Sara’s personal story
I've grown up your typical Southern California kid. From playing tennis, to beach volleyball, or going on a run with my pup, being outside and soaking up the San Diego sun has been a part of my entire life. A quick spray of that annoying sunscreen, and off I went.
One day playing volleyball, while tending to some sore leg muscles, I noticed what felt like a rubbery grape mixed in with the tendons near my hip flexor. My good friend, Faith, a mother of three girls and a bold, loving woman, reached in quickly to see for herself, and told me I should be checked for a possible hernia! While I considered it unlikely, I listened and promptly scheduled a visit to the doc.
I was diagnosed with stage 3b melanoma in late September 2016, two weeks after celebrating my 31st birthday. The cancer was found after that mysterious lump turned out to be a 3 cm metastasis to the lymph nodes. About a week later, the dermatologist reported the culprit was a small mole found on my lower leg.
I thought I knew about skin cancer—something easily scraped off with a trip to the dermatologist and a band-aid. What I've learned about it since, is that melanoma is no joke! Melanoma only accounts for about 1% of skin cancers, but is the most deadly form, as once it has progressed to the bloodstream, there is something like a 70% risk of recurrence. With my diagnosis, the American Cancer Society assigns a "59% 5-year survival rate" which means, in other words, only about 59% of people will survive past 5 years with Stage 3b Melanoma. Yikes!
After undergoing surgery to remove 15 lymph nodes in my groin and another golf-ball sized chunk of my calf (a bit more than a band-aid, I can assure you!), I started drug treatment (immunotherapy) under a clinical trial program at UCSD Moore’s Cancer Center. The clinical trial was for Keytruda, a drug that works with your own body's immune system to fight melanoma cells, so that they don't come back or take up residence in some other part of the body, namely, the liver, lungs or my brain. While the trial was supposed to last a year, I made it through treatment until the end of April, when my liver decided the toxicity from the drug was affecting my body too strongly.
Since the program stopped, I see the doctors once every two weeks or so for bloodwork, CT, and MRI scans and check ups. My oncologist and team have been amazing throughout the process—I've spent more time with them this past year than some of my best friends!
It has now been about a year after diagnosis, and still every scan brings with it some startling fear that my cancer will return. Still, I'm thankful for the excellent advice I received from my friend to get checked out, and for all of my supportive friends, family, coworkers, team of physicians, survivor community, and other cancer awareness organizations. Honestly don't know how I could continue my fight without them.
Ever grateful to be here, Sara