Michele Lynn Ray Caldwell
07/16/1971 — 07/11/2005
Michele was diagnosed in the spring of 2000. Her boyfriend found a mole on the small of her back that appeared suspicious. She made an appointment at the dermatologist and after waiting 6 weeks for an appointment, went and was told right away that he was going to send her to Johns Hopkins University Hospital as a referral. My mom called and told me as I was returning from a road trip to Florida. I had never heard of skin cancer, but the word cancer scared me to death.
Once at JH she was initially diagnosed with Stage 3A and after the surgery to remove the mole and surrounding lymph nodes, her diagnosis was immediately changed to Stage 3C. Michele went on one year of INF injections and radiation therapy while remaining a full time RN in an ICU. Michele had the opportunity to be involved in many trial studies at the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, MD but was quickly removed from trials as more blue spots appeared on her back, being told it was “melanoma coming to the surface.”
Michele married in November 2003.
After a few years of trials and many more removal of moles on her back (I called them battle scars) she began to endure extreme back pain and was diagnosed with a tumor on her spine. After removal of the tumor, ribs 8 and 9 on the left and vertebrae T9 and T10, she was now Stage 4.
She began treatment called IL-2, a vigorous treatment to take your body to almost death in an attempt to kill the cancer. She was only able to endure two different IL-2 treatments, which is typical, all while she was celebrating her last Christmas with her family on Earth.
In January she seemed to have a change in her behavior. An MRI revealed that she metastasized to her brain. Michele had Gamma Knife to remove the mets, it was successful. Now it was time for chemotherapy, which had not been previously available for Melanoma.
In the spring of 2005, Memorial Day weekend to be exact, she was at a wedding with her husband and noticed her legs becoming numb. She knew what it meant, her tumor had returned. She had yet another surgery to remove the tumor and after dealing with so much back pain while attempting to rehab the doctors could not understand why she was still in so much pain. Another MRI revealed that the tumor grew back, all within two weeks. The next month was spent with Michele losing the ability to walk, sensation in her legs, ability to go to the bathroom and her freedom. Michele was a very independent woman and nurse, knowing now that she had to be dependent on others all day, every day. During this time Michele developed tumors on her skull that presented as large bumps, noticeable through her hair.
Then, on Thursday, July 7th, just 9 days before her 34th birthday Michele had a change in mental status. She had been diagnosed two days before with pneumonia. Michele never regained consciousness. Our family transferred Michele to a Hospice Center (so very happy to have one in our area) . The next few days were spent talking to her, praying and reflection on her life’s journey. On Monday afternoon, just after 3pm Michele passed, entering her eternal life with God.
My prayer is that no one else has to endure the same pain my sister did and to find a cure for this devastating disease. Why is it our insurance will cover PAPP’s at the Gynecologists/family doctors office, but will not cover a yearly skin exam as suggested by the National Skincare Association? This is now my battle!