Melisse Barrett

I thought I was being proactive about my family history when I talked to dermatologists about my concerns...

I was diagnosed with my melanoma a year and a half ago. My family has been rocked with this cancer ---my mother and my uncle have had early stage melanoma, and my cousin tragically died within 18 months of her melanoma being diagnosed. Needless to say, I felt that I needed to be proactive when it came my skin. So I scheduled an appointment with dermatologist in February of 2007 to have a thorough skin exam. During the exam, I drew his attention to round raised bump on my right shin. This had previously been diagnosed as a dermatofibroma, a benign lesion that many women get on their legs and can be removed for cosmetic reasons. He confirmed this and said that removing it could result in a scar worse than the bump and didn’t recommend removal. But this bump continued to bother me and appeared to be getting larger, so a year later I went to another dermatologist and he recommended removal, and referred me to plastic surgeon as the skin layer on the shin is very thin. I had the surgery, and a week later I learned I had Clark Level IV melanoma. Shock and dismay doesn’t begin to describe my feelings – I felt I had very much missed something. My surgeon’s comment was “we ALL missed this.” But I was the one living with it. So I had another surgery – this time a wide margin incision to remove the lesion and surrounding tissue, a skin graft using some of my stomach skin to repair the shin, and a sentinel node surgery to biopsy the lymph node in my groin – the node most likely to have melanoma cells if it had spread. Fortunately, it had not spread to the lymph, so that at least was something. But now I was required to stay on the couch with my leg raised for nearly 8 weeks, so the skin graft could heal. In the meantime I had a PET/CT scan, colonoscopy, and several other tests to rule out tumors in my organs. Then my oncologist suggested I do Interferon treatment – immunotherapy, which is the only kind of “adjuvant” treatment done for melanoma. So, in late December I started the treatment, which required daily IV infusions of high dose Interferon at the clinic for a month, and then injections at home 3 times per week thereafter for up to a year. I cannot begin to describe the effects of this treatment. The worst was the constant fatigue/ hangover feeling and lack of any type of energy. I endured the treatment for 4 months -- and decided to discontinue it because my husband and I were going on a trip in Europe and I did not want to take the medicine with me. I had the option of going back on it when I returned, but I made the final decision to stop – fortunately late studies are indicating that the high dose period may be the most effective. So here I am now – I feel that I “have come out the other side” but need to tell others to never doubt your instincts when it comes to anything going on in one’s body. Push your agenda and when in doubt about something on your skin – insist on a biopsy. I needn’t tell others that a melanoma story – or any cancer story – doesn’t end. There is a persistent fear of recurrence, and that is the legacy we must live with. My tendency after the surgery, the recovery and the treatment was to not look back, but I think looking forward is to confront the beast and contribute my time and my story to the MRF.