Tell us a little about yourself
I’m a soon to be 39 year old single mother to a remarkable 9 year old lad, Phoenix. I have raised him purely by myself (albeit with the incredible support of my dear mother, father and sister. And my wonderful friends.) I am currently studying Individual Support (Aged Home & Community Care), and work as an Events & Marketing consultant for an Aged Support Community Centre – where our focus is providing people from non English speaking backgrounds over the age of 65 with activities and support to help them stay living at home. The diversity of our clients is invigorating, and it is an incredibly humbling job. I adore it! Previously I worked in Hospitality Management, and volunteered at our local Community Radio Station as an announcer & producer for many years.
I have a huge love of music and the arts. My hobbies are photography, collecting art and vintage pieces, and I have always dabbled in a bit of singer/songwriter stuffs. My son and I live on the coast (Torquay, Victoria) and we would not live anywhere else. The community is wonderful, and we are truly at home here; in our quaint little 60’s beach shack, along with our divine Stumpy Tail Cattle dog (Thelma – aka Blue Bear) and our more often than not psychotic cat (Arthur.)
Shortly after I was diagnosed with Melanoma, I decided to create an event: Rock The Mole – Music For Melanoma Awareness. This was a no brainer for me. On my diagnosis, I had no idea what Melanoma was truly about. The more research I did, the more terrified I became. An incredible urge took over me; I needed to spread the word of Melanoma, and the need for regular skin checks. And I was going to do this loudly, via my great love: live Independent Aussie bands!! Rock The Mole had its 3rd event, on May 21st this year. We have raised over $11,000 for Melanoma research and for the support of Melanoma patients. Hundreds of people have told me that RTM prompted them to go and get a skin check. This is so wonderful! The bands, local business and friends that help to pull this event together ever year, is an outstanding effort. And I thank them all, with every bit of my heart.
When and how did you first find out you had melanoma?
I had a mole on my neck that I had got checked out once or twice at a skin clinic. They were happy with the way it looked at these times, however I was to have it checked annually. Unfortunately, I didn’t follow up these appointments regularly – the ol’ excuse of being ‘too busy’, was used a lot. The mole started to change color, (white in parts) it looked like it was disappearing! Yes I was incredibly naïve. It started to itch and weep, I realised it was time to get my butt in to see the skin specialist, long over due. The mole was cut out immediately and sent away for a biopsy. I was diagnosed with Melanoma on Valentines Day 2014 (not the gift I was hoping for, that’s for sure.) Biopsy results supported that the mole presented as a stage IV. This was shocking to hear, I remember the nurse saying to me “I was dreading you coming in for your results today, I am so sorry beautiful girl.” The whirlwind of appointments, surgeries and barrage of tests started – a world I never thought I would be in. Thankfully the Pet-Scan results showed that the Melanoma had not travelled (much to the specialist obvious surprise), we were all over joyed! And, the lymph node removal surgery results were also incredibly positive – the nodes that they removed were all clear of Melanoma. Unbelievable! I had indeed dodged a bullet. I was diagnosed with stage IIB, with a ‘watch and wait’ plan – no treatment, just my 3 monthly check ups with Plastics & ENT, along with blood tests. Life went back to some sort of normality, I began to relax. However, almost one year to my original diagnosis, the damn thing was back. It was discovered in my parotid gland (salivary gland.) Further surgery, along with Interferon and Radiotherapy, this time. 2015 was an incredibly hard year.
Tell us about your treatment
Now being a stage IIIC melanoma patient. After much discussion with my Oncologist, I decided to do both Radiotherapy and Interferon – which is exactly what he wanted to hear. The Radiotherapy would provide a 50% chance of it not returning locally, and the Interferon a 10-18% chance of it not appearing anywhere else in the body. Balls to the wall, I was going to do both! Firstly I did 5 days a week for four weeks, of Interferon. Intravenously given through a Hickman line at the Andrew Love Cancer Centre, Geelong. It was hard, I felt like rubbish, however I got through it – having been made to stop for a day or two due to bloods not being great. Once those four weeks of the ‘hardcore’ part of the Interferon program was finished, I had a short break before starting Radiotherapy – which was 5 weeks of treatment, again Monday through to Friday. Once that had finished (and after a much needed break) I was to start back up on the ‘maintenance’ phase of Interferon – for a further 11 months. I didn’t complete the ‘maintenance’ phase of Interferon. I decided to stop it, after much research and deliberation. It was an incredibly personal choice, and my Oncologist supported my decision. For me, I truly believe I made the right choice.
What challenges did you and your family and/or friends face after your diagnosis?
Many!! My mortality was questioned, creating much fear and sadness. Financially it was difficult also, having to take a great deal of time off work – due to endless appointments, operations and invasive treatments. My biggest challenge was to beat this, purely for my son: to be able to continue life as ‘normal’. I don’t think I was a great example of the hardship of what Cancer treatment can do to you, as I hid the physical and mental suffering. I didn’t want Phoenix to be afraid. I will not allow him to be afraid. Melanoma, you indeed picked the wrong person.
My Parents have come to every appointment with me – with Surgeons, Oncologists, and treatments. I watched them suffer, hurting and hoping, for their ‘little girl.’ It’s been hard, and they have been my pillar of strength.
Tell us about your involvement with MPA
How has melanoma cancer affected your outlook on life?
Do you have a motto or personal mantra?
I have two: “Rock The Mole” and “Much Love, and Sweet Sweet Peace”.
The later is one that I started saying, and ‘signing off’ with, due to everyone’s concern for me, and their support with RTM. Both were printed on T-shirts and Canvas Tote bags – thanks to some amazing friends that came up with wonderful designs. It was a sneaky money raising initiative for me, whilst I was going through treatment and unable to work. I didn’t realise that they were doing this on my behalf, at the time. Bless.
If I could do it all over again, I would have gone back to the skin specialist when I was supposed to. In reality, I wouldn’t change a thing. All is good!
I’m happiest when…
I’m with my family, and or friends. My child is incredible, my parents and sister are amazing, and my friends are wonderful. Every person should have the pleasure of meeting them, they are stand out humans!
I’m also incredibly happy at a gig, wrapped up in music. Or when I’m walking my dog. Or when my son, dog and cat are all squished up together on one couch watching tv – when the other couch is totally free. I’m especially happy when I’m watching my son do something he loves; whether that be skating, playing footy, surfing, reading or creating some art. His smile is magic!