My name is Sue King and I’m 62 years old. Here’s my story:
At about the age of 35, my Irish/Scott heritage and the often severe sunburns I suffered as a child cautioned me to be vigilant about checking my skin for any hint of melanoma cancer. I armed myself with the accepted findings of early diagnosis – dark pigmented, irregularly shaped, spreading mole. So began my journey to outwit melanoma.
In 1986, I found a suspicious mole on my left shoulder blade and immediately had it removed. The pathology was normal. I was relieved and secure in the feeling that I was ready to be watchful for future melanoma lurking in dark, irregular, spreading moles. As the years progressed, I never let my guard down and continue to check my skin, never finding any more suspicious moles.
Then in 1999, at the age of 52, I noticed a perfectly round, grayish, mole about the size of a dime at the same spot where 13 years earlier I had that suspicious, pathology free mole removed. This slightly itchy, light colored mole looked innocuous compared to the disturbing photos of melanoma I had come to accept as warning signs. In contrast, this mole was not grotesquely dark pigmented, it was not irregular in form and it was not spreading. However, it was Stage III malignant melanoma with a Breslows thickness of greater than 4.0 mm and a Clark’s level of 4 or greater.
I was incredulous. How unfair! I was armed with the knowledge of what melanoma looked like, but it had tricked me. This deception, I would learn, is melanoma’s pattern.
I suddenly realized that my melanoma adversary was more cunning and slyer than I anticipated. In planning my fight with this enemy, I would need to avail myself of all current information regarding this disease and commit my energy to defeating it. Battling melanoma, it became apparent, would not be a single battle, but ongoing guerilla warfare.
And so my war began. On my side I counted Baylor University Medical Center, unending prayers of friends from around the globe, the support of my family, especially my husband Jim (who never took no from me or melanoma). On melanoma’s side, the ability to invade, resist treatment, lurk and ambush.
I never asked my doctors, “How long do I have?”.
I thought it unfair. Each life is different so they could not, with certainty, give me an answer. Besides, my research had made me painfully aware of my chances for long term survival, especially when Stage III melanoma turns into Stage IV. Once melanoma spreads, all bets are off
From 1999 to the present, I have engaged surgeries, interferon, radiation, a clinical trial investigating vaccine therapy, limited chemo, all measured by PET scans, CT scans, MRIs. Melanoma has laid dormant in me actually having staged me IV, not III, for 2 years. Its tumors have invaded my muscles and my spine, requiring emergency surgery to prevent it from paralyzing me. The treatments and surgeries had zapped my strength, left me hurting and scarred. At times, the fear and uncertainty have deprived me of hope The battle waged on and I was tiring of the onslaught. But, each day with medical caregivers to take care of me, prayers to support me, family and friends to cheer me, I managed to put one foot in front of the other. With the knowledge about melanoma I gleaned from the internet, cancer books and Lance Armstrong’s story, my own journey brought me to May 2005.
Having tried 2 rounds of a limited chemo regimen, my PET scan indicated that my tumors had resolved dramatically. “Dramatic improvement of multiple metastases, which have completely resolved”, the PET report read.
Unfortunately, melanoma returned. Both instances were subcutaneous and only required surgical removal. No treatment.
The next PET scan and the following three have indicated that there is no measurable disease to be found for the next year and a half.
In 2009, the PET indicated a recurrence in the dermis close to a lymph node which had been removed previously. The small tumor was removed with local anesthesia and required no therapy. My next PET will be July of 2010.
Despite the recurrences, this is a miracle for Stage IV. Those responsible have cared for me, prayed for me and loved me.
You see, my battle against this melanoma opponent was not fought alone nor my good news only mine. I will continue to be vigilant because I know the power of my enemy’s ability to ambush me. But, my strength is renewed and I’m encouraged by those around me who raise me up in their good thoughts and prayers.
I encourage all patients, caregivers, doctors and nurses never to give up. For me, it was darkest before the light. It can be that for others, too. Miracles can happen to all of us.
As for me, my journey to outwit melanoma continues, but, at this point, I’m ahead.
I’m Sue King and I’m a melanoma cancer warrior…………….. Sue