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Audrey Colbert

Tell us a little about yourself

Born in 1972 & raised in Melbourne, as a family we always went on a summer holiday and these are some of my favourite childhood memories. Every January we would spend 3-4 weeks at the beach – any beach around Victoria, but it was always a fabulous way to spend the summer holidays.
Now at 48 years old, I am married to Tony and we have 2 sons, Benjamin 13 and Nicholas 10. We often go on holidays, usually to warm summer climates but seeing as we love to explore, we travel when we can.

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

It was a huge shock to be diagnosed with Melanoma. I went to my GP because I thought I had an infected skin tag on my right shoulder. I’d had a raised spot for a while but hadn’t really taken any notice until it started to fill like a blister. As it got bigger it would get irritated by my clothing or knocked when I put my handbag on my shoulder. It was approx. the size of a pea. My GP thought it was an infected skin tag too and gave me antibiotics for a week. After I’d finished the antibiotic course I went back to the GP. The spot hadn’t reduced much but he cut it off and sent it to pathology. 2 days later I had a call to come in for the results. I still didn’t think anything of it and when I saw him, I joked “I don’t know that I like you calling me in for results” and laughed. The mood changed instantly when he said “I’m sorry Audrey but it’s Melanoma”. At that very moment my life changed. I can look at a photo and I know if it was before or after that day. I can sense if I had the worry of melanoma at that given moment when I look at photos because that day has impacted my life forever.

Tell us about your treatment

Coincidentally on the day I got my Melanoma diagnosis, 25/09/2019, I was due to go to a plastic surgeon to have some BCC’s (Basal Cell Carcinoma’s) removed from my face. This plastic surgeon also works as part of the team at the Melanoma Clinic – The Alfred Hospital Melbourne. He told me about my choices and I asked him to immediately refer me to the Melanoma Clinic at The Alfred. I was booked in for a Wide Local Excision and Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy on 25/10/2019. The surgery was successful with clear margins and 1 node out of the 3 removed being positive for melanoma. I was staged at 3C & Nil Evidence of Disease (NED). Due to the lymph node results I was offered Immunotherapy (Nivolumab). I started treatment on 14/11/2019, which was to be 12 infusions, every 4 weeks. I’ve had 5 treatments at the medical oncology department at The Alfred, and since Covid hit in March I have had 3 treatments with The Alfred “Hospital in the Home” team. I’ve been very lucky to have no side effects and plan to complete all 12 treatments as long as this continues.

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

For the first week after my diagnosis, I was petrified, absolutely petrified. I immediately told my husband and my mum, without the kids knowing, and we were all hugely impacted by the diagnosis. I was too scared to google, it was too confronting and I was overwhelmed. The only thing I could think about was that Melanoma kills people. I couldn’t look people in the eye because I was so emotional. I couldn’t tell the kids because I didn’t know what to tell them. When I was confronted with death, my emotions took over and I couldn’t control them. The biggest challenge immediately was to stop the negative thoughts, but when you don’t know any different, how do you stop. It was within that first week I found the closed Facebook support group offered by Melanoma Patients Australia (MPA).

Tell us about your involvement with MPA

The MPA support group was exactly what I needed. I realised that this group of strangers had my back, they understood and they were there to listen. As much as my family and friends were amazing, and have been by my side the whole way, the MPA group knew exactly how I felt. I had a thousand questions, and there were people there to help answer them, or point me in the right direction. I spent an hour or more the first night speaking to one of the volunteers who runs the group – Karen helped me understand what was going to happen, what I needed to ask the Drs and what to expect. Karen was there right at the very start and answered my questions even though she was away camping with her family and it was late at night. I also instantly connected with others in the group, they all helped me process what I could and helped slow down my crazy run-away thoughts……and this is why this group is my “go to place” for support. I continue to be involved with the MPA support groups and have recently joined in the zoom online calls and I am happy to share my story in any way to help others.

How has melanoma cancer affected your outlook on life?

To me there’s nothing more confronting than being faced with death. Initially I thought I was going to die, how would my children survive without their mother, how could I make the most of the time I have left. I then realised that I did still have the time to make a difference, to help educate others to avoid melanoma, and to watch my children grow up. Don’t get me wrong, I have my moments, I am still scared, it’s always there in the back of my mind, it never goes away, I have increased anxiety around test/scan times but I can’t and won’t let cancer stop me from living. We only get one chance at this life and I need to make the most of it. I want to make a difference, I want to make my children’s future as bright as possible, I want to share life with those I love, and therefore each day I am grateful for all I have and I try my best to enjoy it as much as possible.

Do you have a motto or personal mantra?

I often say “I won’t let cancer stop me from living. If I worry about tomorrow, I am missing out on today”. I actually take every opportunity to share my story and help spread awareness about Melanoma – especially to children. I am a huge advocate for being SunSmart and for the proper use of sunscreen. I am also a very vocal about regular skin checks. I want to help others avoid what I am going through.

I’m happiest when…

I am with family & friends. I am so lucky to have so many beautiful people in my life. I love to be cheeky and to make people laugh. I also love to help others. I am a true believer of being happy, it’s so important in life and I try my best to fulfil this each and every day.

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