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Paula Croucher

Hello my name is Paula and I am 61 years of age,  I believe my continuing life is an inspiration and gives hope to others.  I am happy to to share my experience and

When I was first diagnosed with Malignant Melanoma in 2006 I asked the Consultant how long? He said it’s difficult to know but probably 18 months. …..Believe me it’s not been an easy ride…. and my diagnosis was a bolt out of the blue, recently divorced and very much a single parent, my first thought was what will happen to my sons.

It started with a small amelanotic mole on my shin, I had mentioned it to my GP possibly 18 months earlier who was dismissive and said it was nothing to worry about as it was not dark coloured. A year or so later it had began to itch and I raised my concerns with a different GP this time. I was immediately referred to Dermatology at Basingstoke District Hospital, where I had a biopsy and was informed some days later by letter that I had Malignant Melanoma and to make an appointment for the following week. This letter was received on a Friday and there was no-one I could speak to until the Monday. When I did see the Consultant Dermatologist I was informed I needed a wide leg excision but a very experienced Plastic Surgeon would need to do this as there was very little flesh on my shin. I was then referred to Salisbury District Hospital (Odstock revered Burns/Plastic Surgery Unit) Within a couple of weeks I had the primary removed and was pleased the surgeon was able to remove with safe margins by performing skin flap surgery rather than a skin graft. Some weeks later I had the opportunity to have a “sentinel node biopsy” which back in 2006 was standard practice for breast cancer but not for melanoma, I later found out that the medical profession had divided opinions on this procedure. Nevertheless, I went ahead and had the procedure. To my horror this showed my cancer was in two lymph nodes in the groin, I was scheduled for urgent lymphectomy of the groin (there are on average 16 nodes in this area). I also developed Lymphedema and then Cellulitis which developed into Septicemia and I was hospitalized several time over a period of months receiving IV antibiotics. I was under huge pressure to get back to work I was mortified when I was ill again with the Cellulitis and Septicemia returning to work in January 2007.

Eighteen months later, the cancer returned or perhaps it had never really gone away… it was evident my Malignant Melanoma Stage IIIC was in transit. I have had unlimited plastic surgery on my leg as well as, 4 skin grafts, donor sites being my other leg and tummy. I participated in the Avastin clinical trial, received Erb Yag laser treatment every month for probably three years. I had also been referred for Isolated Limb Infusion several times to Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham and St Georges London and have been considered unsuccessfully for Electro Chemotherapy (ECT) because I had too many tumors! Around 2014 the constant surgery, general and local anesthetics, recovery time, poor mobility and the development of severe arthritis of the spine; I was struggling this illness was relentless, it seemed no matter what I did, this was out of my control and I didn’t know how long I could keep going through this mentally or my body physically. I really do know an awful lot about the disease & the progress of various treatments, as well as the benefit of good nutrition and positive thinking. I have always believed knowledge is power and it is our responsibility to help ourselves as much as we can, whilst acknowledging everyone is unique and has their own limitations.

Consequently I was referred to the Oncology team at Southampton General Hospital and the Melanoma Unit St Georges Hospital, London. During 2015 I was simultaneously receiving DCP treatment weekly at St Georges (which is off-license) for superficial tumors, this proved to be successful. In June 2015 I started on Ipimulab Immunotherapy at Southampton General Hospital, but a horrid tumour just below my knee continued to grow, clearly Ippy was not working, the tumor was removed together with a skin graft and then I started on Pembrolizumab Immunotherapy administered by infusion every 3 weeks for two years. I tolerated this well, I did get side affects & I developed an auto-immune disorder, my treatment was paused in July 2017 and now for the good news – April this year I had my first clear CT scan…..

As I have said previously – a cancer diagnosis of any kind is life changing….but none of us know what’s around the corner… so make the most of each and every day, find out about yourself, do what makes you happy and live in the moment.

I know through the difficult times, support was limited, there didn’t seem to be anyone who really knew what I was going through, how times have changed, not only do we have these breakthrough treatments we are very fortunate now to have Melanoma UK and Melanomates a support forum.

 

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