When Life Gives You Cancer: FAQ's

 Photo by Brandon Hill

Photo by Brandon Hill

First off, I want to say thank you once again for all the continued love and support since being diagnosed with cancer. I am overwhelmed (in a good way) by all the texts, emails, messages, kind words, donations, etc. It truly means more than you know and I couldn't be more grateful for the support. 

Since announcing my cancer diagnosis, I've been getting a lot of questions. I thought it would be easy to do a follow up and compile all the questions and their answers for those who are curious.

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How are you doing?

I'm great, thanks! How are you? ;)

How did this start / how did you figure out you had cancer?

I had a weird side pain, that felt kind of like a runners cramp, and it just wouldn't go away. After a couple weeks I went to urgent care and they sent me for a CT scan. The scan showed a small amount of fluid around my lung and tiny nodules. Thinking it was an infection, they put me on antibiotics and sent me on my way. A month later I had a follow up that showed increased fluid compressing my lung and larger nodules/tumors (the fluid was my body's way of attacking these foreign tumors). Long story short, after a month and a half of many procedures, tests, hospital visits, etc. they finally determined it was melanoma.  

What kind of cancer do you have?

Metastatic Melanoma in my lungs

Is is curable?

No. Since the melanoma has spread inside of my body, it cannot be removed. The origin of my melanoma is unknown, therefore we cannot 'kill it at the source' or do surgery to remove. Treating it will be comparable to dealing with an autoimmune disease (like diabetes). As of now, this is something I will be dealing with for the rest of my life. 

But I thought Melanoma was a skin cancer / what does metastatic mean?

Melanoma is a skin cancer, however it can spread throughout the body. Metastatic means the melanoma cells have spread through the lymph nodes to distant sites in the body and or/to the body's organs. Translation: I got melanoma somewhere and it ended up spreading throughout my body. I've had multiple skin checks and there is no visible melanoma - aka we will never know where it started or how I got it. Yes, I know how bizarre this is. And yes, it is mind blowing and doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

What stage cancer are you?

Stage 4.

... But you look and seem normal?

Thank you! Luckily my treatment does not have appearance altering side effects. The treatment I'm on thankfully allows me to continue living my normal life and go about my usual routine.

Speaking of treatment... What is your treatment / are you doing chemo or radiation?

No! I take pills daily and will continue to take them indefinitely. There are two different medications designed to take in combination to target the type of mutations I have (BRAF V600E). One pill is a BRAF inhibitor, the other a MEK inhibitor. Translation: the combo of these pills attacks my cancer cells so they can't continue to mutate and grow or further spread the cancer. These two drugs used together are the first drugs to be approved by the FDA for combination treatment of melanoma. 

Is it working?

Yes! I recently had my first check up since starting these meds, and I'm happy to report that the size of my tumors have shrunk and the melanoma isn't as present on my most recent chest scan.

What are the side effects? Have you had any / how do they make you feel?

The major side effects include: fever/chills, tiredness/weak feeling, rash, nausea/vomiting, and joint/muscle pain. I have experienced these side effects. Initially I was on a high dose of these meds and experienced all of the side effects at once and it was absolutely awful. Now I am on an altered dose and rarely experience side effects. Some days I feel great, others I feel absolutely awful. It honestly depends.

How are you doing emotionally?

That's a loaded question. Some days I'm great, others are really hard and my new reality will hit me like a bag of bricks. It was much harder when I was initially diagnosed. I think the hardest part is knowing I have something so serious going on inside my body, yet feeling great and 'normal' most days. It's hard to comprehend. I also think I'm partially in denial. It honestly doesn't feel real sometimes. But, I continue to stay positive every day. I take advantage of the good days, and lean on friends and family on the bad ones. 

Are you working full time?

Yes! I am back at work and teaching my regular schedule at Pure Barre. Both employers have been extremely supportive throughout this whole process and I couldn't be more grateful. 

Do you have the most amazing friends and family in the whole entire world?

YES! I have THE BEST support system in the entire world. Everyone has been so amazing and it makes this journey much easier. A huge thank you to each and every one of you. 

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Hopefully this helped answer some questions and clear things up. This is not an off-limits subject, so please feel free to send any other questions you may have my way. I will continue to share updates periodically. 

You can read my initial post here

Go Fund Me page here