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Melinda Beaumont

Melinda is pictured with her husband Dean.

Tell us a little about yourself

I’m 45 years old, married to an incredible man, Dean, with a wonderful 19 year old stepdaughter, Summah and a lovely little boy Tom who is 7.  I work in publishing and have sold books for over 25 years.

I grew up on Sydney’s Northern Beaches in Narrabeen.  I loved the water and I used to go to the beach any chance I could.  Who knew such an idyllic lifestyle could be the cause of so much anxiety and fear years later?

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

Summah was brushing my hair on a weekend and noticed a weird looking brown spot on my scalp.  We just thought I may have scratched myself but I must have had a feeling as, unusually for me, I booked to have it checked on the following Monday.  My doctor thought it looked wrong so sent a punch biopsy off and it came back as positive for melanoma. Interestingly I visited a skin cancer centre once a year prior to that and they had never checked my hair – make sure you see someone who knows what they are doing!

Tell us about your treatment

I had the primary removed in December 2014 which was a little scary but I was pretty much okay after that – still in a bit of denial as to how serious it was I think.  We found out it had spread to my lymph nodes though and I went back for surgery in January 2015 for a neck dissection.  That knocked me flat physically and emotionally.  I’d been told I could go back to work 2 weeks after surgery and after the last one I had no reason to doubt I would be okay.  Unfortunately basic things like putting clothes on, lifting anything heavier than a cup and simply doing my job became a challenge – one I hadn’t been expecting.  I was getting lots of headaches too.  I was diagnosed as Stage 3B and though I felt I had been lucky, everything had shifted in a way I cannot describe and barely understand myself.

For the next two years I had quarterly check ups and a PET scan each year.  At the two year mark I was pretty confident I had dodged a bullet and had finally found myself on a more even keel again.  I was so confident that they would tell me that the two year PET scan would be fine I didn’t take anyone to the results.  It was a massive shock to hear that they had found ‘something” on my left lung.  They wanted to wait six weeks and do another scan to see what it did.  They were a long six weeks and at the end of it, it was still there and had doubled in size.  I was booked in for surgery to have it removed.  All went well which was a relief!  Unfortunately I had now “graduated” to Stage 4 metastatic melanoma.

With the removal of the tumour I was NED but my chances of this bugger turning up again was somewhere around the 80% mark in the next 5 years.  I started on a drug trial for Nivolumab and Ipilimumab in around May 2017.  I wasn’t 100% sure I was doing the right thing but there were a lot of good reasons for why I decided to do the trial.  It’s an incredibly tough decision and one that is very personal. I know my family wanted me to do this – I think because doing something was better than nothing.  There are no certainties with the treatment and my motivations were complex.  Unfortunately as a preventative measure it did not work for me.  I had minimal side effects until I got a dose of pneumonitis in about August 2017.  They treated that with prednisone and I rejoined the trial a few weeks later. In November 2017 I was very breathless and they did scans to see what the issue was.  I thought it would be another dose of pneumonitis and was expecting another round of prednisone – never very much fun but it works!  Turned out to be fluid on the lungs and three pleural taps later (a fun procedure where they stick a dirty big needle in your back and drain the fluid out of your lung) I was placed on the targeted therapy of Trametinib and Dabrafenib.  I had a “sprinkle” of tumours in my lungs this time so they couldn’t operate.  I had some nasty side effects in the beginning but they have settled for the most part now.  The biggest thing I deal with is fatigue and a serious case of forgetfulness….

I stopped work in October 2017 because I was fortunate enough to be able to and it has given me the space to try and focus on getting well and spend as much time with the people I love as I can.  Interestingly that has been more difficult than I thought but I keep trying.  This disease has turned our lives upside down.  We now take each day as it comes and while some days suck we have a lot to be grateful for.

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

The physicality of treatment for me has been uncomfortable and there have been challenges at times.  However, the biggest thing to deal with, for me, has been the emotional and mental side.  I have a wonderful family and my husband and children mean the world to me.  I waited a long time for them too – I was 33 when I met Dean and Summah and Tom is so little still.  The idea of not being around to see my kids grow up and watch my husband grow old seems incredibly sad and actually makes me feel incredibly angry sometimes.  I’ve never thought “why me” but I have felt extremely ripped off at times. It can take my breath away if I think about it for too long – so of course I don’t.

There’s a lot of misunderstanding around melanoma.  A lot (I mean a lot!) of people think you simply cut it out and move on. I know I did.  Many people have no understanding that this can and does spread to other organs or parts of your body.  Not many people realise how dangerous it is and the difference I find with this cancer particularly, is its propensity to come back – even when you have been in the clear for years.  I can’t get over how many stories there are from people out there that had an initial diagnosis of Stage 1 or 2, only for it to come back with a vengeance 2, 5, 10 and 15 years later, at Stage 3 and 4.  It’s such an insidious form of cancer…

When we got the initial diagnosis back in 2014 I think Dean and I were both still thinking I would be okay.  Watching my strong, calm, Dean fall apart in front of my eyes though, after finding out I was Stage 3…  If I could change one thing it would be to not put those around me through all of this.  They don’t deserve it and it makes my heart ache that I am the cause of their fear and anxiety.

Both our families have been wonderful – they are very different in the way they deal with my diagnosis. They have helped in both a practical and emotional sense and we are incredibly lucky to have them all.  We have some brilliant, brilliant friends around us too although we have lost one or two along the way.

Summah has been incredibly strong and I am so proud of the way she looks out for her Dad and lets me know she is thinking of me . She’s a beautiful soul and it’s a privilege to be a part of her life. T om is quite laid back in his outlook on life.  He is a hugely affectionate child who has no hesitation in giving me hugs and “I love yous” on a regular basis.  We have been very honest with him but have kept things simple.  He’s only young so it’s hard to understand how this is affecting him at this stage.  Hopefully it will be a vague memory when he gets older that I can explain to him in my eighties!

I have no words for the way Dean has been.  His strength and love are the only things that have helped me through some days.  He has had to take so much more on, on so many levels and he has simply stepped up without complaint.  He is proof I must have done something right in my life, to deserve someone as amazing as him!

How has melanoma cancer affected your outlook on life?

I’m still discovering that on a daily basis.  I have less patience for some things now and far more for others.  There are no guarantees for anyone but this diagnosis puts everything in to stark reality.  I have weirdly become a far more positive person who is way more grateful for what I have than I have ever been in my life – I used to worry and complain way more.  Way, way more.  I’m less hard on myself too I think.  I don’t judge myself the way I used to and I worry less about what others think of me.  I’ve never been particularly materialistic but the people in my life and the memories we make are far more important than ever.  It’s the small moments I hang on to now and if anything good can come out of a crappy situation it is that, I think.

Do you have a motto or personal mantra?

No and I haven’t found god or become more spiritual – I have tried but yoga and meditation are not things I have been able to embrace – although I do keep trying!

I’m happiest when…

I am with my little family.  Lazy days spent with them are some of the most special times and I am very greedy for those moments.  The housework and practical day to day life can wait – giggles, hugs and love are the things I stockpile and I am a richer person for it.

Melinda provided her story to MPA in March 2018.

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