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Nicki Laws

Tell us a little about yourself

I am a vet, mother of two adult sons and wife to Glen, also a vet. We live on a farm on the Darling Downs, Queensland, where we breed Waygu cross cattle as a hobby.  I garden heaps and do textile and collage art.

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

In March 2015 I visited an optometrist for a routine eye check and new glasses.  I had noticed reduced night vision when driving and overall my vision seemed to be deteriorating slightly.… though I was not alarmed at this time.  A shadow was noticed on my right retina and I was referred to a local ophthalmologist for an opinion.  He diagnosed a choroidal melanoma so sent me to Brisbane for treatment by an ocular oncologist.

Tell us about your treatment

Due to the size of the tumour the only feasible treatment was removal of the eye, which was performed the following week after a full body PET-CT scan came back clear of any metastases.  I had been warned that ocular melanomas (OM) tend to spread to the liver compared to other organs in 90% of cases and unfortunately there are not effective treatments available if spread occurs.

In a strange way, it was a great relief to have my eye removed…. there were no treatment alternatives which made decision making easier for me.  I was in a hurry to have the operation, get home and get on with my life.  I received a prosthetic eye six weeks later.

Nine months after surgery some small spots were noticed on my liver scan and I referred to an oncologist and then a liver surgeon.  Due to the small size of these lesions and tricky biopsy, a decision was made to keep up regular liver imaging and monitor progression.  So far, so good.  I now have biannual MRI’s which I will probably continue forever.

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

My eye was removed only 10 days after diagnosis, so there was a fierce maelstrom of emotions felt by me, and others close to me, in that short time-frame.  Of course I worried a bit about appearances, how I would do my work and perform day-to-day tasks, but the overriding concern was whether metastasis would occur…. either sooner or later.  My life could never be as innocent or uncomplicated as it was before the diagnosis, which I think is a fear common to any cancer survivor.  I felt earlier on it was possibly easier for me to cope than my loved ones… I was determined to be strong and get through the surgery in a good way so as not to make it tougher for them.

After the worrying liver scan, I did suffer a few months of anxiety.  I am overall a very positive and busy person, so I hated this phase of sleeplessness, bouts of crying and the constant “what if’s”’. Since that period, I made a resolution to become better informed about OM (but not obsess about it), take up yoga and just generally live in the moment, concentrating on the things I really value.  I have connected with other patients with OM and MPA.  I feel hope and gratitude that there are good doctors, researchers and patient support groups in this field.

How has melanoma cancer affected your outlook on life?

I have cut down on many external commitments. I take more time for the things that get me in “the zone” – doing art, gardening, cooking or whatever keeps me absorbed or happy.  I am still way too busy in my work but I say no to things now that I don’t want to do.  I am also not going to wait until we retire before travelling.  We visited Spain this year as Barcelona was top of my list….  I will go to as many Woodford Folk Festivals or Paul Kelly concerts as I can drag friends or family to and will spend as much time with my boys as they will put up with!

Do you have a motto or personal mantra?

Lately (and thanks to Bernard Fanning) “Travel slow, enjoy the ride.”

I’m happiest when…

I am out in nature, on our farm, with my family, being creative, when I sight a koala in a tree we planted, or when I serve a meal and can point out a handful of ingredients we have grown.

Nicki provided her personal story to MPA in July 2017.

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