I don’t post online very often and I’m still unsure if I should but if I can help one family by sharing my story then at least one good thing would have come out of all this.  I’m really not after attention or sympathy but I just want to raise awareness of this awful disease.  

Those of you that know me well know I love summer. I love the beach, the warmth of the sun & precious holidays with my family & friends. I’m covered in moles but always tanned easily. As a teenager I spent my summers at the beach - well living in Newquay, Cornwall, who wouldn’t? Unfortunately I wasn’t always careful about applying sunscreen. I never used sun beds but loved to have a healthy looking tan. I had had moles removed, some of which were skin cancers. They were Basal cell carcinomas which didn’t spread, could be cut out, a little scar and each time it gave me a little reminder to make sure I wore sunscreen but it wasn’t a matter of life or death.  In fact, I hadn’t even gone to the GP about the mole in question, but thought while I was there I’d mention that I had a mole which seemed to be growing. It didn’t itch, didn’t bleed, was flat, quite symmetrical but a bit darker than the others I had. I didn’t think too much of it but agreed to go to the dermatologist so they could give it the once over. 

The mole was removed and in November 2017 I was diagnosed with a stage 1B melanoma. It was all a bit of a shock. This diagnosis was different. At first, I buried my head in the sand, concentrated on school work - I had to as I was meeting with parents the next day! I couldn’t really think about what I had just been told.  I went back to hospital for a wide local excision & on Christmas Eve had the stitches removed. Christmas was a bit of an anxious time but in January I was told the margins were clear & it was considered low risk.  I would have skin examinations every four months for three years and then every six months for a further two. 

The team at the dermatology department at Royal Cornwall Hospital are second to none.  Thorough examinations followed, but my anxiety levels were raised when I discovered another mole that looked exactly like the melanoma I had removed. The team agreed to remove it for peace of mind and when that was also confirmed to be another melanoma my life went into turmoil.  It was In situ, which meant it hadn’t spread, but what if I hadn’t noticed it? What if I decided not to have it removed?  Things could be a whole lot different.  I religiously checked, photographed and measured every unusual mark on my skin & would circle suspect lesions every time I had an appointment.  I quit the career I loved and had worked so hard for as I just found everything too much. After counselling with MacMillan at The Cove (again, amazing people who I can’t praise highly enough) I came to terms with the fact that this was going to be with me for life. It wasn’t going anywhere. I had to learn to deal with the anxiety of another melanoma occurring, or it travelling to my lymph nodes but I also had to live my life whilst being really vigilant & never being complacent.

Fast forward to December 2020. I noticed in the mirror that my armpit was swollen. Not massively, but enough for me to notice. I couldn’t feel any lumps so put it down to maybe just having a cold or being a bit run down.  I had a skin check in a few days so would ask them to double check my lymph nodes (along with a list of moles) just to be on the safe side.  The nurse agreed it needed to be checked out so booked me in for a biopsy.  

The appointment was made for two days time. It didn’t dawn on me how serious this was until I went for the biopsy and my cancer nurse was also in the room.  It was then that the alarm bells started ringing. The biopsies were taken & I was asked to take a seat. The sonographer asked if I wanted her opinion or if I wanted to wait for the results. I just knew it wasn’t good news.  How could I wait?  She told me it looked likely that it was melanoma in my lymph nodes. It could have travelled there from my arm when I had the first melanoma removed. I would need surgery in January to remove the affected nodes (which would mean a general anaesthetic & a good few weeks recovery time) but they would also arrange for an urgent CT scan to check it hadn’t spread anywhere else. 

I was devastated. I knew that this meant I was now classed as having stage 3 melanoma. I had gone from a 1b to a stage 3! I could only hope for good news that it hadn’t spread anywhere else. 

Christmas was hard. Not only because of COVID & not being able to have a normal family Christmas but because I also had this hanging over me. I couldn’t help but think what this could mean for us a family & was gutted to think of my boys being without a mum at such young ages. 

The CT scan was completed on 30th December and I waited patiently on New Years Eve (which also happened to be Lee’s 50th birthday & our 20 year anniversary of meeting) for the phone-call with the results.  Unfortunately the report hadn’t been written so I would have to wait until the following Monday - a whole four days away!  I was so grateful that the weather was good so at least we could get out and walk which helped to clear my head and keep my mind off things, if only for a short while. 

Monday came round and I had decided that I would wait until late afternoon before calling the hospital to ask for my results but I didn’t have to wait. The phone rang at 9.30 and again, turned my world upside down. The biopsy confirmed Melanoma in the lymph nodes but the CT scan showed the melanoma had metastasised to my liver. 

Stage 4, Advanced Cancer. 

Melanoma with metastasis in my liver. 

What would that mean? Chemotherapy? Radiotherapy? Surgery? What would my prognosis be? It wasn’t looking good. I couldn’t see me ever beating this. Melanoma would beat me. My boys (who are only 16 & 13) will be growing up without a mum.  I won’t be around for my beautiful family.  I would be lucky if I live for another year. 

But I have too much to live for. I’m only 47. I still have things I want to do. More memories to make. So I have found my strength and I will fight with every bone in my body. For as long as I can and as hard as I can. 

I feel so blessed that I found the swelling when I did or who knows where I would be in six months time. And I’m forever thankful for the support of my amazing family & friends. 

But for now, immunotherapy is my only hope. I know it’s not going to be an easy ride and it’s a rollercoaster I can’t get off but I’ll give it my best shot. My treatment starts next week. 

Please, please, I beg you, be careful in the sun. Always wear a good sunscreen & never think that it’s ‘just skin cancer’. It kills.  Make sure your children don’t have to go through what mine have.  And to my teacher friends - please let’s educate our children & raise awareness. Together we can fight Melanoma. 

So, after two lots of immunotherapy I was extremely poorly with immunotherapy induced colitis and told that the treatment could not continue. Following a course of steroids I’m thankfully feeling back to my usual self. Having had a scan two weeks ago I was told that two out of three of the tumours had shrunk! 😀 💫 The largest tumour in my liver has increased in size but we are hoping that it is due to being targeted by my immune system. I’m so relieved that the treatment is still having a positive effect & hopefully will continue to do so. I have another scan in July but for now I’m going to continue to be grateful for every day & live my best life 💕

As written by Sarah Whitehouse (June 2021)