Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Stage 4 Melanoma Survivors

I was reading one of my fellow melanoma friend's blog the other day and I got to thinking that it's time to write another post about Stage 4 melanoma survivors that I know.  I think anyone that has gone through this disease can understand and relate to the following.
When I was in the middle of trying to figure out what treatment plan I would do when my cancer returned as Stage 4, I remember desperately seeking for anyone out in the "melanoma world" that was still alive.  It's hard to hold onto hope when everything you read, the statistics and stories, are dismal!  It diminishes your hope of finding any long-term plans and creates so much unnecessary fear in our head.
Luckily for me, I stumbled across some survivors.  Let me say this first though, almost ALL of them do NOT have blogs.  You don't read about on them on any on-line forum either because why?  They are doing well and living their lives!  They are doing their best to live normal lives, just like we all were before our diagnosis.
When I came to this conclusion, I stopped reading on-line forums.  They just didn't give me hope that I needed.  Most of the people are those are in the trenches, desperately looking for guidance on treatments, or seeking for hope in a dreary diagnosis and prognosis.  I couldn't read them anymore.  It just wasn't helping my spirits AT ALL.
Let me just say this--I don't believe in coincidences.  I believe the people we meet are put in our path for a reason.  And in my case, the survivors that I met were merely answers to my prayers.  I needed HOPE, and hope is exactly what I got when I talked to these survivors, met them, heard their stories.  It gave me everything I needed to know that one, I am not alone and two, that I can do this.
A couple of years ago, I wrote a post about other advanced melanoma survivors, both Stage 3 and 4.   Some of those people I didn't know personally, but some I did.  Some have passed away since then, but a lot of them are still around.  That particular blog post was and is still my most popular and read post of all time.  When I look at my statistics--who is reading my blog, what key word searches people are looking under, I noticed one thing.  A lot of people are searching for survivors.  They are seeking for hope.  They NEED to know that there people out there doing well and living past their "prognosis".
I want to share again a few of these stories, as to give hope to others out there who might be struggling to find that hope or will to live and move forward.
The very first person who comes to mind is my dear friend, Tina Rosenthal.  She is not much older than me and was diagnosed with Stage 4 about 7 years ago.  She has been in remission for 6 years and is healthier than ever.  Tina will always remain to be one of the most influential people for me in giving me hope when I was in the midst of treatments and such.  I am so lucky to call her friend.
The next is Sue Lescure.  Sue had ocular melanoma, but Stage 4 as well.  She has gone through a lot, but almost 7 years later, is still in remission.  In fact, her and Tina were in the hospital together enduring the same treatment!  She is also a dear friend of mine now, and such a positive, bright, supportive spirit.  I adore her.
There's Erick Davis, who I think has been in remission from Stage 4 for almost 12 years now?!  His melanoma was even in his liver, and yet, he has been clear for that long now.  He is super healthy and active, and competes in swimming events still.  Such an inspiring story.
Kari W orth is another 12 year + survivor.  Her struggle is different than the last three though because her melanoma has returned off and on over the years.  BUT Kari is still alive today and currently in remission.  Talk about a strong lady, Kari is everything you think of when you hear the words, "never give up."  She has never given up.  EVER.
I also know a wonderful lady, named Carol Shelton.  Carol is quite a bit older than me, was diagnosed with Stage 4 over 10 years ago and was told she had MONTHS to live.  Her cancer was so advanced that the doctors didn't think that any treatment would do the trick.  Carol's daughter couldn't take that answer, and so she sought out experimental clinical trials as her mother's best chance to surviving.  Well, that clinical trial worked (she was on one of the first Ipi trials) and Carol has been in remission ever since.  That was over 10 years ago!
Then there's Lisa Formato who is still around, despite her ups and downs with the disease.  Lisa has chosen to fight her melanoma with a more holistic approach and has done extremely well with her approaches.  Lisa probably wouldn't even have survived a year if she didn't take drastic measures, but yet, Lisa is still alive, a few years later, still fighting and winning the fight.  Another inspiration.
I also know a couple of people on Facebook that have amazing stories.  One is Mark Williams, who has been in remission with his Stage 4 melanoma for over 6 years now.  He is a great example of someone who fully embraces his second chance at life and lives his life everyday like its his last.
Bob Hefferman and Jimmy Breitfeller are other Stage 4 warriors and survivors.  Bob is another Facebook friend and did TIL treatment at NIH and has been doing well for over 4 years now.  Jimmy did a series of different treatments to fight his melanoma and is convinced that his sequence of treatments "cured" his disease.  He is, to my knowledge, still in remission about 8 or so years later.
 And these stories are just a few!  I just hope that by sharing them, that someone out there that is struggling to keep hopeful will know that there are LOTS of us out there.  Never give up.  It isn't an option.  You just have to put one foot in front of the other and keep going!

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