Danielle Russo

You Never Really Know How Strong You Are Until You Have to Do Anything and Everything to Survive
 
I was always the type to say "it's nothing, relax.” For years, those were the words I would say to my family, friends and soon to be husband when they questioned me about a mole on my stomach. Time after time they would beg me to get it checked. I promised my soon-to-be husband Derek, that I would go after the wedding and get it checked. Six months into our marriage, I began to get worried about this mole. Not only was it starting to bother me, but I was getting terrible stomach aches. I decided it was time to listen to my body. So I went to the doctor, they were genuinely concerned as well, so they fit me in for an excision of the mole that week. Five days later I was diagnosed with melanoma. The next 21 days were some of the longest; waiting for tests to come back, not knowing exactly how bad the cancer really was, if it had spread, if it hadn’t spread, how long I have to live, what’s next? 
 
My first appointment with my oncologist was probably the hardest. Everything really began to set in that this was ‘cancer’ and my life was going to be changed forever. I sat down in the examination room, the kindest woman walked in, and she was my oncologist. I just started to uncontrollably cry as she told me I had melanoma- at this point I have been told I had melanoma three times, but it didn’t seem real until I heard it from her. My oncologist took blood to make sure my levels were normal, if they were off this would show that the cancer could’ve spread to my organs. 
 
The next steps were to determine how far the cancer had spread. My blood work and PET scan came back okay, however the true test was my sentinel lymph node biopsy. A couple of days after the procedure, my doctors told me they got clear margins around the melanoma site, in cancer terms this is good news, however two lymph nodes out of four that were removed came back positive. Therefore I was diagnosed as Stage 3. It was as if I was diagnosed all over again. This wasn't supposed to be happening I was newly married, I was supposed to be worried about having a baby and buying a house.  My worst fear came true, the cancer has spread I was facing another major surgery as well as chemo with possible radiation in my future. 
 
On my first day of treatment, Derek took me to my appointment. Neither one of us talked the entire way to the Cancer Center nor when we got there. We weren’t sure what was next, what this chemo was going to do to me or how I would react. I was prepared to lose my hair, have the nausea; you know the “typical” chemo side effects.  We were at the Cancer Center for about four hours that day. When it was over I was instantly tired, I almost fell asleep on the way home. Four hours later I woke up screaming crying, the pain I was experiencing was like none other. I wasn’t able to keep my legs still, it felt as though the muscles were going to come out of my legs. The muscle pain was something I was never prepared for. Little did I know that was the least of my problems, I started to get severe migraines that would paralyze me. My oncologist prescribed me some medicine to help with these migraines and the muscle pain after the first week; however, nothing seemed to help. I had to have an MRI to make sure that the cancer didn’t spread to my brain. As if it wasn’t bad enough already, the thought that the cancer was in my brain just made it ten times worse. Thankfully my MRI came back normal.
 
Once I started my second phase of chemo the side effects became paralyzing, and I was in and out of the hospital for weeks with severe migraine pain. We debated whether to continue with the Interferon. After receiving one more treatment, we decided the side effects were too much to continue with the treatment.  
 
Between the surgeries, and the chemo, the doctors told me I was “cancer free” six months after I was first diagnosed. Even though it’s a day I had been dreaming about, I’m not sure if that’s the right term. Cancer took so much from my body and my mental well being. I will never live without the fear of the cancer coming back. After this battle, I have become a different person. So has my incredibly strong husband Derek, and my amazing family, friends and co-workers who were there to support me every step of the way. I simply could not have survived without them.  
 
Being diagnosed with cancer at 27 was a shock. I was young and naive; I never thought I could get cancer. But I’ve learned a lot and I hope others will be able to learn from my own experiences. Don’t tan. I did and I wish I hadn’t. It never dawned on me when I started tanning as a teenager that it could cost me my life. I just wanted to look good and feel good with a “healthy glow.” But, more and more young women will get the same diagnosis I did because of my time in the tanning bed. To those of you that go tanning and spend time soaking up the rays, next time think about my story and ask yourself if that tan is really worth it. Chances are it won't be. 
 
If you have moles, please get them checked regularly. If someone questions something on your body, it’s because they care, you should listen. If I listened I might not have had to endure chemo or as many surgeries as I have. I get skin checks every couple of months, since this has happened I have had three more excisions of moles on my body. They came back pre cancerous. 
 
Coming out on the other end of my battle with cancer I am forever grateful for the friends and family that were there throughout my entire journey. Together, we’re looking forward to May 1, 2018, that’s the day we will be celebrating when I hit my five year mark of being cancer free. When I reach the five year mark, my chance of the cancer coming back decreases dramatically. 
 
Wed, 2014-04-16

Comments

Jayjame - (5/9/2014 - 2:42am)
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.

Stay positive - the power of positivity is amazing. Your dad will can can beat this. I have heard good things about yervoy.  If you ever need a shoulder to lean on I am always here. email me at daniellekobel@gmail.com

melanomafighter - (5/19/2014 - 12:57am)

Hi, I read your past with Melanoma and so glad to hear things are well...I just wanted to say I totally wish every young or older person knew our history they wouldnt tan...I too enjoyed the Bronze glow...I never burned though...and they never found Melanoma on my skin...it was in a lymph node on my left leg barely showing that I had checked...thats when my nightmare began....I also did interferon and only lasted a month...the headaches were so bad...anyway...I am four years NED and feel very blessed...I too await that 5 year mark to feel even better although sadly this could come back 10 years later...take care...

Remember what's important and make everyday count

Danielle Russo - (6/5/2014 - 10:48am)

I'm so glad to hear things are going well with you. Interferon was beyond brutal for me. I have not connected with anyone who had the same headache issue like I did when I was going through treatment. It was a nightmare. I'm glad you are four years NED that is a huge accomplishment :) I pray you stay NED and reach taht 5 year mark soon :) take care. email me if you would like daniellekobel@gmail.com

brittanyx - (5/24/2014 - 3:22am)

I was just diagnosed with melanoma over a month ago, stage 3. I'm 19 and I have never been this scared in my life. It's so much to go through and take in. But it's changed my perspective in life so much. Your story inspired me that there is hope to being cancer free. I'd love to talk with you sometime, i've been trying to find people that can relate!

DanielleRusso - (6/5/2014 - 10:51am)

Brittany,

Stay positive, you can beat this. It is very scary at first but I promise you that you can beat this. Reach out whenever you need someone to lean on daniellekobel@gmail.com. The power of positivity is amazing, do not feel defeated ever. Always stay optomistic. It WILL get better <3