Written by Natalie Richardson
This has been the most exciting few weeks I have had since I was diagnosed with metastatic melanoma. I feel an optimism unusual for my character since finding a potentially deadly mole on my hip in April 2014, when my world came crashing down with fear and worry. After surgeries and immunotherapy treatments, my body and my mind were left confused and full of dread.
I remember the exact moment I embarked on the path that would eventually lead me back into a productive life, with hope and determination as my new leads. Though I did not know it at the time, my discovery of Save Your Skin Foundation was a saving grace.
Depressed by internet searches about this disease, I relied solely on the word of my oncologists to guide decision-making in my care. Thankfully, I was fortunate to have an excellent medical team with a finger on the pulse of current treatments and clinical trials. My family and I did seek second – and third – opinions at Centres in Ontario, and I felt as secure as I could possibly be, choosing the course of my treatments with their guidance, via clinical trial.
By randomized-draw chance I received the treatment that I may always credit with saving my life, and I am grateful for that. But to this day I ponder what may have happened had I been on the other side of that trial draw. It bothers me, keeps that fear lingering. Not only fear for myself, but for others who may face the same risks that I have, and may not receive the same care. What if someday, my children were to face this diagnosis and did not have access to treatment?
In researching this question, I came upon a website with a warm first impression and a vastly informative set of links and options. I clicked and read and explored, not once feeling intimidated. I had to know more… the moment was right, and I had stumbled upon the right place: Save Your Skin Foundation.
I called the number, immediately reaching Kathy Barnard, melanoma Survivor, and Founder of this Foundation. Her distinctive voice put me at ease, and we talked about my situation and how fearful and alone I felt. She told me of her experiences with treatments, and I shared mine. She knew my medical oncologist as well as many others across the country, and she told me about new therapies on their way toward fighting melanoma skin cancer.
She determinedly said “You’re going to be okay.” And I believed her. I felt she might be right. She had run the gamut and come out the other side, and she understood what I was talking about.
My loving friends and family had been telling me that I would be all right, but when Kathy said it, it was different. My loved ones wanted it to be all right, but Kathy knew that there was actually a possibility that it WOULD be.
I have since learned that it is this determination and experience that has led Kathy and her family to build an educated team, in the form of a Foundation, to help others in this way. Many patients are touched by the support of this group; many lives are saved.
Emotionally and physically, Save Your Skin Foundation is there for any and every Canadian touched by skin cancer, whether it be a pre-cancerous lesion or a diagnosis of advanced metastasis. They share their experience, they research every medical detail, they work every day to help those in need of support in a skin cancer battle.
Since that day I first spoke with Kathy, I felt safe. I was comfortable looking around her website, watching the webinars and reading the notes carefully assembled. It remains a safe and reliable source of information about every stage of skin cancer.
Having gravitated to it for a year and a half, I have been dedicated to helping Save Your Skin save MY skin! And that of others. We network, collaborate, and identify with each other in a way that perhaps only those in our shoes can understand. It is a community of support available to those who need it.
It is at their invitation that I have had the inspiration to share my story so openly, encouraged in campaigns such as #NotJustSkinCancer and the Melanoma Through My Lens Reflection
Project. They have been a huge part of my rehabilitation, right down to the gentle reminders that I CAN still do the things I feared I had lost after diagnosis.
I feel great responsibility in being able to represent Save Your Skin in these kinds of projects, and at the same time I feel equal duty to represent fellow melanoma warriors, patients, families, and friends travelling their own skin cancer journey.
It’s the least I can do, in return for this gift of support and hope that I have been given. Thank you, Save Your Skin Foundation.