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.