Justine

I hope I can be a part of a new generation of cancer patients who can look at the disease as a chronic illness to be watched and controlled, not as a death sentence.

I was diagnosed with metastatic melanoma in December of 2011. My skin cancer didn’t show up on my skin. The first sign of the disease were two tumors in my intestine and one in my lung. An MRI found another in my brain and a lump on my leg rounded the number out to five. Five tumors – from 2 to 8 centimeters – and no primary ever located on my skin. And that’s how I found out that melanoma was more than a bad freckle you get burned off. It’s a virulent, aggressive disease that attacks tissue wherever it can.

I have never been a sun lover. I never went to tanning beds and always looked for the shade. I wore sunblock. I stayed out of the sun during the hot hours. It’s true that moving to California at twelve meant that my high school years were spent playing sports outside and going to the beach. But no more than anyone else.

Since my diagnosis, I had three surgeries to remove all five tumors, including brain surgery. I then had radiation on my brain to kill the final part of the tumor that was too close to a vein for the surgeon to remove. My oncologists at the Angeles Clinic and the John Wayne Cancer Institute advised me to go on Yervoy – a treatment I completed in early May.  I'm in the wait-and-see phase.

Words can’t really describe the shock of hearing that you – in your thirties, active and in all other ways completely healthy – have metastatic cancer. I cannot put words to the sensation of seeing a scan of your brain (I’d never even seen a brain scan!) with a dark spot in it. “Despair” doesn’t quite cover it.

But I do have hope. And that is simply because of the amazing new advances in melanoma treatments. I know that I’m lucky. If I had been diagnosed a year ago, Yervoy wouldn’t have been an option. Now, I know I have a fighting chance. And not just because of Yervoy, but because of the huge strides being made in the field of immunotherapy and genetics-based approaches to fighting cancer. I hope I can be a part of a new generation of cancer patients who can look at the disease as a chronic illness to be watched and controlled, not as a death sentence. This has been the hope my oncologists have given me. And with funding and support, I believe these doctors could turn the page on melanoma. They could change the course of the war on cancer. And maybe they could save my life.

 

May 2012

Comments

parkmk80 - (3/31/2013 - 2:04pm)

How are you doing, Justine?

Jayjame - (5/9/2014 - 2:40am)

Thanks for your story.

My dad just found out he has stage 4 melanoma. Doctor said the disease already spread from his rectal to liver and I saw a lot of spots in his liver that doctor can't do the surgery. I'm so worry. He has only one option for treatment is ipilimumab (yervoy.) Doctor said that medicine only 10%-15% response. If the medicine respone, he can live 6-7 years. If not, he is done.

Linda7gary - (10/31/2014 - 11:15pm)

Hi. My mom was just diagnosed with stage 4 melanoma of the liver.  The cancer has no point of entry. The doctor is wanting to do ipilumumab as well. I was wondering how your Dad reacted with that treatment.  Did he have any side effects. Hope he is doing well and it worked for him

 

Linda Bonsall

KerriM - (10/14/2014 - 6:34pm)

I was diagnosed stage IIb this past January and just had three more "suspicious" moles removed last week. I just got to say, I love the phrase you said about this not being a death sentence but a chronic illness to be watched and controlled. Being as I have many displastic moles I know I will always be watching them (every 6 months) and having them all removed. Sadly I had two false negative biposies with two different methodologies so they won't bother going forward.  I do feel as this will be a chronic illness as I will always be checked and aware. I hope you are doing well. Just hearing about the treatment you were able to get one year later versus a year earlier makes me less scared for my future.