I was diagnosed with terminal cancer in June 2012 after suffering a sudden severe brain seizure at my workplace. I had advanced stage 4 melanoma, for which there is no cure. It was like being hit over the head with a hammer. In an instant I went from what I thought was an extremely fit and healthy woman to someone who was dying and only had months to live.
It was surreal, a shock like no other.
I was offered chemotherapy to "buy me some time." So I had to take up the offer when it seemed like there were no other options. I eventually realized that I had to find another way out of this horrible mess. When I came home from the hospital on that fateful night following my seizure, I had to tell my beautiful teenage daughters that their mom had cancer. My eldest daughter started sobbing uncontrollably, screaming “No, mom! No!” Right then, I promised the both of them that I would be fine, when I really knew that my odds of living were slim. I then had to do everything in my power to find a way to do the impossible, live through a terminal cancer diagnosis.
I had to keep my promise to my daughters.
At the time of my diagnosis, there weren’t any viable treatment methods in Australia for my advanced stage form of melanoma. I was still determined to keep my promise to my daughters, so I searched the whole world for anything that could help me. Through a seemingly endless pursuit for treatment, I found out about an immunotherapy clinical trial taking place in Portland, Oregon. Portland is a long way from Australia, but I became obsessed with the idea that one’s immune system can be trained, and kicked back into gear to fight cancer. The immunotherapy trial was only for U.S. citizens, and already fully-enrolled with 70 patients. For four months, I emailed and called the doctors in Portland, begging and pleading to let me into the trial; all the while, my life was apparently coming to an end. However, I wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. I refused to surrender because I had made a promise to my family I meant to keep. Finally, they let me into the trial, and
I became known to the doctors as "Patient 71.”
I had to pack up and leave my family and friends for a chance at life. I had a 33% chance of responding to the drugs, and I had to give it my best shot. 6 years later, here I am cancer free and loving life. I kept my promise to my daughters. It makes me cry thinking about it. I have written a book called Patient 71 (available on Amazon), and everyday I receive many messages of thanks from cancer patients and their families all over the world for giving them hope and inspiration to keep going and learning to control their mindset even through such a stressful time. My advice is to
Learn everything you can about your personal cancer.
Get genomic testing done if you can and then research all of the treatment options. Science is moving forward and realizing that no two people are exactly the same. The world is moving towards personalized medicine. Take control of your life. Sure, listen to the doctors and keep asking questions, then more questions. Research all the clinical trials in the world that are taking place for the type of cancer you have. We have to become champions of our own destiny. The other thing I would say with passion is that if you are physically able, turn your situation in to a positive one by achieving a lifetime goal. Do something you have always wanted to do. I had always wanted to write a book. So, I looked cancer in the eye and said "Ok, that's enough, you have taken enough of me. I will take back control now." So, I put pen to paper and wrote my memoir. I have appeared on 60 minutes Australia twice, I do public speaking and have turned my life into the life I wanted. I write for magazines and websites. I am a better person and appreciate every day and see so much more wonder in the world. I make the most of every day and you can too.
My name is Megan Orton and I am 36 years old. I used to be a 911 dispatcher. I am a wife, a mom and a friend. I had a bump on the back of my knee for about five years which at one point had disappeared. Then after a while, it came back even larger than before. My bump didn't bother me at all during this time; I just thought that it was just ugly. A friend of mine told me during this time that I should probably get my bump looked at
But I dismissed her
because it had just disappeared and come back. In late 2016, I accidentally cut my bump shaving. It started to bleed and never really healed. In early 2017, my bump began to hurt. It oozed blood and pus and wouldn't stop. My husband told me that it was time to go to the doctor. On January 24, 2017, I saw my family doctor. He believed that my bump was a Keratoacanthoma, or squamous cell carcinoma (skin cancer). He biopsied and removed the bump and sent the sample to the pathologist. My doctor told me that he would call me by the end of the week but not to stress. The hole left behind after he cut out the cancer was 3-4mm deep, and the size of a nickel. On January 26, 2017, which happened to be my youngest son's 13th birthday, I received a call from my doctor. He asked me if I was sitting down and if I had time to talk. If I didn't, I needed to make time to talk.
He proceeded to tell me that I had melanoma.
I was to schedule a visit with Dr. Andtbacka at the Huntsman Cancer Institute, who is the best in his field. Not only is he a surgeon, but he is also one of the top melanoma researchers in the country. I needed to schedule a visit within the next week and get down to the Huntsman Institute as soon as possible. My head was spinning, I was 35 years old. I shouldn't have cancer, let alone melanoma. I don't tan, I wear jeans everywhere! I called the Huntsman Institute immediately. The next few days were spent fighting with insurance companies and figuring out whether or not they were going to cover my treatment. After several back and forth phone calls and emails, I was finally able to schedule my first appointment. Meeting my surgical staff for the first time was nerve-racking, but I felt comforted once Dr. Andtbacka started talking. He has a very soothing voice, and a way of communicating which put me and my family at ease. We told him about ourselves, our boys, and on our next visit two weeks later, he remembered everything! When we got home from my appointment, our boys and our parents had a lot of questions. Our boys were panicking. We had to find a way to calm them down and effectively communicate the situation. At the time, the doctor thought that I had stage 2 melanoma. On my next appointment, we decided to take our boys to meet the doctor. They were able to ask some questions, and Dr. Andtbacka reassured them that I was the most important person in the world to him when he was treating me. That meant the world to my boys. February 24, 2017: I had my first surgery for Melanoma. Through MRI's and CT SCANs, we found that
My melanoma had metastasized
to the lymph nodes in my groin. My cancer was upgraded from stage 2 to stage 3B. My first surgery went well. They were able to get all of the cancer out; however, to be on the safe side we decided to go in and take out the rest of the lymph nodes in my groin since my cancer had already demonstrated the ability to metastasize. On March 24, 2017, I had my second surgery for Melanoma. This time I came out of the surgery with two drain tubes in my groin that I had to keep in for 8 weeks. The tubes and drains gave me nothing but fits the entire time. Let me just mention, long nails and drain tubes don't mix! I was chosen for a medical trial of a medication called Pembrolizumab (Keytruda). The medical trial was testing to see if Keytruda works on melanoma patients like it does on lung cancer patients. I started my trial on June 6, 2017. For those that don't know, Pembrolizumab is an immunotherapy, not chemotherapy. It teaches your body and immune system to identify cancerous cells and kill them, while making your body healthier at the same time. I was placed on a regimen where I received an infusion every three weeks for 18 doses in total. March 31, 2018:
I am currently cancer free
and have been since my last surgery. I am healthy, I feel great and am happy. I know that the process can get lonely, so I am more than willing to talk with anyone who may need support, or wishes to speak with a friend who has experienced what you may be going through. You can contact me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for reading my story, and please know that I am here for you as a survivor.