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Tracey Beasley-Smith

Tracey is pictured with her children, Molly (10), Toby (7) and Banjo (6).

Tell us a little about yourself

My name is Tracey Beasley-Smith, I live on the Far South Coast of NSW and I have just recently turned 40! I am a single mother with three young children. I am currently studying Certificate III in Business Administration at Tafe in the hope to return to the workforce very soon.

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

I had my first melanoma on my chest when I was 19 years old, possibly brought on by severe sunburn I experienced on my legs, on my first holiday overseas at the end of High school, in 1994. I went on to have another two after this, on my back, about a year later, and then another in 2005, also on my back, which was apparently the worst but simply looked like I had been touched by a black ball point pen. I then agreed to be genetically tested to which I tested ‘positive’ to a melanoma gene mutation, putting me at higher risk even more.  At the end of 2014, three months after getting the all clear from a skin check, I was diagnosed with a large tumour on the brain.

Tell us about your treatment

I had a large tumour, possibly a bleed and significant swelling on the brain. I was taken from Bega hospital to Canberra for emergency surgery, however I responded so well to the steroids they administered, that it gave them time to do more scans and plan it more thoroughly. After the initial brain surgery, I had high dose whole brain radiation which I found the toughest of all. I remember having a friend up at Canberra going through ‘whole brain’ radiation as well and really struggling with it, I said to him, that makes me so sad and breaks my heart for you because I know exactly what you are going through. On the upside, it was effective and removed all the ‘peppering’ I had on the brain which was apparently present on the first scan.

I went on to have four cycles of a drug called Yervoy, due to the lung tumours that were now present as well, before I was put on Keytruda. I have been on intravenous Keytruda, every three weeks, and will be for the rest of my life apparently. I am so lucky not to have had any real side effects. The tumour on the brain had returned within two months after the original surgery and radiation, and continued to grow so I had to go in for surgery a second time, just over one year later. I’ve had about three cycles of stereotactic radiation to the brain since then and things are looking more stable for the first time since my diagnosis.

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

The greatest challenge of all was being away from my three children who were only 10, 8 and 9 at the time. It was their Presentation Day at school back home the day I went in for the first surgery in Canberra (3 hours away). It was then considered best the kids didn’t see me until I started to mend a little, and not look so scary. So they went to my ex mother-in-law down the coast. I felt lost. The day I got to see them after all that was the greatest day of my life. I had made it out the other side, I was still alive and I was re-united with the kids.

How has melanoma cancer affected your outlook on life?

Melanoma has had an enormous impact on my life, now. I didn’t take it too serious when I was 19, no-one did, so I assumed it wasn’t too much to worry about. But it made sure I noticed in 2014 when it landed on my brain! As life-changing as melanoma has been in some very negative ways (such as my kids living everyday wondering how long they have their Mum for) it has also given me so much appreciation, perspective, gratitude and insight. I have experienced things I never thought I would. The love and support the kids and I have received has been simply unbelievable, not only from family and friends but from our incredibly caring community and the amazing organisations that exist for families affected by cancer. I used to fear death, greatly… but I feel I have a whole new grasp on it now with what I have gone through.

Do you have a motto or personal mantra?

Not really my own but the phrase I like the best is “Love the skin you’re in” because it applies to so much. I don’t see it as just about Skin Cancer, although it’s powerful for that. I think it applies to self-esteem and how you see and feel about yourself. It can simply just be a ‘love yourself’ all round phrase, which I consider so important for everyone, especially young ones. I also try and live by ‘Make it Happen!’

I’m happiest when…

I see my children laughing.

Tracey provided her personal story to MPA in May 2017.

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