Melanoma - Stage IV
This testimonial includes a description of this patient’s actual medical results. Those results may not be typical or expected for the particular disease type described in this testimonial. You should not expect to experience these results.
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My cancer story started in 1998. I had lost vision in my right eye one day. After going through a series of tests, we learned that I had choroidal melanoma and the tumor had detached my retina. I had my right eye removed. At that time, the only treatment I had was surgery.
Fast forward 15 years later, to May 2013, when I was lying in bed and found a lump in my left breast. At first, I thought it was a really large bug bite, but after it didn’t go away, I went to the doctor. I learned the melanoma had metastasized to my breast. When I heard that, everything turned upside down for me. I felt like I was being caught in a wave—I was under water, and I had no way up. But I continued to press forward and had a lumpectomy.
After the surgery, I started taking interferon for five months. During that time, I was experiencing many side effects that were making me really sick. There were days that I couldn’t get out of bed. I had difficulty walking and talking. Just showering was so exhausting that I would be unable to get up for the next few days.
Again in November 2013, I learned the melanoma had metastasized to my brain, and I underwent Gamma Knife radiation. I was also still dealing with the aftermath side effects from the interferon. While all this was going on, I felt frustrated because I am typically very active. I have a husband and three beautiful children. Outside of our jobs, my husband and I are very active in music. I volunteer a lot, especially at my children’s school. I used to take care of my family, and now they had to take care of me. The side effects I was experiencing really strained our family.
Finding personalized care
I was up late one night watching television because I couldn’t sleep. A commercial came on for Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA), and before I knew it, I called. I spoke to an Oncology Information Specialist to learn more, and I immediately felt a connection. He listened to what I had to say and understood what I was going through.
After my insurance approved me to go to CTCA® in April 2014, my husband and I were on a plane from Pennsylvania to Chicago to visit the hospital in northern Illinois. We soon discovered why traveling so far from home was worth it.
Everything at CTCA was so different from anything I had ever experienced. CTCA specifically tailored my care to me. All along, my doctors were very good at explaining things and keeping me informed. They spent a great deal of time with me. As long as I had questions, the doctors and clinicians would stay there and give me all of the information I asked for and more.
The people at CTCA were also so warm, and made us feel safe and at peace. There is simply a wonderful atmosphere of togetherness there. I felt like I found support and community with the staff and patients.
When I first came to CTCA, I didn’t have active cancer at that time. I received various supportive care therapies, including naturopathic medicine and rehabilitation therapy, to better manage the aftereffects of my previous treatment. I experienced the benefits of integrative care firsthand.
Then in April 2015, the day I completed my last physical therapy session, I found another lump, this time in my right breast. I knew I wanted to receive my treatment at CTCA, where I felt I was in the best hands. I had a second lumpectomy. Everyone who cared for me, from the surgeon to the nurses, showed me true compassion. I was taken care of every step of the way.
In January 2017, the cancer metastasized a third time. I chose to have a partial mastectomy with reconstruction. I felt that the team at CTCA took excellent care of me.
During a routine scan in August 2017, a previous spot on my right lung had started growing. I went in the next day for a biopsy. It was very scary trying to imagine what the next few days, weeks or months might look like. My medical oncologist called the day the results arrived, and she had already reached out to specialists and had multiple options ready for me, available the next week. I chose to receive stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT) in October 2017 for 10 days on metastatic tumors in my left and right lungs.
As of December 2017, I am thrilled to report all is stable.
I know that metastatic cancer can return wherever and whenever. I know I only have to make one phone call, and my team at CTCA will present all the options open to me at the time, and will take the same excellent care of me as they have for years.
While I was home, I needed support and a community away from CTCA. I found a branch of Gilda’s Club called Our Clubhouse and become involved with them. They do art, yoga, cooking classes and support survivorship.
I also started creating art from old records. I sculpt them and create wall hangings. Through my art, I was able to escape. Sometimes, I am able to get famous people to sign the art, and then I donate it to be auctioned for charity. It started off as my way to contribute and take care of other people while I was being taking care of.
My husband has a full-time job, but he also plays the keyboard and guitar, and he sings. His band tours and travels, and they have opened for many artists. When I began to get my stamina back, I joined my husband.
Then one day, I had this crazy idea to put together a fundraiser for Our Clubhouse. I came up with an idea modeled after an existing camp for adults who play rock and roll with musicians. Participants are essentially assigned a band, and they practice and perform with their group. There is a tremendous amount of growth, support and positivity that comes out of it. I thought, why not do the same thing but with doctors and make it a fundraiser? My husband and I know many musicians. We had the connections and the motivation.
With a team of volunteers, we put together the event. We called it Docs that Rock. The event had eight doctors jamming like rock stars, and we raised $75,000 in donations for Our Clubhouse. We had so many volunteer musicians helping with the event, and it was hugely successful. I just feel beyond blessed and grateful for all the work and efforts of so many.
Since my last surgery, I have been taking advantage of the time and gifts that God has given me. I have come to realize that in my life, my lows are lower than the average person, but my highs are higher than the norm. I acknowledge and appreciate so much more after going through what I have. I am a better mom and a better wife because I know I have fought hard to be here today.
Recently, I have traveled more than I ever had. I have been to Los Angeles, New York, Brazil and Italy. I have seen so many milestones accomplished. I was there to watch my son graduate from Army training. My daughter then graduated from high school, and I moved her off to college. My youngest is still in high school, and I am able to attend most of his soccer games. I continue to tour with my husband across the world.
Every year, I celebrate the anniversary that I was diagnosed with cancer the first time. It’s a bigger day to me than my birthday because I reflect on all that has happened since then. I am so grateful for what I have—I have had many great moments. Metastatic disease means it can come back, wherever and whenever it wants. And should it come back, I’ll tackle it there, too. My story isn’t over yet. I am not giving up because I have so much to live for.