Megan’s personal story
My dad was the epitome of health and physical fitness. He went to college on a football scholarship and played on various sports teams his entire life, including basketball and baseball. He was inducted into the Minnesota Federal Baseball League Hall of Fame April 16, 2012, for his pioneering work in establishing and maintaining the Federal League. They expressed their gratitude for his leadership roles as player, manager, and especially for his tenure as commissioner. Beyond playing sports, he rode his bike over 2,000 miles every summer. He was dedicated to his fitness and overall health, but dismissive about one minor thing: his skin.
He developed a lesion on his upper back in 2009—an area that had suffered many sunburns throughout his life. He ignored it for months until finally, it ulcerated and became an oozing sore. The diagnosis of melanoma hit him hard. He underwent a radical surgery and lymph node dissection to give him the best chance of "dodging a bullet." And for the next two years, it seemed as though he did. In fact, after two years passed, we all believed that he was "out of the woods" and that the melanoma was long gone. Now we know better.
The symptoms were very vague at first. There was a mild, but chronic cough that lingered a little too long. The fatigue and declining endurance on his bike he easily attributed to getting old. My mom and I now realize that we had witnessed "absence" seizures. They just sort of look like blank stares that last a little too long, and the person doesn't remember doing it. The 15-pound weight loss was surely the result of riding extra miles that summer on his bike. It certainly couldn't be the melanoma coming back. We all let denial do its work for what we now realize was way too long.
The PET scan showed that it was everywhere—his liver, brain, pancreas, stomach lining, lung, lymph nodes. It had been growing for a long time—he didn't have much time left.
I share this story because there are new effective treatments coming out for stage III and stage IV metastatic melanoma, and they all require a life expectancy of at least four months—something that my dad didn't have. This is because they are immune-mediated and require time for your body to launch an immune attack against the melanoma. There are people from the clinical trials who are still alive on these drugs after years. We are currently in uncharted territory for metastatic melanoma survival.
The diagnosis of metastatic melanoma is devastating. Believe me, you want to be set to have the best fighting chance possible; so please take this message to heart: If you or a loved one has ever been diagnosed with melanoma in your lives and are experiencing any of the symptoms that I described above, please see your doctor. You are never "out of the woods" after being diagnosed with melanoma, no matter how many years have passed. Catching stage III or stage IV early can increase your chance of survival now—this is a new thing! Please spread the word.