Survivor Stories

Laura Acuna, Stage III

Diagnosed 12/24/2016

Almost two years after my husband and I moved to the U.S, I received the most difficult news that I could imagine at that moment in my life, a diagnosis with melanoma. At that time I was 27 years old, just married, starting a new chapter in our lives, in a new country with a lot of expectations ahead in my mind except for a cancer diagnosis. The first thing I learned was that cancer usually doesn’t knock on the door.

Everything started 5 years prior to the diagnosis, when I discover an atypical mole on my chest, it was removed, and told that was a Spitz Nevo (benign). Many years later I felt a mass on my neck that was growing, I had an ultrasound and supposedly it was just a cyst that the Doctor didn’t recommend to be removed, at that moment no one connected the dots with my previous mole.

I stayed with the mass and a year later I felt that it was growing and changing a little bit, one day it started to hurt me, so I decided to visit the oncologist again to check it out. They decided to remove the mass and send it to the pathologist.

The morning of Christmas Eve I received the worst news that I expected in my life, I had malignant melanoma. I remember thinking “this will be my last Christmas”, but time later I understood that that day was only the beginning of my journey with melanoma.

Days later, I had my first pet scan done, and it didn’t show any visible cancer in my body, then my doctor decided to do a neck lymph node dissection to check if there were any remained cancer cells. They removed 14 lymph nodes from my neck and all of them were clear of cancer. I remember that day as if it was today, for sure, that was a good day for me and for my whole family.

My doctor and I decided to start a preventive treatment to avoid recurrence with immunotherapy because I had melanoma Stage III and I was too young. Ipilimumab was the drug that I received after I recovered from surgery. I took fiour doses of the treatment but I had to stop it because it started causing side effects on my liver. I had to take steroids for some time but now my liver is fine. Since then and thank god, I am 3+ years NED right now.

Living with melanoma in another country, in another language was a challenge too but also I saw it as a gift because there is more information and community talking about this matter. That is why I am trying to give back, creating some tools to endure melanoma in countries with Spanish speaking patients who don’t have enough information to understand and prevent this type of cancer.

With this disease, I learned that melanoma is a tough illness that is easier to manage with your family and friends by your side. Melanoma also taught me tons of stuff, like how to be resilient and mentally strong, to live in the present, that hope is key in those difficult moments and most importantly, I learned that even in dark moments in life there are moments of light and joy too. I also discovered that melanoma goes with you everywhere and every day, in some cases maybe not physically, but mentally for sure.

My advice for those new melanoma patients is to find a support group during those difficult times, try to be positive most of the time, and don’t lose faith and hope because that’s the best tool to face and endure this journey. Also, journaling is one of the most effective ways to heal mentally.