February 18, 2015
Seizing the moment after my melanoma recurrence
BY Kate Boone
My name is Kate, and I have stage IV melanoma. I received my initial diagnosis three years ago. I went to a surgeon, they got clean lines and I followed up with my dermatologist. So whew, crisis averted.
My melanoma recurrence
In June 2014, I first noticed a lump under my left arm. I had just completed a 30-day yoga challenge, so I figured all the sweating had led to a blocked lymph node. My husband, the worrier, insisted I see a doctor.
I didn't even have a primary care doctor at the time, so scheduling an appointment was a challenge. I heard a lot of "We're not taking any new patients," or "Give it a few weeks."
My husband wouldn't take 'no' for an answer. So, my sister, a nursing student at the time, got me into the school clinic for an ultrasound and eventually a biopsy. The results came back positive for melanoma.
We scheduled an appointment with MD Anderson for more scans, which showed that the melanoma was concentrated in my left arm and hadn't spread. Whew. Crisis averted again.
Coming to MD Anderson for melanoma treatment
About a week after the scans, I had approximately 40 lymph nodes removed. The biopsy results showed that 10 were positive for melanoma. Some had burst and the melanoma was oozing into the space. So they had to use liposuction to remove the extra tainted fat. I also got to wear a drain for about three weeks. I put googly eyes on it so it would look back at people looking at it.
During my recovery, I developed a cough. "Totally normal due to inactivity," I was told. But when I still had the cough a month after surgery, my oncologist, Rodabe Amaria, M.D., sent me for a chest X-ray. Turns out my lungs were filled with tiny little tumors.
My treatment plan changed from 12 weeks of biochemotherapy and radiation, to five pills a day, each day for three months. Needless to say, I was thrilled! I wouldn't have to take time off work and didn't have to inject myself or have a pic line placed. And very few people experienced side effects from this oral chemo. Even better!
Coping with oral chemo side effects
About two weeks later, I was at a work conference, and as conferences go, I figured it had just given me a migraine. I was nauseous, my head was pounding, and I was shivering uncontrollably. I was so nonchalant about having cancer that I didn't even think to blame my medications.
Turns out, I should have. I spent the next four months trying different doses, different times to take the pills, with food/without food. I ended up in the hospital for about four days because my body was not tolerating this cocktail.
Finding my confidence through cancer
From the beginning, I refused to allow the night sweats, vomiting, and fever/chills, stop me from living my life. I was sent home from work more often than I called in sick. Often, I dragged myself off the bathroom floor, got dressed, and sometimes put my makeup on while I lay on the floor.
At my most sick, I got tired of looking for a hair tie or bobby pins while running to the bathroom to vomit. So, I cut off all of my hair. This was a real turning point for me. Before I'd gotten sick, I had seen all the celebrities rocking a pixie cut, and I'd wanted to try it. But I didn't know if I had the confidence, or head shape, to pull it off.
Fortunately, cancer taught me that if you've got the confidence, you can rock anything. And, that's what's inspiring me to be bolder. I'm not trying to cross everything off my bucket list. All I'm trying to do is seize those moments when I would have said "maybe next time" and make it "OK, this time."
Melanoma is one of the cancers MD Anderson is focusing on as part of our Moon Shots Program to dramatically reduce cancer deaths. Learn more about our Melanoma Moon Shot.