Thanks to the emergence of trial drugs and more well-informed communities, patients can survive aggressive Melanoma.
Recently we spoke to Mike Allan and Shannon Gaudette, two Melanoma survivors whom Save Your Skin has helped throughout their journey and kept in touch with.
Mike, a 57 year old from Prince George, BC, worked in the finance department of a car dealership before he was diagnosed with Malignant Melanoma in 2007. Between then and his discovery of Save Your Skin, he had undergone four surgeries, his cancer had moved to his groin, and had been told he only had a year left to live. In 2009, his sister found an article about Save Your Skin in a Vancouver newspaper. After looking up the Foundation, Mike called Kathy, who got him in contact with Dr. Michael Smylie in Edmonton. Instead of Doctors telling him they didn’t know what to do about his Melanoma, Mike now had a doctor who believed could help him. In October 2009, Mike was put on the Yervoy trial in Edmonton, driving seven hours each way, regardless of weather, on what Mike labelled a “highway to hell” in between Prince George and Edmonton every three months. In 2010, Mike’s cancer progressed to Stage 4B Metastatic Melanoma with a development of a tumor in his chest that pressed against his esophagus and heart, and was later put on the Darafinib trial in Edmonton. He and his wife were now making the trip back and forth every three weeks, the cost of which in gas and accommodations was becoming too much. “That is when Kathy really stepped up to the plate,” Mike told me. After Kathy emailed Mike asking if he needed help, Save Your Skin began helping with Mike’s travel costs, including a few flights to Edmonton. As Mike was on disability during treatment, he told me that the monetary assistance he received “really smoothed out a messy situation.” “From that point on, Save Your Skin was constantly in our lives.” Mike told me, “And making all this happen. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Kathy, because we couldn’t have afforded it.”
Mike is now finished treatments and “working his way back into life again”, and he and Kathy still continue to talk frequently and he’s met her several times. In November 2014, Mike came to Vancouver to attend the Save Your Skin survivors meeting, an event hosted by the foundation to connect Melanoma survivors. Mike cites this personal attention to the people she helps as one of the reasons Kathy is such a fantastic resources for those dealing with Melanoma. “She took a personal approach to it,” he said of Kathy, “and it really made a difference. She is concerned.”
Shannon, a 43 year old from Abbotsford who worked as a Youth Outreach Case Manager in Vancouver’s Downtown East Side before being diagnosed with melanoma, has also looked to Kathy’s personal experience with melanoma during her own battle. “She validates what you’re feeling,” Shannon told me, “I don’t think I would be doing as well as I am, mentally and physically, if it wasn’t for Save Your Skin.” Shannon, who has had nine surgeries from melanoma, was diagnosed in 2005. Her cancer advanced to Stage 3 in the lymph nodes of her arm in 2010, and by 2011 had progressed to Stage 4 and spread to her brain, liver, lungs, and intestines. Shannon also became pregnant in 2010, and had brain surgery during her pregnancy. After her daughter was born, Shannon was given full brain radiation and then, like Mike, was put on Yervoy. By this time, the treatment was available in North Vancouver. Just after her diagnosis in 2005, Shannon heard about Save Your Skin through Robin, one of Kathy’s nephews who happens to be a good friend of Shannon’s husband. In 2010, once her cancer had progressed to Stage 3, Shannon emailed Kathy for the first time. “I wanted all the information I could get,” Shannon told me. “Any support groups, right away. I just wanted to inform and educate myself and be around her as much as I could. I was terrified.”
Like Mike, Shannon still stays in contact with Kathy. Kathy visits Shannon regularly, and Shannon describes Kathy as a “surrogate grandmother” to her daughter, Maddy. When we asked Shannon what she thought Save Your Skin had helped her the most with, she told me: “Support, which is so invaluable. To make you feel like you’re not alone.” Shannon passes this invaluable resource along, remaining a member on the Save Your Skin board, attending fundraisers and symposiums, and helping with patient support. When her daughter’s pre-school, offered to make a donation in support of Shannon’s family after her most recent surgery, she asked them to donate it to the foundation. “Save Your Skin is really the reason that we’re still here,” Shannon told me.
This sentiment is something Shannon and Mike agree on, even with having completely different battles with Melanoma and having received help in different ways. Their stories are inspirational on their own, and they are two examples of the kind of people Save Your Skin strives to help: regular people, who find themselves in a “messy situation”.
Written by Taylor