Stacy Wagner, Stage IV
I’m a forty-eight-year-old, very active, deaf woman, who has overcome many challenges in my lifetime. I was first diagnosed with Melanoma back in August of 2005. I seem to remember always having a mole on my right buttock and never thought anything of it. As the years passed I noticed it started to turn red, then it began to itch, and then it began to bleed. The mole kept getting bigger and then turned black. At my mother’s insistence, I went to a dermatologist who shaved a portion of the mole off and sent it to be biopsied. The results came back conclusive for Stage III Malignant Melanoma.
The dermatologist referred me to a melanoma specialist who scheduled me for surgery and removed the mole, some lymph nodes, and a large Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC) on my left thigh. Following the surgery, I was on Interferon Alfa for eleven months. I returned to work after three months. Over the next five years, I went to three different doctors (Oncologist, Melanoma Specialists, & Dermatologists) for check-ups. Initially, my appointments were every week, then bi-weekly, and then monthly, next every three months, eventually every six months. I never missed an appointment at this time. My health was good.
In October of 2015, my back started hurting while I was at the State Fair of Texas. The next day I went to an Urgent Care where a doctor told me it must be a muscle spasm. Shortly thereafter I noticed some bruising and a few bumps on my arm, around my breasts, and my underarms. I thought it might be from the laser hair removal for my underarms. I emailed my dermatologist and asked if these lumps and bruises could be a side effect from the treatments. She said no and that she wanted to see me right away. I went to the dermatologist and showed her the bruises and the lumps on my body. She asked a colleague to examine me as well. He removed a lump from my upper stomach and sent it to be biopsied.
Two weeks passed and the pain in my lower back increased and began shooting down my right leg and I started limping. I went back to Urgent Care and the doctor thought I had Sciatica. A coworker suggested I go to a chiropractor. On my initial visit he took an x-ray and said that my hip was out of alignment and he could fix it. The adjustment helped a little but the pain kept coming back. Meanwhile, more and more lumps were appearing on my upper body.
When I went back to the dermatologist to have my stitches removed I asked if the results from my biopsy were back. He said the results were in and they indicated that I had Melanoma. He felt that additional tests of the mass were needed. I did not want to believe him. How could the Melanoma have returned? I did everything I was supposed to do.
Almost four weeks passed and still no word from the dermatologist. More lumps were showing up and growing into the size of marbles that were now covering my upper body. I was freaking out about the lumps. I decided to email my cancer clinic and asked if I could see my doctor right away. They squeezed me in. He looked at my body and asked me if any of the lumps had been biopsied. I told him the dermatologist had performed a biopsy but I had not heard back from him. He called the dermatologist just as the results arrived. After hanging up he turned and told me that I had Stage 4 Metastatic Melanoma.
I believe that I was in the right place at the right time. My doctor immediately scheduled a brain MRI and CT Scan followed by a procedure to remove three masses for further testing. The results from the CT scan and MRI revealed the cancer had spread all over my body with the exception of my brain. I stopped going to the chiropractor. In November of 2015, I began the first of fourteen radiation treatments for my lower back and my right hip and my first treatment with the immunological drug Keytruda. After four treatments the lumps on my body started shrinking but more of them kept appearing.
In February of 2016, my oncologist decided to add two new targeted therapy drugs Tafilar and Mekinist to take in combination with the Keytruda. A few days later, the lumps started shrinking and began to disappear. I was thrilled! I could not wait to show my oncologist. At my next appointment, he was so surprised and expressed how happy he was that the drugs appeared to be working.
About two weeks later I began having bad side effects. I was hallucinating, talking to myself, and confused. Both of my legs were red and swollen. I was sent to ER from the Cancer Center. On my fourth day in the hospital I went into sudden cardiac arrest two different times and they brought me back to life. I stayed in the hospital for two more weeks. It was a miracle that I was alive. During my hospital stay a few new lumps began to appear on my neck so my oncologist put me back on the two targeted therapy drugs. I lost a lot of weight and I could not walk with my right leg while I was in the hospital. I was sent to a rehabilitation facility for another two weeks to gain strength and mobility, to gain weight, and to eat more. I left the hospital in a defibrillator LifeVest that I had to wear 24/7 to prevent another sudden cardiac arrest. The vest was very tight and the battery pack was heavy. I arrived at the rehabilitation facility in a wheelchair and then moved on to a walker. It had been a month since I initially went to the ER but I finally left that rehab using a walking cane headed to my home sweet home.
To get me out of the LifeVest I was wearing 24/7 I needed an Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD) put in my chest above my heart but I could not have this done until I was strong enough. On April 21st I had that surgical procedure. My quality of life was improving. A few days later the results from my CT Scan were in. My oncologist told me the wonderful news that most of the tumors throughout my body were gone, even the one on my liver and the ones remaining in my pelvis area were shrinking. The two target therapy drugs were working!!
Six months have passed since my first radiation treatment. Today I can walk without a cane. I am seeing a physical therapist to regain full use of my right leg and foot with the damaged nerves. On May 7th I walked one mile of the AIM for the Cure Melanoma Walk in Dallas, TX. It was an incredible feeling to be with my friends and to walk in solidarity with those living with Melanoma, those who have survived it, and in honor of those who had not. On May 8th I celebrated my 48th birthday. That same day was Mother’s Day. I drove my car for the first time in months to see my mom and we celebrated together.
I want to say a huge thank you to my doctors, the nurses, my work colleagues, my friends, ASL interpreters, and my family. There are no words to express my deep love and gratitude for my rock, my loving partner of fifteen years, Laura. Thank you to my dear mom, I could not have gotten through this without your help. And to my brother who flew in from California to stay by my side for two weeks. I love you very much, Mom and Corey….and I love my sweet, furry dog, Mocha.
I am still fighting Melanoma. Let’s fight together! Keep praying, keep smiling, keep raising awareness, keep sharing our stories, keep giving thanks, and keep believing in a cure.