Going From Patient to Survivor Against All Odds

It’s amazing how quickly your life can change, mine literally changed in an instant. I didn’t know anyone personally who had ever battled cancer, and it certainly wasn’t a world I was familiar with. But, at just 28 years old, I was diagnosed with Stage IV Melanoma and given 12-18 months to live.

The Beginning of My Journey

I had a mole on my back that I had been keeping an eye on over the course of a year, ever since my friend had pointed it out to me while at a pool. I hadn’t noticed it before, but I wasn’t too concerned about it. I had moles removed a few times before, and those were always nothing. I also didn’t have health insurance, so I didn’t take any immediate action. Finally, I went to a free health clinic to get it removed and biopsied.

A week went by before I got the phone call. The doctor on the other end of the call had a hard time telling me the results, I could sense the shock in his voice. He told me it was a higher stage of melanoma, and I would want to try and see a specialist as soon as possible. A family friend works as an oncology nurse, and was able to get me in to see a surgeon rather quickly.

While discussing the procedure with the surgeon, I asked if cancer was going to kill me. She nervously replied “yeah, probably.” I met with an oncologist later that day who was much more optimistic. He believed this would be treatable, and I should be hopeful.

Words No One Wants to Hear

I was admitted to the hospital the following week to prepare for surgery. The doctor wanted to get scans and see if the cancer had spread anywhere else besides what was on my back. After a long day of blood work and scans, the results came back.

“It’s worse than we thought” wasn’t really something I wanted to hear. The cancer was in my liver, lungs, spine, and lymph nodes. The doctor seemed to be as shocked as I was. After he told me I was looking at about 12-18 months left to live, he then told me I probably only had about a 5% chance of beating this stupid disease.

We proceeded with the surgery, and I ended up with a melanoma oncologist at a different hospital. He told me my prognosis was “probably more like 7 to 9 months.” So, that kind of sucked.

Treating This Stupid Disease

We started treatment right away. I did a clinical trial, and several other treatments throughout my battle. Eventually, the cancer spread to my brain. We did radiation, but eventually had to do brain surgery to get it all.

I went through several different treatments over the next 3.5 years. It was always a guessing game to see what would work. So, my plan of remaining positive at all times got to be a little difficult. But, anytime I was feeling down, I made sure to embrace it, get it out of my system, then go back to being positive and doing whatever I needed to do to beat this crap.

Staying Positive Despite the Odds

Staying positive was challenging at times, but I always tried to make sure I found a silver lining. Sometimes, the silver lining was simply “I’m still alive, so that’s good.” But, I kept fighting. I’m extremely stubborn and wanted to prove the doctors wrong.  I never wanted to look back and think, “Damn, all I did for the last months of my life was sit around and feel sorry for myself.”  When I had trouble staying positive, my friends and family were there to pick me back up and provide the positivity I needed.

Going From a Patient to a Survivor

I was told I probably wouldn’t live to see my 30th birthday. But, last month, I celebrated my 32nd birthday! I was told I would probably have to do some type of treatment the rest of my life. But, in January, I was able to stop treatment indefinitely, while just doing scans every 3 months. There was a lot of back and forth, good news always came with a catch, and sometimes there wasn’t ANY good news. But, I made sure to stay positive and keep fighting. My scans have been showing no evidence of disease, and I have officially gone from a patient to a survivor.

And now I can add author to my list. I’ve written a book about my journey, which should be out this summer, “Not Going Anywhere: How Cancer Turned The Rest of My Life Into The Best of My Life.” My goal is to inspire others, despite a dire prognosis. I’m still here and I intend to be for a very long time!

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