As this is the first ever post on HerMelanoma, let’s start at the beginning – how this all started. I promise the following posts won’t be anywhere near as long as this one is about to be – but every journey has to start from somewhere, and this lead up is a big one.
Let me take you all back to, well, a month ago, when my biggest stress in life was having to change-over my Australian nursing registration to a UK one (I still stand by the fact it’s stressful!). The documents required to prove i’m not a nursing fraud is next level extreme, so it was decided that the easiest way to get it all together was to simply fly back to Australia for 2 weeks and get it all done from there. Sounds like a quick in-and-out trip, right? Wrong.
Let me preface the rest of this post with this – my mother is me in 30 years, we’re scarily similar, and as a result are incredibly close. So close that when she’s not acting herself, I notice. The first week was filled with many “what the f**k?” moments. Her memory was off, she was incapable of having a full conversation without getting frustrated, she was struggling to get certain words out (medical term = dysphasia), and she was oddly flat and quiet in nature. Luckily for me as a nurse, alarm bells started to ring, and I knew there was more to her behaviour that needed to be investigated.
On Monday March 6th, 2017, Mum was sent to have an MRI of her brain by her GP, and it was on this day Her Melanoma was discovered. 4 in fact, one large 36mm beast in her left frontal lobe, and 3 more very small ones on the right side (see image attached below this post). We were immediately sent to a hospital’s emergency department, and from there her road to a diagnosis began. Before continuing, let me point out that this was not Mum’s first rodeo with cancer – she had cervical cancer in 1984, and a large skin melanoma on her right arm in 2003 which was removed. What could possibly go wrong, right?
Over the course of the next 2 weeks in hospital, the news went from bad to worse on an almost daily basis. She was scheduled for surgery to have the largest lesion on the brain removed and have a biopsy taken, and was commenced on Kepra (anti seizure medication), Dexamethasone (steroid used to reduce the swelling in her brain) and pain medications to manage her headaches. A full body CT was also ordered, and it was from this that we discovered 2 more lesions, this time a 35mm mass in the right lower lobe of her lung, and another smaller one in her liver. It was a massive blow.
A week later, and after many delays and days of fasting, her surgery went off without a hitch. She came out with the front half of her head shaven and a very impressive scar to match, but on the plus side seemed to be relatively back to her old self.
The next few days were spent waiting for the results from the biopsy – these days were the hardest by far. Finally the surgeon (extremely handsome, always helps, but I digress), comes for a visit and delivers the news, “i’m sorry to say, but the lesion we removed was cancerous, and after further tests we can confirm that it is melanoma”. Being both nurses, my mother and I had only one reaction to this news, “shit”. Now, if you’re reading this blog i’m going to take a guess that you know all about melanoma and how extremely shite it really is, but for those who don’t, melanoma is the most serious and aggressive forms of cancer. It develops in the melanocytes (cells that give our skin it’s pigment, or in my case, lack there-of) and is why is mostly found in the form of skin cancer. It does have the ability to spread to the internal organs however, and once we get to this stage, where it’s set up shop in multiple locales and turned itself into a franchise, that we can term it Stage 4, or Malignant Melanoma. It isn’t an ideal diagnosis, to say the least.
During the 4 days that followed before Mum was discharged, she was referred to the radiation and oncology teams. This is where things get technical. I won’t go into too much detail in this post as we’re still currently awaiting results which will determine her particular type of treatment. In short, one will be a tablet taken every day, while the other could be an IV Immunotherapy infusion every 2-3 weeks. It’s important to note that chemotherapy is ineffective in treating Melanoma, so as a result is no longer a treatment option – one silver lining, I guess we can say. Another positive is the decision not to undergo radiation therapy just yet. The remaining 3 lesions in her brain are too small to blast with radiation, which could result in more damage being done to the surrounding tissue than the lesions themselves. It’s a treatment that is being kept up their sleeves for the event that the lesions grow. For now though, it’s a win.
So here we are, eagerly awaiting her first oncology appointment scheduled for next Wednesday where we find out the results, and the type of treatment she’ll be getting. It’s a horribly long wait that has dragged on in the most painful of ways. My sister Sam, who thankfully flew in for a week from Copenhagen (and is almost 8 months pregnant) unfortunately had to return – a trip that I myself will have to make next week when I return to my husband in London. Leaving Mum is going to be unbearably difficult, but I take comfort in the fact that she has her sisters here in Melbourne (and the Gold Coast) to support her in the immediate future. She’s home now, her memory is still off, and she barely makes it to lunch before becoming wiped out for the rest of the day, but she’s home, and this is a good thing.
In the meantime, we wait – fingers crossed my next post is filled with some good news!
Speak to you soon,