Alison, Ian, Jake and Hope
In May 2007 I discovered a jet black mole on my left calf, which turned out to be malignant melanoma (skin cancer). I had the mole removed and a skin graft put in its place. For the next five years I under went regular checkups and was given the all clear in 2012. The relief I felt was immense and I felt I could finally move on with my life.
Melanoma had a different plan for me. Skip forward to February 2015. I discovered a large lump in my left groin and attended the local walk-in-centre. The doctor there diagnosed a femoral hernia and I was immediately sent to hospital for emergency surgery. The next morning during doctors rounds I was told that I had not had an hernia, but that my lymph nodes had been enlarged and a biopsy had been taken.
As I sat on the hospital bed I began to cry.
Having had cancer before I knew what the likelihood of this news meant. My worse fears were confirmed a few weeks later when the biopsy results came back. My cancer had spread and I would require further surgery.
On the 18th March 2015 I had all of the lymph nodes removed from both my groin and pelvis. I was now classed as a Stage 3 cancer patient and still suffer with issues caused by the surgery, mainly Lymphodema.
I was currently receiving treatment at Weston Park Hospital in Sheffield, however I decided to try and get on a clinical trial for a new immunotherapy treatment. I transferred my treatment to the Christies in Manchester. During the screening process for the clinical trial I discovered I had 2 brain tumours. My world fell apart in a split second. I remember phoning my mum in tears from the hospital to tell her what had been discovered. We were now already Stage 4.
To ensure the fastest treatment plan I remained under the Christies. I under went radiosurgery in June 2015. The procedure can cause swelling around the tumours and I was started on high dose steroids to try and combat this. Over a six month timeframe I gained eight stone due to the steroids. I just wanted to hide away from the world and became depressed. I also transferred my treatment back to Weston Park as it was much closer to home.
In July 2015 I had my first seizure.
I can’t really remember much about it, but my husband tells me he thought her was going to lose me. I was frightened of it happening again, especially in front of my children. My youngest was only four at the time and it was not something I wanted her to see.
By November 2015 a further 2 brain tumours had appeared. The brain MRI showed that the previous stereotactic radiotherapy had been unsuccessful and I had further stereotactic radiosurgery on all 4 brain tumours.
I had a further seizure in January 2016 in front of my daughter. On admittance to hospital it was noted I had high blood sugars and I was diagnosed with steroid induced diabetes and started on insulin. A month later I was admitted to hospital again and a routine CT scan showed I had developed a blood clot on the lung and had fractures in the vertebrae of my spine (causes excruciating pain when attending scans). I felt like the whole world was working against me. If it was a possible side effect of the steroids I seemed to get it, but what was I meant to do? The steroids were helping keep the swelling down in my brain.
I continued to have my routine scans and in February 2016 they showed that only three of the four tumours had responded to the latest stereotactic radiosurgery. One had grown and it was one that had now been treated twice before. I was started on a targeted therapy drug.
I had great success [with the new drug] and remained on it until early September 2017. The latest scans I had in early August 2017 had shown an increase in size to one of the four tumours. I became poorly very quickly and was admitted to Weston Park hospital and once again my steroids were increased to combat the growing tumour. I started the immunotherapy on the 11th September 2017. I have to have an intravenous infusion every three weeks.
I haven’t yet experienced any side effects after my first dose, but it can take up to 12 weeks to start working and my next scans will be scheduled for around December. This is possibly my last treatment option. It’s a frightening thought, but I’m determined to fight it all the way to the end.
The steroids are finally having some benefits too. A few months ago I relied heavily on my mobility scooter, but I now have more energy and am cherishing every minute with my family. Life is far too precious.
I understand how people react when you tell them you have skin cancer. They believe it is something you caused to yourself through being ignorant to the power of the sun or from having used sun beds. I am very fair (my husband called me milk bottle when we first met) and I have never used sun beds or worshipped the sun and have always used factor 50 sunscreen. Life can be cruel.
The Family Holiday Association provided me and my family with a brilliant holiday towards the end of August 2017.
We enjoyed a lovely long weekend at Primrose Valley, Filey. The aim of the holiday was total relaxation as I had only been discharged from Weston Park hospital the very same day we were due to travel.
Obviously with a 7 year age gap between my children, it can often be difficult to find things they both want to do. However they both enjoyed the onsite fairground, especially the Waltzer. They stayed on continuously for 7 goes, I was feeling sick just watching. Both made ample use of the swimming pool and even had a go at the ‘Water Walkerz’, where they climbed inside giant inflatable balls and then tried to run inside them on the water. The simple things also still provide the biggest laughs. Swinging had them both in stitches.
On our last day we had a family day at the beach in Scarborough, where Ian and the kids went rock pooling, the game was on to who could find the biggest crab and sand castle building. We all enjoyed big ice cream sundaes and chips served in mini plastic buckets with spades.
They [the Family Holiday Association] went above and beyond to ensure I had the disabled facilities I required and ensured we could take the break prior to my treatment starting. We were able to make some fantastic memories that my children will always have. Obviously I’m hoping I’ll still be around for a while yet, hoping the new treatment works.
I don’t think I could ever truly thank Family Holiday Association enough for what they did.