Amanda Martin (Hamilton): Melanoma Survivor
On July 21st, 2015, I got the phone call that will forever change my life. I was told I have melanoma, skin cancer. About two weeks prior, I had a nasty mole on my thigh removed and it was sent in to get biopsied. All I was able to do is cry at first. Why? Well, I was only 22 years-old. I just had a baby exactly two months before that. I never tanned, and I hated being out in the sun in general. Honestly the only thing I could ask myself was, am I [going to] die? I laid in my bed looking out into the living room at my sweet baby boy. I wiped away my tears and told myself, I got this. I will beat this. I have my son to raise.
Within the next couple weeks, I was meeting new doctors and learning so many new things, and it did get overwhelming at times. Since I did just have a baby, my stomach was still going down, and since I had a c-section, it took longer. I happened to notice a hard lump in my groin. I showed it to my doctors and they sent me to get it biopsied. It came back positive for melanoma. The cancer had spread to my lymph nodes. I was officially “staged” I guess you can say. I couldn’t believe that I had stage 3C metastatic melanoma. I couldn’t believe that I had cancer. I didn’t feel sick. I always thought you felt sick if you had cancer. There was so much I didn’t understand. All I know was that I just wanted it removed and I wanted to continue with my life.
Since it spread to my lymph nodes, my oncologist quickly got me set up for surgery. On August 27th, I went in for the big surgery. I had the rest of the melanoma tumor removed from my leg and 14 lymph nodes removed from my groin and thigh. I have three scars. Two 6-inch scars and one 12-inch scar. Once all my results came back, I came to learn that not only one lymph node tested positive, two did. I also learned that where they removed the rest of the tumor, the cancer was already seeding in a new place. Thankfully they got it cut out when they removed the original one. Recovery sucked. I had two live with two drainage tubes hanging out of my stomach for a couple weeks. They kept getting clogged and they were uncomfortable. Let’s just say I was one happy girl when they came out.
Of course, while all this was going on, we were having issues finding a treatment plan for me. My oncologist wanted me on a trial treatment. Of course, with all the cancer centers around me, these trials were not open or available. I had to be on something by the beginning of December, or I would have had to start regular chemotherapy, which they really did not want. Or, I would have had to move out of state. (I live in Pennsylvania, and I almost had to move to Texas). Literally, in the last few days, we got the best news ever. The one treatment they wanted me on opened at the cancer center I’d been going to! RIGHT IN TIME! I was so happy. So, I started my treatments on November 18th. The treatment is called Yervoy. It is an immunotherapy drug. My first four treatments were every three weeks. So, I had to go to the cancer center, get bloodwork, then sit for 90 minutes while I got my treatment through an IV. Thankfully no port! For the next three years, after the first four doses, I will go back every three months for a “maintenance” dose as they call it, just to be safe.
In January 2016, I started noticing some swelling in my leg and I did some physical therapy. I have slight lymphedema in my thigh. Thankfully it didn’t spread to my lower leg… Yet. So, therapy lasted a couple weeks and things went smoothly. On March 29th, 2016, I finally was able to hear that I am NED—which means there is NO EVIDENCE of DISEASE!! Greatest news ever! As months went by, I continued to do my treatments every three months and get regular scans. My oncologist likes to keep an extra close eye on me since I am high-risk which makes me feel good! Over time my lymphedema has gotten worse and spread down to my foot. So now I have to wear whole-leg compression stockings which can get annoying sometimes.
Now to January 2018… I continue to be NED. I have less than a year left of my treatments. My next one will be on Valentine’s Day. I still have to deal with the effects of lymphedema. I am just glad I am alive, beating this horrible disease and getting to raise my wonderful son. Now I will continue to get my treatments and protect my skin and continue to go for regular check-ups and just hope nothing EVER comes back. Even though this journey has only been a couple years, I will be on this ride for the rest of my life. This evil cancer can come back at any time. People tell me all the time, they don’t understand how I am so happy and so calm during all this. I just say that I have to be calm. I don’t have time to freak out. I am busy fighting. I am busy taking care of my son. I am busy living my life. Now I plan on living my life to the fullest. Of course, I will be smart and protect my skin while I do it.
P.S. They said me getting pregnant was the best thing that could have happened to me. My hormones helped push the melanoma outwards instead of spreading in my body. So technically my son saved my life, and he doesn’t even know it yet. He is my hero.