Anna Harper

MPA Patient Story - Anna Harper and family group smiling at the camera

Tell us a little about yourself

I am 43 years old and the full time mother of a 10-year-old boy and 6-year-old girl. Before being diagnosed with Stage 4 melanoma my days were filled with school drop off and pick-ups, helping out in the school classroom, swimming lessons, basketball practice and games for my 10-year-old, music classes and ballet for my 6-year-old, going to the gym, pool, and generally looking after the family home. My role as primary care giver was even more important, to not only my children but also my husband, because it was my job and my life.

When and how did you first find out you had melanoma?

On Friday 10th February 2012, almost a year after a Stage 1 malignant melanoma was removed from my back and the first day of grade 1 for my son, I detected a lump about the size of a golf ball under my right armpit, it was very sore and I hadn’t noticed it before.

At this same time, I started to have extreme pain in my lower back, groin, hip area and legs. A biopsy confirmed that it was indeed a malignant melanoma and I was immediately referred to Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre where a PET scan revealed that I was at Stage 4 melanoma.

The melanoma had spread to my blood stream and bones. The cancer was all down my spine, in my arms, my left ribs, pelvis, hips and upper legs. I was told by my surgical oncologist that I had a 10% chance of survival with a life expectancy of 2 months to 2 years without immediate treatment.

Tell us about your treatment

I initially had radiotherapy to help with my bone and nerve pain. Then I had four infusions of Yervoy. I was very fortunate that the Yervoy killed 90% of the cancer. There was still cancer present in my right upper arm bone and in the lymph nodes under my armpit. I then had surgery and radiotherapy with great success and soon after received more wonderful news that there was no cancer present.

Unfortunately, on my next scan 3 months later a brain tumour was picked up on a MRI. I then had neurosurgery to remove the tumour which was very successful. Unfortunately, at my 6 week check up with my neurosurgeon another two tumours were detected. I initially had radiosurgery but a year later I had another 2 neurosurgeries to remove the remaining 2 tumours.

What challenges did you and your family and/or friends face after your diagnosis?

I was terrified that I wouldn’t be around to care for my children or see them grow up.

Because the melanoma had extensively spread throughout my bones my mobility had become that limited and painful that I was unable to crouch down, sit on thefloor or even bend my leg up to put on my socks. Trying to wash my feet or lower legs in the shower was almost impossible. I had a pronounced limp and every movement I made was difficult. Worse still I was unable to care for my young family and had to rely on my husband and extended family for support. Everyone was shocked and devastated by the news. I found great peace in mediation and reiki which helped me to deal with the terrible news and what I had to endure.

Tell us about your involvement with MPA

How has melanoma cancer affected your outlook on life?

I would love to say that I have beaten this horrible cancer but I don’t believe I have. It is an ongoing battle which I tackle when I need to.

Since my original diagnosis in February 2012 I have been well enough to celebrate my 40th birthday, 5 birthdays for each child, seeing my daughter start school last year, 4 Christmases, family holidays and milestones, special times with my family and making life long memories with my beautiful children who I want to know and remember me.

I feel quite passionate about letting people know that there is hope for the future and have spoken at a number of fundraiser/functions sharing my story. Last year I rode the Peter Mac Ride to Conquer Cancer 200km over two days. This was something that I never believed I would be able to do but was determined to raise awareness and money for melanoma research.

The advice I would like to give to others about melanoma are: Make skin checks a regular part of looking after yourself, don’t be afraid to get a second opinion, to question the advice you are given and listen to your body. Often we know ourselves and our bodies better than someone else.

Do you have a motto or personal mantra?

I’m happiest when…

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