The First Fight
Picture a young newlywed, just starting her adult life. 23 year old Mary was a new college graduate, newly married, and working her first job. It was the one year of her life she didn’t have health insurance – but she was young and felt healthy, working for minimum wage at a daycare center. Then her doctor found a spot on her abdomen, “it looked sort of like a chocolate chip,” she recalls.
At just 23 years old, Mary was diagnosed with Melanoma, which at the time had just a 40% five year survival rate. “That was big,” Mary shares, “Kind of an existential reordering of all your priorities kinda thing.” Mary underwent treatment, and was careful about her follow up, getting checked by a dermatologist every 6 months for the next 25 years. Even with instructions to continue to follow up, Mary’s physicians never discussed the potential of recurrence. “It was back in 1986; recurrence was never really mentioned.”
The Unwelcome Return
After 25 years of regular checks, Mary’s dermatologist told her, “You’re probably good, it’s been 25 years, you don’t really need to get checked every 6 months.” So she didn’t. But about 7 years after her last cancer follow up, Mary found a lump under her armpit and feared it could be breast cancer.
Following her gut that something was wrong, Mary sought answers, first with a mammogram. Her physician determined the lump wasn’t in the breast, and following a biopsy, Mary was diagnosed with Malignant Melanoma. The oncologist told Mary, “It’s absolutely a recurrence of the original one.” Thirty three years later.
Having been through a cancer diagnosis before, Mary and her husband felt equipped to get through it again. But this time was much different. While her first treatment had consisted of in-office procedures and recovery at home, the recurrence required a more physically taxing treatment. “This time, they did immunotherapy… normally four infusions. I got to two infusions and my body just kind of went haywire.”
Mary experienced a variety of difficult side-effects throughout treatment for her recurrence, becoming severely diabetic, contending with nausea, fatigue, and joint pain. As for treatment options, Mary states, “My body was in such disarray they said we’re not going to do anything else.” Having had such a difficult journey following her second diagnosis, the shadow of potential recurrence looms large over Mary. “It’s still there; it still could come back again.”
Mary has responded to her diagnoses admirably, choosing not to sweat the small stuff and focus on living a life of meaning and gratitude. Yet she can’t ignore that her entire adult life has been shaped by her cancer experiences.
What We Can Do
At CANCER FUND, we understand that more than hope is essential for people like Mary, whose lives are upended by a cancer diagnosis and recurrence.
We provide that solution by investing in cancer startups, closing the gap between the lab and the patient. As a member of this community, your investment provides direct capital to companies who are bringing real innovation to cancer diagnosis and treatment. Learn More Today.