Jess' message to younger generations
This is not "just skin cancer", it is a cancer that is very hard to treat and can unfortunately, affect anyone!
In March last year my health was looking incredible it looked like we had eradicated the disease and I was in my final year of university. I was also well setting up my own business as an inspirational speaker talking about the power of a positive attitude.
In May 2016 I had scans and everything was looking so good we pushed the scans from being 3 monthly to 6 monthly; great news! I was fit and incredibly healthy going to the gym or running 6 days a week and I had learned to ski over the winter months!
Unfortunately though on September 9th (11 months to the day after my eye removed) I had a seizure at home – I had no clue what was happening. I thought I was having a stroke or a heart attack and as the world went black around me. I honestly thought I would never wake up!
I was sent to the local hospital where I had a CT and MRI at this point I was still completely unaware of what was going on I honestly thought I was going to be told I had epilepsy or something to that effect! Unfortunately, that was not the case – I found out that the melanoma had metastasized to 4 spots on the brain, one of which had haemorrhaged on the motor cortex and caused the seizure.
I was sent up to the Peter Mac the next day and I had brain surgery the following week to remove the 2cmx3cm tumour that was causing the seizures. (The other tumours were inoperable due to their small size 1-2mm and location). One of the biggest risks for the surgery was permanent loss of movement through the right side. I don't know how many times prior to my elective surgery I was warned but I remember turning to a doctor and saying "I get the risk but if you don’t remove this damn tumour I have no hope of surviving. I would rather live my life in a wheelchair knowing I have done everything in my power to fight this disease!"
The surgery was a success and they managed to remove the whole tumour! With a lot of hard work and physio, I have regained full mobility. Running is still a bit of a challenge but we are getting there! The next part was more challenging I had to take on treatment and there weren't many options (I really didn't want to do radiation – if my specialist had recommended it I would have done it but I was really scared of losing my personality to the radiation).
Our options came down to Keytruda which was covered by the PBS or Opdivo and Yervoy which would need to be self-funded but also improved my survival rate by 20%. I was shocked and had no clue what to do the self-funded drug was going to cost over $100,000 and that didn’t even include all the other medical costs that go along with being ill! We still decided to start a campaign and managed to fundraise enough money to cover the cost of treatment which was incredible. On top of that with the awareness that was raised the Opdivo and Yervoy are now covered by the PBS!
What I want to get out there is firstly how amazing our treating doctors and researchers are! They are kicking goals and finding new treatments which helps improve our survival rate and they need our support to keep up the incredible work.
BUT, more importantly, is how nasty and aggressive this cancer is. I went from being told I was looking in perfect health and that the disease was eradicated to having a life-threatening disease in the space of 4 months. This is not "just skin cancer", it is a cancer that is very hard to treat and can unfortunately, affect anyone!
I am 23 years old, I have skin that doctors look at and it astounds them that I have melanoma. We have no family history and yet I have it, getting a skin check on a yearly basis is something that should be a priority for everyone Melanoma is much easier to treat if it's caught in the early stages! It’s not worth the tan and wearing sunscreen on a daily basis is essential, just because it doesn't look hot or sunny outside doesn't mean that you won’t get burnt.
I can promise you that it’s not worth it!
I want to draw the younger demographics attention to being sun smart. Melanoma is usually associated with an older male who has never worn sunscreen a day in his life (or at least that is what I see) or a "typical" fair skinned person. The reality is that in 15-39-year-olds it is the biggest cancer killer. My age group needs to understand how at risk they really are. It’s not something that will strike when you are old and grey it can strike at any time!
I have seen such a different side to this cancer and it has only made me more passionate about changing people’s perception of it.
Here of my progress and other aspects of treatment: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCsZP0Uo6Vtztm_F3aS9ZBvw
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