Survivor Stories

Heather Connell, Stage IV

Date Diagnosed: 07/22/2017

Hi, I’ve been a member of the group for a couple of weeks now and felt it was time to share my story.

My name is Heather and on July 22, 2017, my life changed forever. I was diagnosed with stage III metastatic melanoma to the lymph nodes under my arms and I was 35 weeks pregnant with my 3rd baby. I have a 19 year old son, who is amazing, smart, funny, caring, trying to be my rock. I have a 17 year old daughter who is equally all of the same and my arms and legs when I need her to be. Then there’s my 8 month old baby boy I call my “Angel baby.” I had my tubes tied 17 years ago, no reversal and found out I was pregnant Christmas Eve 2016. Again with a diagnoses of melanoma at 35 weeks pregnant, they induced and he was here at 36 weeks. Fortunately, unscathed by this stupid cancer. I know in my heart he was given to me for that very reason, to save my life, and I couldn’t be more grateful! These three human beings are what gets me out of bed, motivated, determined, and pissed off to fight like hell to beat this disease.

I started receiving the oral form of Tafinlar/Mekinist treatment in Auguat 2017 and surprisingly responded extremely well to the combo. Within 4 days of starting the treatment, we noticed the tumor on my back shrink by 25%. Oh, main location of melanoma was a mole I had my entire life, in the center of my upper back, went from pea sized, flat, black to the size of a golf ball which protruded out about 2″, the other half was under the skin. I also had a tumor under my right arm about the same size, a little bigger. The surgeon estimated, at minimum, a 6″×6″ area of removal all the way down to the spine before I started the Taf/Mek combo. We decided to see what the treatment did before surgery.

Now here’s where it gets messed up. Thanks to the wonderful industry known as healthcare, incompetent employees and lack of taking responsibility, my insurance lapsed for two months, in which everything came to a screeching halt. No doctor visits, no meds being delivered or consumed. After 2 months of phone calls, pleading, someone finally realizing some poor soul had dropped the ball and really messed up, my insurance was back in effect. I made an appt with my oncologist right away, excited actually because there was regression, like it was staying gone. My visit went well, had a PET scan and met with the surgeon again to schedule that surgery, which was now down to a 2″×2″ are of removal, heck yeah and the same small node under my right arm. Or so I thought! The oncologist called the same night and postponed the surgery as he wanted to get a MRI and CT scan first. No biggie, just thought he wanted to be certain it was really that small. Well, I didn’t make it. That was a Tuesday and I was in the ER by Saturday. I started losing my hearing on the left side as well as the “pins and needles” from hip to toes on the left side as well. I was sleeping 20 hours, did I mention I have a 8 month old? So at the ER they ran another CT scan and I get the worst case scenario, the cancer had metastasized to my brain and liver. Hence the hearing loss and sensations or lack there of.

To date they have found 11 mets on my brain, with the biggest being in the ponds section. They put a number on it, one year to one and a half years. Again, hello, BABY!!??? To say I was mad as hell was an understatement. This was unacceptable, caught completely off guard! This wasn’t happening to me, no way, not possible, it was just skin cancer. Back to the drawing board we go. New treatment options with my oncologist were discussed and started. Intravenous Opdivo/Yervoy immunotherapy. Ok, let’s do this, had my port out in and started my first treatment February 2107 of this year. Now I am still very optimistic and positive that this is going to, at the very least, prolong my life by years and I will manage and maintain and be around long enough to raise my baby. My goal is, I’m not leaving this earth until that little boy is grown and gives me grandchildren!

Well let me just tell you how cruel life can be sometimes, hahaha, I have to laugh! My second treatment was scheduled for February 28…… I was in the ER the morning of the 27th. Due to the Yervoy, I had a severe gastrointestinal perforation with sepsis and peritonitis. I woke up Tuesday afternoon, again with my life having done another 180°. I now have 30+ staples running through the center of my abdomen, belly button and nether region and the best part, I have an ostomy bag. I just turned 40 years old at the beginning of January, oh and I have an 8 month old son.

So my treatments have stopped once again, now that I have this surgery to recover from, which will be another 3 – 4 weeks. So for every step I seem to move forward, something comes along and knocks me back 2-3 more. Well, quite frankly, I’ve had enough of this stupid cancer! It is not going to defeat me, I am not going to give it what it wants. I will not go easy or gently! I am fighting, kicking, screaming, and cussing the whole way! On a positive note, the mets on my liver have disappeared, liver is NED, woohoo! Gotta start somewhere!

So to all the “Melahomies”, keep fighting and never back down! Sorry it was such a long post, but it’s the first time I have put my story out here. Thanks for reading and I actually gained a little relief putting it all on the table. I normally don’t talk about it as I tend to get very upset. All of this has happened in the past 8 months, such an insignificant amount of time and I will never be the woman I once was, I am forever changed.