Experiences of melanoma

Janet's story

I was first diagnosed with malignant melanoma in 1993 when I noticed a small black raised spot on the top of my left arm. It had a blister type of skin covering it which itched and bled.

I went to see my GP who did not say much about what he thought it may be, but sent me to see a dermatologist. Not knowing much about skin cancer then as I had never been one to get in in the sun and had always been well protected and covered up when outside, I was most surprised when given the diagnosis of malignant melanoma by the dermatologist.

Following that I had further surgery on my arm, followed by regular checkups. After five years with no further developments I was given the all clear and thought no more about it until 2003 when I noticed a lump in my armpit of the arm where I first had the melanoma. Again I went to see my GP and told him my history. He made arrangements for me to see a surgeon quite quickly.

When the surgeon operated he did an axillary bloc dissection, instead of a biopsy, as he thought what he had found was melanoma in my lymph nodes. The results came back positive and I was given radiotherapy for approximately seven weeks at the local hospital. At that time the cancer did not seem to be my main worry, but dealing with the travelling every day as I have chronic back pain from surgery which severely limits my sitting ability. This was followed up by regular checkups every three months initially and then longer between checkups.

I then went just over three years when it was found, quite by chance, that I had something in my left lung which was spotted on the chest x-ray which my oncologist sent me for as I complained of a cough. This resulted in me having some of my lung removed in August 2006 and the results confirmed it was malignant melanoma. I inquired about interferon and was sent to see another oncologist who specialises in melanoma. He did not advise it, but sent me for a PET Scan as I had not had one. This revealed I had melanoma in both lungs, which had developed within a couple of months following my lung operation. I was then given a prognosis of six to twelve months to live.

I was advised to try chemotherapy and had Temozolamide for six months. Although for me the treatment was tough at times I was lucky because it gave me over a year's remission. However, a CT scan in October 2008 revealed the cancer was back in my one lung again. On this occasion I was sent again to see the oncologist who specialises in melanoma and he told me I could try chemotherapy again and recommended a combination of Carboplatin and Paclitaxel as his first choice. I did some research and tried to find out as much as possible about this treatment of chemotherapy. My own oncologist also told me he would need to give me a higher dose of these drugs than is normally used when treating the other cancers it is used for. With my other health problems I did not feel it may be my best course of action, nor did my oncologist. I therefore decided to try Temozolmide yet again, but knew the chances of it doing anything were less than the first time I had it. My reason for choosing the same type of chemotherapy was because I knew, or thought I knew, what the side-effects were likely to be. My other option was to do nothing and try and get what quality of life I could before getting any worse. However, I undertook another six months of chemotherapy which I found tougher than the first course of treatment. The side-effects were also different in some respects. When I finished the treatment my CT scan revealed the treatment had done some good as it had contained the cancer, but left me with a nodule in my one lung. That was at the end of June 2009 and although I still get tired quickly I am trying to get on with my life not knowing when the cancer will progress, or where to.

My next CT scan should be about the beginning of September 2009 so I just live in hope realising I'm one of lucky ones. I feel fortunate to have been able to see my daughter married as I never thought I would. Also, I have learned a lot about life from this disease and found that malignant melanoma is most unpredictable. I have made friends through the Internet with others who have malignant melanoma and also carers. They have all been most supportive. I hope my history will give other people who are Stage 4 with this disease some hope.

Janet died in 2011, having survived five years with stage 4 MM, after being given 12 months to live.

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