This is Melinda's story, as told by her daughter.
How did your mother, Melinda, discover she had Melanoma? What type or stage did she have?
In the most unlikely way, Mom found out she had Melanoma. In this instance, my family is thankful for a kidney stone. She began passing one, went to the hospital, was scanned for confirmation, and thankfully one of the doctors saw something besides a kidney stone. They called her back into to do further scans and took a biopsy to determine that it was Melanoma. If it hadn’t of been for a kidney stone, we wouldn’t have found cancer for a while. As far as type or stage go, my parents haven’t really disclosed that to my brother and I. I think they understand that we have processed that Mom has cancer, and giving it a specific title or severity is more than we could handle at the moment.
What is the primary cancer treatment facility involved in her care? What are her treatments like?
My mom was initially treated at our local cancer center. She took three treatments of Yurvoy which made her extremely ill. She lost 40 pounds in a matter of weeks, had no appetite – even for her favorite food. She slept all the time and was very sick many times throughout each day. After scans, the doctor’s determined that Yurvoy had not affected cancer at all. She was admitted to a clinical trial in Gainesville, FL where she receives a drug from the PD-1 drug trials once every three weeks. She has to drive to Florida for the treatment to be administered and then my father drives her back. The seven-hour drive is miserable for her. As far as how her cancer is reacting to the new treatment, we are not sure. The treatment is long term and Mom has been admitted to the trails for 2 years. We will know more after her next treatment.
What would you say has been the most impactful experience from your mother’s melanoma diagnosis and treatment?
There is an image that will be forever engrained in my memory. The first time I saw my mom receive treatment was a sobering experience. To see this woman who is the definition of strength – this woman who I love – this woman who I thought was invincible, reduced to a body hooked to iv’s and monitors in a cancer center was something I cannot seem to overcome. This woman who means so much to so many, was, at that moment, just another cancer patient in another cancer center, taking another cancer treatment. It was at that moment that I decided to create the website. Cancer shouldn’t be a faceless murderer. My mother is not just another number. I will never forget that image of weakness for as long as I live.
To see this woman who is the definition of strength – this woman who I love – this woman who I thought was invincible, reduced to a body hooked to iv’s and monitors in a cancer center was something I cannot seem to overcome.
Tell us about Cancer and Mom? How can people help?
cancerandmom.com is a website that was created to bring awareness to melanoma cancer and my mother’s battle. I created it out of the necessity to relieve myself of the feeling of helplessness. Creating and doing something that not only impacts my family, but those around the world has helped thrust me from the darkness that my mother’s diagnosis put me in. The website cancerandmom.com has a video of me talking about what it’s like to have a parent with cancer – how cancer is a ruthless disease. People can help by simply visiting and sharing the website. There is also an Indiegogo link available on the website where people can find an in-depth description of our story, as well as updates on my mom and how she is handling treatment. Spreading knowledge and becoming an advocate for cancer and especially melanoma can save lives. I never want someone to experience what my mother is experiencing.
What has been your family’s biggest challenge since your mother’s diagnosis?
Besides the sheer cost of cancer, our biggest challenge has been a sense of being paralyzed. Initially, it was all I felt in every piece of my life. I couldn’t process emotions. I couldn’t do anything to change the diagnosis. I was in a very dark place and I was unable to get out of it. And I think that’s true for most of my family. We felt helpless and it was very much a “where can we go from here” moment. Luckily, through the help of many friends and family, as a family, we have been able to lift ourselves out of that paralysis and move forward. For me, it’s been the website. For my brother, it has been weekly lunches with my mom. For my dad who took it the hardest, it has been a process, but he has learned that this fight isn’t over. If Mom hasn’t given up, then neither will he.
What has been Melinda’s greatest source of strength? What has been yours?
Definitely community. The people who have rallied around her and my family has been, both, something we never expected and something we are immensely thankful for. The number of friends, family, and complete strangers who have given up their time and money to help my mother fight this disease is absolutely incredible. People have brought us meals, clothes, gas cards for the trips to Florida, blankets, and most importantly prayers. For me personally, I get a lot of my strength from my mom’s spirit throughout this entire process. She has never lost her spark, her willpower, or her poise in this battle. And that is just something that I’m in awe of. Even in the worst of days, my mother still holds on to her moxie.
For me personally, I get a lot of my strength from my mom’s spirit throughout this entire process. She has never lost her spark, her willpower, or her poise in this battle. And that is just something that I’m in awe of.
What would you most like people to know about your mother, Melinda?
My mother is not your average soccer mom. She is a superhero. She is a rock for our community. She has been a teacher and coach her entire life. She influences the lives of every student, teacher, and player she has ever had contact with and it has always been for the better. She gets things done and always goes above and beyond what she is called to do. I truly can’t put into words what all my mother has done for those around her. She has the biggest heart and everyone deserves to know that. She is a fighter and cancer picked a very tough opponent.
Is there an inspirational quote, song, or book that inspires your mom that you feel she may like to share?
“For they cried out to God in the battle and He answered their prayers because they trusted in Him.” Psalms 34:4
What advice would you give someone who thinks melanoma won’t happen to them or someone they love?
I thought the same thing. And I’m here to tell you, being blind is the hardest way to walk into a situation that will change your life. It makes everything a little tougher. Cancer does not discriminate. Cancer is not picky. Cancer doesn’t care if you’re beautiful, rich, famous, living a happy life, a mother, a father, a child. Cancer doesn’t care about any of that. Become aware of melanoma. Monitor you and your loved ones’ sun exposure. Use sunscreen. I wouldn’t wish this fight on my worst enemy. Take off the blinders and become aware.