Melanoma Awareness Through Martha’s Story {A Guest Post}

This guest post is from The Amazing Martha. That’s not her blog name, or twitter handle, it’s just how I think of her.

October marks the month of the Melanoma walk in Tucson. I’ll be walking with several blogger friends, including Martha, who is living with Stage 4 Melanoma right now.

I’ll admit that I always thought Melanoma was the something a doctor could easily take that off, but that is far from the truth. Because it’s such an important issue, I want to share Martha’s story with you.

________________________________________________________________

Melanoma-Awareness

I grew up in Tucson, and my parents were always careful about sun safety. I rarely participated in outside PE class because of allergies, so you can imagine that my sun exposure has been limited.

When my kids (now ages 6 and 8) started preschool, I decided it was time to get caught up on doctor’s appointments. I showed my dermatologist a mole that I had had since my daughter was 3 and he said it looked harmless, but I asked him to check it out to be safe. The next week he called and told me that my mole was malignant – it was cancer.

Shortly after, a surgical oncologist removed the mole and some of the tissue around it. They tested my lymph nodes and decided that the cancer had spread to one of them. I had Stage 3 Melanoma. Stage 3 means the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes, but hadn’t metastasized to other parts of my body.

I had one year of immunotherapy – the hopes were that my immune system could be stimulated enough that it would destroy the tumors.

After the year, I had a scan that could detect the presence of tumors. Another tumor was found in my back, which meant my immunotherapy didn’t work. The tumor was surgically removed and another appeared after about a month. Then another. My doctor kept removing the tumors and taking more and more tissue with each one. After the third tumor was found (I could feel them under my scars), my doctor recommended radiation.

I went through fives weeks of radiation. During the last week, I found another tumor on the front side of my body. I was officially at Stage 4. My cancer had metastasized to distant lymph nodes and other parts of my body.

With a stage 4 diagnosis comes new drugs – and if there was ever a good year to become stage 4, it was 2011. Two new drugs came out in 2011, which is a lot!

The first new therapy I tried is called IL-2, which is actually an older treatment. I was hospitalized for 10 days while I was given an immune booster that made me very very sick. When I couldn’t take any more, I had a week break before I went back for another week of the treatment in the hospital. I don’t remember any of it, but my husband Danny remembers it as a very scary time. We ended up moving into my parent’s house because it was impossible for Danny to take care of the kids and I at the same time.

I recovered for three months, and then went for body scans. Unfortunately, we found out that the IL-2 didn’t work – the cancer had spread to my lungs and liver.

IPI was the next drug – It’s one of the new ones that was recently approved. IPPI takes a while to work, which is ok because my cancer isn’t life threatening at this point. I call IPI my “sparkle medicine.” It’s very, very expensive, so obviously it would make me sparkle, right? I wore sparkly shoes and earrings to my doctor’s appointments and chemotherapy treatments. The first scans after my IPI treatment showed that my tumors were smaller, which meant the treatments worked. Upon further examination and scans, we realized that wasn’t the case – my cancer had spread.

Recently, I began taking Zolboraf (oral chemotherapy). The medicine is tough, and it’s difficult to find the right dosage. It has to be strong enough to fight the cancer, but I have to be able to get out of bed in the morning. Zolboraf doesn’t work forever, though. My oncologist is hoping that I’ll be able to take it for 18 months.

Right now I’m on a therapeutic dose of Zolboraf – the doctors are still learning about the drug. It causes bad joint pain, nausea, swelling spots on my hands (inflammation of fat under the skin), and my skin is peeling. A lower dose of this is tolerable, and I hope I can continue to take it.

2011 was a great year for melanoma patients, like I said. Several FDA drugs were approved. If my diagnosis came in 2009, only one medicine would have been available. The funding of research about Melanoma comes mostly from donations – donations like your entry fee for the Melanoma walk in Tucson. All money stays in Tucson for education, research at the University of Arizona, and community outreach.

Melanoma Awareness

The walk isn’t a 5K or a half marathon, don’t worry – it’s a 1.5 mile family and dog friendly walk from the cancer center to the community gardens and back. It’s more of an event, with activities, education, live music, a silent auction, and food.

I’d love for you join me on October 20 from 2-6 pm as part of my team, Mela-No-Mas!

Registration is $30 for adults, $15 for children ages 5-12, and free for the little ones.

You can register for the walk at fightmelanomatoday.org

As part of your registration fee, you can have a free skin cancer screening by a dermatologist affiliated with the Skin Cancer Institute! You can schedule your skin exam on the day of the Melamoma walk, or the week before or after! My whole family is taking advantage of this benefit! After you register for the walk, call 888-724-2749 to schedule your screening.

 

Comments

  1. 1
    Andrea Kruse says:

    Wow! Thank you for sharing that story. I have to admit I have more than my fair share of moles and beauty marks and haven’t done a good job at keeping up with my Dr.’s visits to check them. I should get some scheduled.

  2. 2

    Wish we could make it for this walk. Melanoma is in our family, sadly my grandpa passed away from it in 1992 but my mom last year was lucky to be able to get her mole removed and be good without any treatment. Thank you for sharing her story & the walk info, sending lots of positive thoughts to Martha and her family!

  3. 3

    Thanks for your story. You are very courageous! If we lived closer I’d participate in the walk.
    Kas

  4. 4
    Hanan says:

    Thank you for sharing your story, and good luck to you guys!!!

  5. 5

    I don’t think I ever realized how serious melanoma can be. I have already had a run-in with a basal cell carcinoma. Thankfully, those are not very serious and can be surgically removed, but I do need to be more diligent about getting my moles checked out. I received a LOT of sun exposure as a kid.
    Thanks for this wonderful post, and for sharing your story with us.

  6. 6
    Martha says:

    Thanks all! For anyone who is interested, I found out yesterday that the new drug is working and my tumors are shrinking! Yay! We know the Melanoma eventually finds it’s was around this drug, but for now we have “reset the clock” and there are hopeful drugs on the horizon!

  7. 7
    Bonnie says:

    Long live the Queen of Sparkle!! Your friend and admirer, bse

  8. 8
    Nichole says:

    Hi, find your blog through chelsie at Advetures with My Enemy! Your story is very simlar to my Dad’s. He only received 1 week of IL2 because of complications he had during his week off. He is stage IV, but doesn’ t have any tumors in vital organs. He is taking Zelboraf, tolerating it well and has some visible lumps that are shrinking! His oncologist did say that the average length of effectiveness of the Zelboraf is 8 months, BUT they have several patient that have been on it for 2 1/2 years and still showing effectiveness :) If I was in Arizona I’d be there for the walk, but I’m in Kansas ;) I’ll be praying that your treatments go well!

  9. 9

    thanks so much for sharing as this is such a serious disease as well as important to me since I live in sunny california. I always have to be careful with our skins!

  10. 10

    [...] Please join thousands of other people in wearing black tomorrow to raise awareness for Melanoma. Here in Tucson, I’ll be wearing black  for my friend Martha who is fighting stage 4 Melanoma right now. Do you remember learning about Martha’s story last year? [...]

  11. 11

    […] know about Melanoma and sunscreen. She’s living with Stage 4 Melanoma right now, and you can read more about her story here. When it comes to sunscreen, I’ve started to rely solely on her […]

  12. 12

    […] Becca has also been an advocate for sun safety and melanoma awareness. She’s been a part of Team Mela-NO-MAS in the Tucson Melanoma Walk and shared my story on her blog in 2012. Check it out here! […]

Leave a Reply