All Karine wants for Christmas is a cure for melanoma
When Karine was just 34, she was diagnosed with melanoma and faced the terrifying prospect she might die within a year.
Karine first came to Australia from France as a backpacker in 2010, seeking a fresh start. She used the money earnt picking fruit to travel and enjoy time at our best beaches.
Five years later, she had met and married her soul mate Justin, had her first child Jack, and was thoroughly enjoying life.
Then, when Karine was 22 weeks pregnant, she noticed a pea-sized lump in her armpit.
Within eight weeks it grew to the size of a golf-ball – and became so painful she couldn’t sleep.Karine went to have it checked and after an appointment with her GP and obstetrician, had a biopsy. It revealed a 5cm melanoma.
From that moment on, things began to move very quickly.
She was advised to deliver her baby immediately so she could commence treatment, as her life was in danger.
At 36 weeks’ pregnant, Karine was induced and gave birth to beautiful baby Elyze. Karine felt overjoyed, but at the same time terrified she might die and miss out on raising Elyze.
A week later, with tiny Elyze in her arms, Karine met with Melanoma Institute Australia’s Conjoint Medical Director and medical oncologist Professor Georgina Long to discuss her illness and treatment options.
The news was worse than previously thought. Professor Long explained that Karine’s cancer had advanced further than expected to Stage IV, which is often considered incurable. It had spread to both her armpits, spine and pelvic bones.
“I told Professor Long I couldn’t die because I could not leave my baby,” Karine said. “She told me: ‘We are going to try to help you’. I have held onto that.”
Just ten years ago, Karine’s cancer would have been a certain death sentence – there were simply no treatments for advanced melanoma.
Karine has the BRAF gene, which can mutate and signal the body to grow abnormal cells.
Professor Long explained that Karine was eligible to take BRAF inhibitor medication that can ‘switch off’ the gene, to stop the production of her cancer cells.
With two children two, it was an immense relief for Karine to have her treatment of daily medication in the comfort of her own home, rather than needing to make daily trips to the hospital.
Karine endured side effects – very high fevers, shivers, and flu symptoms. She had so many questions – and was so thankful she could call her nurse at Melanoma Institute Australia anytime for support.
One of the toughest parts was the regular scans to see if her tumours had shrunk.
And because Karine doesn’t know how much time she has left, she constantly worries about how her young children will cope if she dies.
Elyze’s first Christmas came two months after the diagnosis. It should have been the happiest of times, but Karine couldn’t bear that she might not have another Christmas with her family.
“I had just been told that the treatment wasn’t working yet. That was so hard. I was very scared I would not have another Christmas with my kids. We bought a real tree because we didn’t know if it was going to be my last.”
Remarkably, despite a slow start, because of the incredible kind of research, today Karine is beating melanoma against all odds.
In fact, after ten months of treatment, her tumours had reduced dramatically in size and intensity. And, two years after her diagnosis, Karine’s body now shows no evidence of disease, which is extraordinary as her melanoma was initially considered incurable.
The question now is whether the melanoma will come back, as the long-term success of this treatment is still unknown.
Karine owes her life to the research that was carried out to develop this BRAF inhibitor treatment.