Since being diagnosed with Melanoma back in May 2011 I have found the summer a very tricky time. As a melanoma patient this probably doesn’t seem very surprising. Whilst there are plenty of cases of melanoma that are not caused by the sun, mine certainly was. When growing up we were lucky enough to spend weeks down in the South of France during July and August. I didn’t sunbathe – I’m very fair – I look like a different species compared to the rest of my family and it was obvious that the sun was probably not my friend and so I was plastered in the highest protection sun cream available and encouraged to sit in the shade. Unfortunately the highest protection back in the 1970s and 80s was probably 12 or 15 and even more unfortunately it was essentially splash proof and not waterproof and I loved the sea. I’d escape from under the shade of the umbrella and spend hours playing in the sea often with my shoulders above the water and inevitably I would end up with distinctly pink shoulders. It’s no great surprise therefore that my original melanoma was on my right shoulder blade. (Thankfully sun cream has improved dramatically over the years and my boys, who are both fair-skinned, can return from a week of hot Mediterranean sun pretty much the same shade of white as they started due to the joys of factor 50 very waterproof lotion).
So, as I said at the beginning it’s not surprising that summertime tends to make me quite anxious. Throughout the summer of 2011 I was pretty terrified of the sun. I’d cover up, walk in the shade and avoid any situation in which I might be required to sit in the sun and the feeling of the hot sun on me was absolutely terrifying. Thankfully, that fear has calmed down. Like the boys I tend to plaster myself in factor 50 but once covered I’m perfectly happy to spend some time in the sun. I still avoid overdoing it as really wouldn’t want to burn but in all honestly I feel like the sun has done it’s damage and so am no longer scared.
So, despite getting over my quite natural fear of the sun I have still continued to find that the thought of the summer fills me with anxiety and panic and I think that it’s much more to do with the experience of both the summer 2011 and then the summer of 2013.
In summer 2011 I was still coming to terms with having being diagnosed with cancer. I was still desperately hoping that it might all work out alright but the reality was that everything I read about malignant melanoma was pretty bleak and it is one of the cancers that tends to recur. Also, throughout that summer I had to have two lots of surgery. The first to remove a wider margin around the original malignant mole and second to remove the lymph nodes from my right armpit after an exploratory test indicated that there was a microspread of cancer. So, summer 2011 was pretty horrid. We couldn’t go on holiday as I was doing to much to-ing and fro-ing to the hospital and my head was definitely not in the right space for going anywhere.
Summer 2012 was basically alright. I found that I was still very anxious and I was also having to go to the hospital every 3 weeks for infusions of a trial drug avastin so there was no escape from the realities of cancer. Still, I was at least coming to the end of the trial and I’d passed the year mark without a recurrence so things were beginning to look up.
Sadly, summer 2013 turned out to be pretty awful. My poor boys must have found me to be utterly dreadful company as I was exhausted and lethargic and still working so spent much of the summer stuck in the kitchen baking. On top of everything we were having to come to terms with the very sudden loss of Andy’s father and so all in all everything was pretty miserable. The niggling back pain that had begun back in May continued to cause me discomfort although was intermittent enough not to terrify me. We did manage to get away and go on holiday and went to the very beautiful island of Kefalonia but when there I totally lost my appetite. Now that I’m back to having my usual rather healthy appetite I find it hard to remember what not wanting to eat must have felt like – it seems totally unnatural. On my return I contacted my oncologist and explained all the symptoms but she seemed unconcerned and in fact pushed for an appointment for me with psychological services. So, it’s hardly surprising that looking back on that summer fills me with a feeling of utter dread and anxiety. As much as I tried to explain away the symptoms I think deep down I knew that all was not right and the scan and subsequent appointment on 24th Sep simply confirmed all my worst fears. To be fair, by that stage I’d also lost a considerable amount of weight and was having to take painkillers every day to sort out the back pain so it was becoming pretty impossible not to acknowledge the obvious.
Summer 2014 was a much better summer. By some miracle (the magic drugs from The Marsden) I was still alive and still able to make plans. We had a lovely few days away in Dorset at the beginning of the boys’ summer holiday and once the August scan came back showing continued stability we booked a week away in Zakynthos in Greece. It was a very lovely summer but that hangover of dread from the previous year and from 2011 was still very present plus I had to have fortnightly infusions at the hospital as well as the scan looming. I find it weird that you can feel so many things at once. On the one had I was genuinely very delighted to still be alive and better than that I felt incredibly well. On the other hand – the fear of the unknown about what lies ahead combined with a history of bad summers can be quite a burden.
So, finally to this summer – 2015. It’s far from over yet in fact I’m only half way through the boys’ summer holiday but the July scan was fine, we have a weeks holiday booked in Turkey followed by another few days in a hotel on our return – so lots of treats. However, even without all of that this summer has been lovely. It’s the first in years when I’ve felt properly relaxed in the sun, I feel incredibly well, I have no hospital appointments and I’ve just loved having 3 weeks with my lovely boys. I’m not working so my time is entirely for them and they too are relaxed and happy and really very delightful company. Right now, I feel very lucky which considering my situation is pretty good going.