Thursday, February 28, 2013

Jennifer Moeckel

I met Jennifer on Facebook a couple of years ago when I was first Stage 3.  Her story is incredible and I love her attitude!  I also love how she is embracing life and living it to the fullest.  Sometimes that's what cancer does to someone--it makes you live each day like it's your last!
“Rising above the odds”

“Jennifer, you have melanoma.” These four words changed my life forever.  I was your typical 26 year old young woman.  I had a good job, great family, wonderful friends, a loving boyfriend, and I was enjoying life in sunny San Diego.  Before cancer, my biggest concerns were getting to work on time, paying rent (instead of buying that dress I had been eyeing), and figuring out where to meet up with friends on Saturday night.  Never did it cross my mind that I might be diagnosed with cancer at such a young age.  Cancer isn’t supposed to happen until you are older, right?  I was the poster girl for living a healthy and active lifestyle.  I ate the right foods, I exercised daily…I mean, how could someone like me who ran every day on the beach get melanoma?  And then it hit me.  My history of sun exposure.

I have spent a great deal of my life in the sun.  At age six I began my career as a competitive swimmer, spending up to 5 hours a day in the sun – 6 days a week.  Throw in years of soccer and water polo on top of that, and there truly wasn’t a day where I wasn’t in the sun.  After high school I continued my swimming career at UCSB, and even nabbed my dream job, lifeguarding on the beautiful Santa Barbara beaches every summer. Because I have olive skin and never burned, I assumed that I was “safe” from skin cancer.  This feeling of invincibility continued after college as I hit the tanning booth every once in a while to keep the “healthy” appearance I had always loved as an athlete.  I look back now and see the irony of my faulty logic.  Maintaining that “healthy” look would actually be what would make me sick. 

Before I found out that I had melanoma cancer I had seen three different doctors about a light pink, almost flesh toned, perfectly round and perfectly symmetrical spot on my left foot.  The 1-2 mm growth had risen from nothing over the past couple of months and it seemed to be growing still.  When I went to see the doctors it was dismissed time and time again.  The three misdiagnoses occurred over a four month period, each time with me anxiously implying that I wanted it gone.  The final doctor agreed to remove the growth for “cosmetic reasons.”  Although my insurance would not cover the procedure, I went in 2 weeks later to have it removed.  A week later my doctor called me with the news.  I had stage 2 melanoma and I would need to make an appointment with an Oncologist.  He also mentioned that I may need surgery to get clear margins around the growth and to determine whether the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes.  In addition, I would need a PET/CT scans to search for signs of metastases in my internal organs.  I was in complete and utter shock.  In one week, I went from feeling like a vain, superficial person, digging into my savings for “cosmetic reasons” to feeling disappointed in myself for not trusting my own instincts.

After another surgery, this time a sentinel node biopsy, I was told by the surgeon that I was “one of the lucky ones!”  He reported that they had not found any cancer in the sentinel node and that everything was clear.  This was the best news I could have hoped for.  We had caught it before it spread!  Unfortunately that feeling of euphoria was short lived.  My world was once again turned upside down a short time later.  Upon further tests, they had found isolated tumor cells – bumping me up from Stage 2 to Stage 3A.  Needless to say this was NOT the promotion I was hoping for.  I would need to undergo another operation, this time to remove even more lymph nodes.  Post surgery, I would then need to begin Interferon treatment, the only FDA approved treatment for Stage 3 Melanoma.  Interferon would consist of 1 month IV injections administered daily in the local hospital plus 11 months of lower dose self injections. 

After completing a year of Interferon and feeling like I had the never-ending flu (which was no picnic), I am excited to no longer be bed ridden.  Though I am extremely grateful for the treatment I underwent, I, like all melanoma patients, was excited to get my life back and get back to doing the things that I love.  Most of all, I wanted to stop thinking about lingering malignancies with every minor headache. Although they have found no additional cancer in my lymph nodes, I will never, ever be in the clear.  There is a 60% chance my Melanoma will come back.  Since there is no cure for melanoma and because we lack effective treatment to prevent reoccurrence, the disease will most likely rear its ugly head, and once again I will have to put on my gloves and enter the ring.  I just hope and pray that I can keep the beast at bay for as long as possible.  I have big plans for my future and I fully intend to carry them out!

Before cancer I had always wanted to be a nurse and to help others, but the medical field intimidated me, and to be quite honest, the blood and needles made me a bit queasy.  Now, after 3 surgeries, a month of IV interferon, 3x weekly self injections, and countless PET/CT and skin exams, I finally have the confidence to make that leap into medicine.  Now that I know what it feels like to be the human pincushion, I plan to share that love with others.  I believe that my experiences have not only made me a stronger person, but they have enabled me to be more empathetic and understanding of those in similar situations.  I can only hope that the research that has led me to this point of the fight can serve to eradicate this sneaky predator.

Written by:  Jennifer Moeckel, Stage 3 Melanoma survivor, California

Monday, February 25, 2013


I love this because it's so true.  You can't appreciate the good things in life, or rainbows, without weathering the bad, or rain! 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

2 1/2 years

I am so pleased and grateful to report that I have made it to my 2.5 year mark in remission!  What a big milestone for me.  I recently had scans and treatment, and although I am always very nervous and anxious, deep down I felt the results would be good.  And they were!
Until I hit 3 years, I will continue to have scans every 3 months, but when I hit the 3 year mark, I will go every 6 months! What a relief.  I have to say that as much as I dread the scan time, it's always a reminder to me of where I came from and how far I have come.  I appreciate those humbling reminders because I need to ALWAYS remember the journey I have been on and the lessons I have learned.
For example, when I look at this picture of me in the hospital 2.5 years ago, I remember so many things.  I remember how sick and wiped out I felt, the fevers and chills I would get, the nausea, the itching, the 2 hour constant vital checks that would always wake me up, and so much more.  But I also remember the excellent care I was in.  The amazing nurses who always cared and took such great care of me, my doctor who checked on me each morning, and of course, my parents always there by my side supporting me and giving me the things I needed (like food from outside the hospital!).  I also remember thinking that as awful as those experiences in the hospital were, it was worth it because the treatments were working and that was all I needed to hear to keep going...

And now here I am, 2.5 years later, healthy and in remission.  I wasn't sure I would see that day, but I made it and I'm so eternally grateful to my Heavenly Father for working his miracles on me.  Faith and prayers work!  I know I wouldn't be here solely on my own faith and prayers.  It's the faith and prayers exercised on my behalf from my family members and so many friends that have kept me here.  That, I have no doubt.  Faith is a beautiful thing and God is good!

(Me today, celebrating good scan results and continued remission!)

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Kristina Rabb

Here's another inspiring story from a Stage 3 melanoma warrior and survivor, and friend of mine!  She truly inspires all who know her with her healthy eating and lifestyle to keep her cancer at bay!  Way to go Kristina!

“Something to Live For”


My journey with melanoma began in April 2012.  I actually found out over the phone by my primary care physician after having a mole removed on my right upper back.  At that point they thought the melanoma was caught in the early stages, but after several surgeries they found microscopic melanoma cells in one lymph node.  After several scans, I was diagnosed with Stage 3a Melanoma.

The hardest part of this journey for me was that I was diagnosed with melanoma when my son was only 3 months old.  When my son was learning to crawl, I went through a month of interferon.  After that month on interferon, I was done.  That is when I began researching alternative methods to fighting cancer, and this is the path I am currently on.

Dealing with cancer brings a lot of struggles, like worrying about not being there for my son and husband.  This struggle has forced me to really value each day as a gift and to do my best to enjoy it, especially since I will never know what the future holds.

I'm so grateful to be alive and to be a survivor. Mostly though, I thank God, who through my struggles with cancer has brought me closer to Him.

Written by: Kristina Rabb, Stage 3 Melanoma survivor, California

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Don't Stop Believin'!

I love to share stories of melanoma survivors on my blog because it's my way of bringing hope to the other melanoma warriors out there, amidst their fight.  I connect with so many fellow survivors, mostly on Facebook, and the story below written by Mark Williams, is just further proof that there are other "melanoma miracles" out there! 

Don't Stop Believin'!
In Sept. of 07, I was feeling great and enjoying life to the fullest.  I had just sent my oldest daughter off to Europe for a term of school in France.  One morning, I looked in the mirror and thought, “Well, that’s strange.  It looks like a lump!”  It wasn’t a mole or a rash and it wasn’t discolored.  It was just a lump that appeared out of nowhere.  Fortunately, I didn’t waste time and quickly went to my GP who then sent me for a CAT scan within a week.  The day after the scan, my doctor called to tell me that they would need to biopsy the lump ASAP.  The following week, and 5 days after the biopsy, I went back for the results and didn’t anticipate what I would hear.  The results were DEVASTATING, to say the least.  I was told that I had Stage 4 Metastatic Melanoma.

The doctor was sure that the cancer had spread, as he had detected a tumor on my lung in the scan report.  He then told me that NO ONE lives more than a year or two because melanoma is very aggressive and ruthless.  I was frightened beyond belief.  It was then that I met with my first oncologist who ordered a PET scan.  I foolishly told him to call me Monday with the results, which was my 50th birthday.  He did and then told me that he had some  VERY bad news.  I now had 14 tumors!  Nine in my lungs, one LARGE one on my esophagus and 4 more in my chest cavity.  I couldn’t believe it!

The oncologist then told me that he couldn't do anything for me.  Fortunately, he referred me to a GREAT melanoma specialist, Dr. Curti, that was practically in our own backyard in Portland, OR.  Upon receiving the specialists contact information, I immediately called his office to schedule an appointment, to which they told me that was all booked for two months!  I then told them that I wasn’t sure I even have two months and sent my info over, pleading them to do their best to schedule me in as soon as possible.  The very next day, they called me to inform me that Dr. Curti would come in on his day OFF to see me.  I was so relieved and happy.  During our appointment, he explained that he wanted to do the therapy or treatment called High Dose IL-2.  IL-2 works by revving up your OWN immune system by putting your T-cells in hyper drive to hopefully attract the melanoma cells and kill them.  It took all of 10 seconds to say that I was in.

From there, I passed all the stress tests and was slated to start treatment on November 5th, 2007. Now we had to call my daughter in France and tell her what was going on.  Luckily, my wife did a great job convincing her to stay and that we would communicate via Skype.  On Nov 5th, I started my IL-2 therapy.  It was a super tough therapy.  What helped though was that I had been exercising for the previous 10 years, so I felt healthy going into treatment.  The first week, I was able to take 8 doses and probably would have taken more, but I hallucinated after that 8th dose, ripped the port out of my neck and tried to walk out. (Not a good thing and I DON'T recommend this.)  I then returned 2 weeks later & completed my second week to finish what they call the first cycle.  The second week, I was able to take 10 doses.  On New Years Eve, my doctor came in to read me my scan results.  Miraculously, most of my tumors had SHRUNK over 50% and there were no new tumors!!!!  This was exactly the news that we had hoped and prayed for.

Having success with IL-2, meant that I qualified for another cycle in 2 weeks.  At this point, I was ready because I was on a mission to kill the "Beast"!  I completed the second 2 weeks and even re-carpeted my house, all while waiting to see if the drug was working.  It was!!  I went back in for the final cycle of 2 weeks, but wasn’t able to do as many doses this time because you start to build up toxicity.  Upon completion of IL-2 therapy, I had 6 months of clean scans.  In Dec of 2008, I had a ‘hot spot’ show up in my chest, but Dr. Curti assured me it was just a bump in the road.  I then had 50 lymph nodes removed (for clean margins) and one node had melanoma cells in it, while the rest were clear.  I then did 25 rounds of radiation as a precaution.

It has now been 4 full years since surgery and in remission!  It was over 5 years ago that I was told that I only had a year to live.  I am fortunate to have been able to see my son grow from boy to man and witness my daughter graduate from high school and college.   I was even there to witness the birth of my first grandchild, Cashton, who is my best little buddy.

There are three things I never forget that I learned throughout my experience with cancer:
1. Every day is a gift.
2. Go one day at a time

Written by:  Mark Williams, Stage 4 Melanoma survivor, Oregon

Friday, February 1, 2013


I love this!  I have always lived by the motto, "No scars, no proof!", but I'm not talking about the physical kind anymore.  I think back to some of our greatest heroes and ALL of them have lived a life with much trial and tribulation.  And it's true, what doesn't break us, makes us stronger.
So grateful for that perspective in life now.  I'm grateful for the trials in my life that have shaped my character.