Carol Saunders

MPA Patient Story - Carol Saunders standing at lookout with view of water behind

Tell us a little about yourself

I am 62 years old with 2 awesome sons, William 38 and John 37 and the proud nana of two boys, William 6 and Charlie 3.

I work full time as a Business Manager at a large country school.

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

Two weeks before taking my 90-year-old father to China in October 2019, I felt a lump in my neck and mentioned it to my doctor when I went to get my certificate of medication to take with me on my holiday.

Then the fun began. That day I travelled to Adelaide for a fine needle biopsy that came back as Melanoma. I still wanted to go to China. I was rushed to a plastic surgeon who permitted me to go providing I had a biopsy and a PET scan. Tests done the day before our flight out and we were off for two weeks of holiday in China and on return was quickly booked in for a neck dissection.

I didn’t have a primary and have V600R mutations which is rare, only approximately 3-7% of all BRAF mutations and the activity of BRAF inhibitors in patients with this mutation is unknown.

Surgery occurred and then the phone call came to say “you have an appointment with an oncologist to discuss treatment options”.

The day I left hospital after surgery my dad become very ill. He spent 3 months in hospital then 3 months in aged care before coming home on the eve of South Australia going into COVID-19 lockdown.

My fortnightly trips to Adelaide became support visits for Dad. Shopping, cleaning and general care become the norm as with COVID-19, no services for my Dad.

Tell us about your treatment

My oncologist discussed options and for the best outcome I was to start on a fortnightly program of Nivolumab for 12 months.

By the 6th session I was so tired and through blood tests found my iron and vitamin B and D were depleted. After an iron transfusion, vitamin B injection and vitamin D supplements I was feeling better. By the 8th session my lungs were showing inflammation and on my 18th session I was required to stop.

Rashes, tiredness and weight loss (I lost 20 kilos) became the norm.

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

My husband of 40 years decided this was the time to leave. My feelings of failure, loneliness, loss of family, financial security, fear of the unknown was at times overwhelming. Add COVID-19 and it was a struggle. I worked as it was easier than looking at walls. My strength came from my sons and my commitment to healthy food, an area that I could control. I don’t think I could have got through that year if not for the fantastic group of specialists; my doctor, surgeon, oncologist, staff at the cancer centre and my work colleagues.

My eldest son was still recovering from his own cancer journey as in 2018 he battled stage 4 Hodgkin lymphoma. There he was recovering from his illness and having to come to terms that his Mum now had her battle. He and his wife were my mentors, keeping me fit, ensuring I ate well and my son was and is so positive.

My younger son lived in Perth so it was not until Easter of 2021 that I was finally able to give him a massive hug.

Tell us about your involvement with MPA

Another Business Manager who heard I had Melanoma and was also fighting her fight rang me and informed me about MPA. The online meetings are my favourite as I love to hear and learn as much as I can about melanoma and what I can do to make a difference.

How has melanoma cancer affected your outlook on life?

So much has happened that sometimes I think that melanoma is insignificant to the changes in my life at that time.

Now I feel we need to hold onto the ones we love and enjoy life. I don’t want cancer to be the centre of my life. It is a pot hole in the road of life.

Do you have a motto or personal mantra?

Take each step one day at a time. Go with the flow.

I’m happiest when…

I am with family.

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