A woman puts her arm around another woman, whose body fades into the mist behind her.

Losing a Loved One to Melanoma

When I was diagnosed with metastatic melanoma, I searched high and low to find others with similar stories. I thought that if I found a few people that were “like me,” it would help give me hope for my own prognosis.

And “old person’s disease”

Melanoma has a reputation of being an old person’s disease. Most of the information on late-stage melanoma is often with older men. There aren’t many statistics about melanoma survival rates (specially stage IV melanoma survival rates) for young people. Being diagnosed with stage IV melanoma at 29 years old made me feel like the loneliest person on the planet. How was it that at such a young age, I found myself with such a serious disease?

Finding an online community

Once I decided to share my cancer experience with the online world, I stumbled across a few different folks that had very similar stories to mine. They were in their 20’s, had an earlier-stage melanoma earlier in life and were all of a sudden diagnosed with stage IV. This is what I was looking for! People that knew what I was going through and that understood the stage of life I was in. I published my own personal blog and further connected with melanoma warriors. In fact, that’s how I found SkinCancer.net! Although my treatment center was filled with people 50+ years older than me, I had my own digital community to support me through the ups and downs of cancer treatment.

Similar stories, but very different outcomes

There was one girl in particular that I bonded with. She was across the country and also battling stage IV melanoma. I read her blog posts and it was as if I had written them myself. Not only did we share eerily similar diagnosis stories, but we also shared the same outlook. We made countless inappropriate puns and jokes. We were raw, real, afraid, but also incredibly grateful. I never officially met Grace in person, but to say she helped me in some of the darkest times of my life would be an understatement.

But, last summer, our journeys started to take very different paths. I started to see positive results from treatments and scans began to show significant progress. Immunotherapy treatment was working for me! For Grace, she began to experience the opposite. She experienced unfavorable scan results, multiple surgeries, and very, very tough conversations with her loved ones. After trying countless different treatment options, melanoma took Grace from us in late spring this year. She was only 23 years old.

Why didn't her treatment work?

It’s nearly impossible to not wonder how I survived the same disease that took Grace’s life. We had such similar diagnosis stories. How can one person have such a successful treatment outcome and the other have the absolute worst? In some ways, I felt more connected to Grace than I did some of my closest friends. We understood each other and I’m still grieving her loss. Not knowing why her treatment didn’t work drives me absolutely nuts.

Awareness of melanoma, death, and the need for further research

It’s not based on “chance” or “luck” that I’m a stage IV melanoma survivor and Grace is no longer here. The truth is, it’s based on science. We might not know why immunotherapy didn’t work for Grace, but that just means we have to try harder to figure it out. Talking about metastatic melanoma helps drive awareness for the disease. Awareness helps drive science and research forward. We need more science and research so we stop losing loved ones to skin cancer.

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