diagnosed with a new primary cancer, lung cancer, totally unrelated to melanoma. 


In April 2018 I completed 6 weeks of chemo and radiation, weekly infusions of chemo and daily zaps of radiation. I lost my hair and was unwell from chemo with skin issues and mouth ulcers. The radiation burnt my oseaphagus and I couldn't eat and I had terrible burns on the skin on my back and chest. I developed a radiation induced disease called pnuemonitis and was put on prednisone or steroids, which brings with it a whole new series of other issues. Again I was off work for 3 months but this time I had no sick leave. 


The next 2 scans in August & November showed shrinkage, yeah !


Then in February, a CT scan showed disease progression and after a pet scan, my oncologist told me he could not cure me, the disease had progressed too far, too quickly since last treatment, had spread to the other lung and to distant lymph nodes under my collar bone and I was now terminal. He told me I would no longer be able to work and he signed the necessary paperwork to get my super and a terminal illness payment.


I was told this on the Tues 6th Feb, I resigned from my job on Thurs 8th and started palliative chemo on Friday 9th. 


My husband retired to look after me and we began to plan our caravan tripping around Australia. 

After 2 rounds of chemo over 6 weeks, including a hospital admission where I needed a platelet transfusion,  a progress scan showed some growth of primary tumour, no growth of lymph nodes under collar bone,  but new tumours in both lungs and fluid developing on lungs with a new cough. I have problems with breathing and wheezing when lying down and during any exertion.  My oncologist encouraged me to try another 2 rounds of chemo, over 6 weeks. This is where I am at the moment. 


I continue to live in the moment, try not to dwell on what the future holds with my health, but rather have planned an around Oz trip, a cruise and overseas holiday to NZ. I love riding my push bike, so have bought an electric bike. It is like a mobile scooter but on 2 wheels. 


I continue to stay positive and enjoy every minute of everyday with my hubby, my kids, my family and my friends.  

Lung Foundation Australia

 

Lung cancer is a malignant tumour in the tissue of one or both lungs. A tumour may be found in the bronchi or in the spongy lung tissue. A tumour that starts in the lung is known as a primary lung cancer. Tumours in the lung may also be due to cancer which has spread through the blood from another part of the body such as the breast, bowel, or prostate – these cancers are called lung “secondary” or “metastases”. The following information refers to primary lung cancer.


Like other cancers, lung cancer is the result of the uncontrolled growth and multiplication of cells in the lung(s). Over time, this abnormal cell growth develops into a progressively larger mass which starts to invade functional parts of the lung, affecting breathing, causing pain and symptoms related to the loss of normal lung function. Doctors call this abnormal cluster of cells a “tumour”. These abnormal cells grow and divide uncontrollably and, if left untreated, eventually spread throughout the body.