I learned to have a heightened awareness and appreciation of "the little things." I have much better communication with others, and far more empathy. Most importantly, I have realized the value of my time and saying "no."
I will never again think “it can’t happen to me”. At 44 years old, I had it all. I was a mom, a wife, a morning radio DJ, a radio station promotions director, a runner and an avid cyclist in the best shape of my life! I never saw the "life flip" coming.
My bicycle was ready for the usual 22 miles of “mental break ride” at lunch the day I had a seizure while on air. It was a Friday. April 12, 2013 at 8:15 am. An ambulance ride to the ER and a few hours of searching/scanning revealed “at least 3 tumors” in my brain, along with three more in my lungs. My life had changed in an unforeseen moment. I had stage IV cancer, and if I wanted to remain alive, there was no time to waste. Even with 20/20 hindsight of my condition, I still cannot point to any definite signs that my body and brain were being overtaken by melanoma. I was diagnosed that April with Stage IV Metastatic Melanoma.
Unfortunately, our family history with cancers had resulted in the death of three of our parents between 2006 and early 2013. On the silver lining side, this had given my husband some incredible experience as a patient advocate. With my diagnosis, he knew we needed to step up the game and get experts on board. He took me to USC in Los Angeles within 4 days for a neurosurgical consultation. Eleven days after my initial ER visit, I was already at USC Keck (University of Southern California) undergoing brain surgery.
That first craniotomy was followed three weeks later with gamma knife radiation to treat the tumors that remained in my head. Another four days passed, and we began immunotherapy (Yervoy) at USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center to treat the tumors that had been growing in my lungs. The first batch of immunotherapy (Yervoy) was completed in late July 2013, followed by another round of gamma knife brain radiation in late September to treat 2 new brain tumor - and that is only the beginning of a loooong story.
Fast forward ten years since that fateful day in April 2013, and I’m still here! Still learning and forever watchful. There is no “cure” for melanoma. Active treatment has wrapped up, but check ups with medical oncology still occur in annual intervals, the VERY IMPORTANT brain MRIs, check ups with radiation oncology, and dermatology checks are every 5-6 months. We’ve come to know the doctors, nurses, and staff of USC Norris and USC Keck quite well. My medical team smiles with me, laughs with me, and fights right alongside me. All total so far, I’ve undergone 2 craniotomies, had a lobe of lung removed, resection of a lump on my back, 10 rounds of gamma knife brain radiation (37 tumors zapped!), 4 months of what we laughingly refer to as “Mike’s Magic Pill”, and nearly 2 years of immunotherapy infusions.
Nothing is the normal that it was a decade ago. We now have “cancer’s normal”… and it really isn’t all bad. This journey hasn't always been a roll through the park, but I know that pain is temporary, and I have been shown that good can come from horrible things.
As hard as this journey was/is, I am crazy enough to believe that every drop of chemo not only killed the bad/good cells, but it destroyed the imposter syndrome that held me back. I’m crazy enough to believe that every round of radiation burned off the pressure of perfectionism. I’m also crazy enough to believe that my struggle with anxiety was removed with every surgical excision. We all have crucible moments and turning points at unexpected times that have transformed us into our true selves. I am a better person because of my cancer journey.
I never expected to write a book, but cancer has given me a sense of purpose to help others by being honest and authentic about the emotional challenges cancer brings.