Paula’s Story

I was diagnosed with metastatic malignant melanoma on June 2nd 2014. I didn’t even know what it meant and because the doctor who gave me the news looked so scared and nervous I knew it must be bad. I left the hospital without asking any questions and stopped in the park on my way home to search on my phone what ‘metastatic’ meant. Big mistake! I scanned the different websites quickly but really only got one message – this was going to kill me.

I cried all the way home, not really for myself but for my family, my children & my husband. You see I thought I had only 2 years to live.

It was June 2010 when I first went to my GP with on mole on my lower back. It was just at the point of my where my jeans waist band was. And it would bleed. My GP didn’t think it was anything sinister and put me in the system, even though I had private health insurance and could have been seen in a matter of days. The following March I had a small biopsy done by the dermatology department and they discovered it was melanoma. All of a sudden there were PET scans and more surgery planned. I remember at the time the nurse being especially nice to me, offering me phone numbers etc. I didn’t really think too much of it but then I didn’t really understand the severity of my diagnosis. I went back in for more surgery on my lower back and my groin. My lymph nodes didn’t show any disease but I was left with a nasty scar about 8 inches long on my back and one on my groin. I was brought back by the oncology team and offered a drug that would probably make my life miserable for the next year, with flu like symptoms, depression, hair loss etc. Well, I didn’t take the drug and to be honest I didn’t think I needed it. I assumed I was disease free….nobody said it could come back. I attended dermatology every three months for about a year, then every six months. Had a PET scan about two years after my original diagnosis – clear!

In 2014 my scheduled dermatology appointment was on the day myself and my family were taking a holiday, so I postponed it until the week I was home. We had a lovely week away and when I came home I noticed a bad bruise on my arm, it hadn’t been there before the holiday. I thought I’d banged it cleaning the shower doors but there was a lump under it. It felt hard. Anyway, I went along to my appointment and was almost embarrassed by my arm and said jokingly that I wasn’t being physically abused but there was a lump. My consultant just said “that’s not good, you are not allowed to have any lumps, it will have to come out” meaning surgery! I laughed her off and she said “ok, let’s do a biopsy”. I had the biopsy, it was extremely painful as the doctor couldn’t penetrate the lump. I got a phone call on a Friday evening asking me to come in the following Monday morning.

It would be the 2nd of June 2014. My doctor told me I had metastatic malignant melanoma and it was in my right arm. It seems like my whole life changed that day. Then came another whirlwind of hospital appointments and scans and talk of surgery. There seemed to be a lot of confusion in the hospital with nobody able to make a decision as to the next course of action. They had the results of my PET scan, I didn’t. What I didn’t know was the cancer had also spread to my lungs. It took a surgeon to explain to me the results of my scan and the reason why surgery didn’t seem like the best course of action. By the stage I hadn’t even seen an oncologist….

In the meantime, my husband had been doing a lot of research on the Internet. There had been a story covered on the news regarding a new drug on the market for melanoma. It was just coming on stream in the UK. My husband contacted the doctors involved in its release there and asked about when it would be available here in Ireland. Although they said it wouldn’t be available just yet here, they were extremely helpful and supportive. They gave us the name of the top oncologist here in Dublin who was involved in Immunotherapy and would be the best person for me to see with my type of cancer. We switched hospitals and oncologists immediately.

While my husband was doing all this research into drug treatments, he came across countless websites about people who ‘cured’ themselves without the use of chemo or radiation. People who’s cancers had miraculously ‘disappeared’ as a result of a change in lifestyle and diet. It sounded to good to be true, I could never be that lucky. But they all recommended the same things: Juicing 6/8 glasses of organic carrot juice per day, cut out ALL sugar and anything that even contained sugar like breakfast cereals, sauces, biscuits, fruit, sodas, cakes etc. Next was all animal protein, no meat, fish, dairy or eggs or anything that contained any animal proteins, eg. gravy, soups, cakes, crisps etc. and install a reverse osmosis water system in your home.

I remember the first day he suggested we give it a go… I laughed. I’d made a chicken curry the day before and had absolutely no intentions of throwing it out. He said maybe we will start tomorrow? And so it began, my fear of cancer was now in the shadow of my fear of food. I was afraid to eat anything. I wish I’d known someone from the beginning to help me with my diet. I started juicing 3/4 glasses of carrot juice every morning. I add some ginger and lemon. Then I leave 30 mins before breakfast. I juice later in the day again, usually 30 mins before dinner. In the beginning we cooked and ate polenta for breakfast, then we discovered rolled oats and life got a lot easier! We cooked our porridge with water and ate it with blueberries (I know I’ve already said no fruit but blueberries are an exception, as they are a super food). Lunch is always salad veg, we eat it with toasted pitta bread and use avocados as butter. Dinner is usually a cooked meal. Brown rice or baked sweet potato, mixed steamed veg. I’ve gotten better at making vegan soups and currys. We also eat a lot of vegetable stir fries.

Things were always changing, the more my husband read and compared websites we would introduce and exclude different things. We also met a lot of different people along the way with great ideas, for example we met some people who swore by Noni Juice first thing in the morning, so we starting using it. We met others who gave us the idea of juicing asparagus with my morning carrot juice. We had already been eating asparagus every day to raise the alkalinity of my blood, just never thought of putting through the juicer! My husband bought and cooked up large amounts of essiac tea for us to drink. We started taking the bitter apricot kernels everyday and copious amounts of flaxseed capsules. I couldn’t stomach the oil on food or from a spoon. But anything that I thought could work – I took. We also take a lot of supplements including vitamin c with zinc, cinnamon, turmeric, B12, B15, Potassium Iodide & Beta Glucan. I try to get a good walk in every day too.

The other thing I did was pray, now I’m not some religious freak or anything like it, I couldn’t even tell you when I was last at mass but I do believe in God. Not the God of religions but one of my own understanding. And it’s basically a belief in something outside of me that has all the power. At that time I needed all the help I could get, so I prayed. And I told people what was wrong with me and hoped they’d pray for me too.

After I saw the new oncologist in the new hospital it didn’t take long to formulate a plan. Even though I was b-raf positive, they decided to move straight to an immunotherapy drug. I had this drug every three weeks over a twelve week period. It was given in a drip in my arm, just like chemo. My last treatment was in September 2014. In January I had a PET scan, it showed a ‘partial’ response to the treatment (or to the diet – I will never know which) but because I had a tumour in my arm I could feel it shrinking.

Toward the end of April I had another PET scan. I still had had no more treatment from the hospital, they were purely monitoring me. But I did continue on my strict food plan. I got the results in May and the oncologist told me ‘I’d had a full response’ to the treatment – again was it the treatment or the diet? I was in the clear, no signs of disease in my body, I was in remission!! Wow, what a day, the first thing I did was thank God. After that the fear set in, why me? Was the scan accurate, was it even my scan?…and then, what if it comes back?

Today my outlook is completely different then before I was diagnosed. I’m a lot more grateful for every day now. I see my life as a gift and I treat my body with a lot more respect. I can’t imagine eating half the crap I ate before, and had you asked me what my diet was like, I would have told you it was good! But the amount of processed foods full of sugar and preservatives that we eat is incredible. And the more research I did into what animals are fed and how they are treated it shocked me so much I wouldn’t eat them now even if I felt I could. Which brings me to my ongoing food plan, I’ve kept everything almost the same since I was told my good news. I have included some things like raisins in my breakfast and a small amount of raw vegan chocolate every so often. But I rigidly stick to everything else.