MELANOMA – Do You REALLY Know What It Is??
Melanoma. If you have even heard the word before, the first thing you probably think of is skin cancer. No big deal right? WRONG!!! It doesn't take Melanoma long to become deadly. It is one of the most aggressive cancers there is. There is NO CURE. The only sure treatment is surgical removal. If you catch it early, your chance of survival is very good. Even then, the odds are that it will return later. However, you should know what to look for because if you don't, you won't catch it early. That's what happened to me.
If you have any moles on you that have recently appeared that you haven't had since birth or existing moles that have changed in any way, please have them examined by a dermatologist. Sometimes (more often than you would think) even the dermatologist gets it wrong. I have met a few people since my diagnosis that tell me their dermatologist told them it was nothing to worry about only to find out a year or two later that they are Stage III or Stage IV. They had developed respiratory infections and X-Rays revealed "spots" on their lungs or other parts of their body. My advice to you is to have anything suspicious biopsied - YOU have to insist on it!!
My mole had been on top of my foot about 2-3 years, I really don't know for sure. It appeared as a tiny brown spot after I had started going to a tanning bed. I first started using a tanning bed in 1999. The mole started changing in July 2007. It started to rise on one side and turned blackish blue. I could see day by day how it continued to raise across the top of the mole and it was painful to touch. I went to a dermatologist in Kinston who didn't seem to be very concerned so, unsatisfied, I went to Clinton. I didn't get an appointment until late August and the changes were more intense by then. I didn't know to tell them the symptoms of the mole. If I had perhaps I could have gotten in earlier. The dermatologist immediately biopsied the mole and the next week I got the diagnosis - Melanoma. His office had already made an appointment for me at UNC - Chapel Hill Cancer Center where I later learned I was Stage IIIC. WHAT??
So began my research - I learned that the 5 year survival rate for my diagnosis was very poor. So far I have had 4 surgeries (3 of which were within the first month of diagnosis and one required a skin graft), one month of Interferon Alpha, an Isolated Limb Infusion and 9 months of Interleukin-2 (IL-2) treatments. The cancer has kept coming back. After the Interferon from December 07 - January 08, it returned as in-transit disease on my upper right thigh around the scar and surrounding areas. Thus, the Isolated Limb Infusion in May 08 which has to be the most painful thing I have ever been through in my life. Interleukin-2 began in July 08 and I finished in February 09. IL-2 is the most gruesome of the therapies I have had. I responded very well to the ILI and the IL-2. In December 08 it appeared that I had a complete response and the Melanoma was being held at bay - there was no evidence of disease. Until June 09.
It had recurred in lymph nodes under my right arm. I had surgery in July to remove the nodes but from July to August, I noticed a little in-transit "lesion" around the scar. We discussed surgery but wanted to wait to see what the upcoming PET/CT scans showed. Our worst fears were confirmed - Melanoma had spread to other lymph nodes throughout my body. God has blessed me by sparing my major organs and my brain MRI was clear.
That brings us to today. The only "treatment" options I have are research studies better known as clinical trials. I am praying that all goes well for me to be a part of the B-RAF study in Texas. B-RAF is the particular mutation of the Melanoma I have and 50% of Melanoma patients have this mutation.
MELANOMA IS NOT JUST SKIN CANCER!
So please, always use the appropriate level of sunscreen when outdoors or at the beach and reapply often. If you are considering climbing into a tanning bed, just do a little research on the statistics first. Google skin cancer. Google Melanoma. Look at the images. Re-read my story. Then ask yourself - "Is a tan worth risking my life?" I'll be fighting every day the rest of my life to save mine. Maybe I can help you save yours.
Ginger Lewis Ellis
October 23, 2009