Like many people, cancer seems to run in my family. In fact, my parents were both diagnosed with fatal cancer in the same week and my sister died of melanoma the same year my problem started. I found mine in a typically Australian way: I got caustic solvent under my thumbnail while cleaning the “barbe” or barbecue grill. The nail bed turned black and started to bleed. While examining my nail, the doctors found that I had melanoma, too.
I said “goodbye,” literally, to my green thumb, which the surgeons removed. The doctors did not find metastasis and they told me I was cured. As a nurse, though, I’d seen melanoma sneak back, so when I started having blood pressure problems and an aching kidney, I went to the doctor. It was melanoma again, so I had another operation. This time though, I had them freeze the tumor for future reference.
Due to my medical background, I knew about the opportunities for patients to participate in vaccine trials. I researched current ones and started sending in applications to be a subject. I wasn’t going to sit around waiting for the next episode. Since that time, I’ve been in four trials. I’m a proud veteran guinea pig.
While there is a satisfaction in being part of research that’s going to help others, frankly, a lot of it is selfish. As part of the trial, I’m under constant expert observation—CT scans, blood tests, and plenty of clinical-exam time with the doctors and nurses. They know my body inside out, answer all my questions, and never dismiss my concerns. It’s very reassuring.
I am drawn to immunotherapy trials, because our immune system can do amazing healing things; the idea of boosting it to the point where it can identify and knock out particular types of cancer cells is brilliant. I also like the way vaccines target just the sick cells, instead of slashing, burning, and poisoning the entire body in an effort to eliminate the cancer. In the trials, I’ve had no side effects and I have kept working the whole time.
I have advised others to look into immunotherapy. It is absolutely the way to go. If you have a tumor, tell your doctor you want to go on a trial and for that reason the tumor should not be destroyed once it is removed; the cells may be used to make a vaccine tailored to your individual case of cancer.
People say I have a positive attitude. I just think that we’re the sort of family that gets on with things. I still have my husband, children, and other sisters, and I spend a lot of time in the garden. But I have to admit that my knitting isn’t what it used to be.