Kathryn's story: A tiny black ‘stain’
In January 2007, I glanced at a tiny black ‘stain’, a fraction of the size of a pin head, on top of my left shoulder. I was not overly concerned about it, primarily because it was not giving me any problem.
By April, it was raised in appearance, had increased in size and I found I was ‘itching’ it and rubbing it. However, with a holiday fast approaching I decided it could wait until I got back to be checked.
By the beginning of June, it had become ‘angry’ looking, turned into a blood blister and was the size of a pea, propped up there on my shoulder. It had begun to bleed and when it did, was difficult to stop. I booked in to see a specialist. “That needs to come off...today” he said. He scheduled me for local anaesthetic surgery at 5pm that evening.
It may be difficult to believe, but cancer was not on my mind. Sure, it was an unusual, ugly ‘blister’, but it would be dealt with. That small black marking that suddenly appeared five months earlier, was to signal the beginning of my journey and the challenges the melanoma diagnosis would bring to my life and to those who love me.
Two weeks after the removal of the 'blister', I underwent surgery to remove more of the ‘meat’ in my shoulder where the melanoma tumour was located. Confident it was sorted, I was put on three month checks and annual CT scans.
However, in July 2008 it was discovered the melanoma had metastasized. (This is when cancer cells 'break away' from a primary tumour, enter lymphatic and blood vessels, circulate through the bloodstream and settle down to grow within normal tissues elsewhere in the body.) Further surgery was performed, removing both my ovaries and my right adrenal gland. Two weeks later the prognosis was given: Incurable Stage 4 Metastatic Melanoma.
Unfortunately, chemotherapy and radiotherapy are not therapies proven to assist in the curative treatment of Stage 4 Melanoma. I am privileged to have been granted ‘Compassionate Case’ access to a vaccine with the Malaghan Institute and the Blood & Cancer Centre, Wellington Hospital. My Oncologist and specialist team are amazing in their quest to provide support, guidance, understanding and clinical treatment. They are an integral part of my journey and decision making process.
An estimated 1800 new melanoma are diagnosed every year in New Zealand, 34 people a week, 4 a day. Huge!