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Melanoma Awareness Month – A Caregiver’s Perspective

Guest blog from Melissa Beisel, mother of Cassie Beisel who is the MRF’s Senior Advocacy Officer and the 2021 #GetNaked spokeswoman:

“Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy” – Leo F. Buscaglia.

At the age of 32 and in the prime of her life, our daughter, Cassie was diagnosed with Stage IIIc metastatic melanoma with an unknown primary. As you can imagine, we were shocked beyond belief. As parents and caregivers, we wanted to learn everything we could about melanoma and support Cassie in every way. It is what parents, friends and family do, right? But it is so difficult to not get swept up in your own despair. As parents we were overwhelmed with heartache and fear that our child might not survive. 

Let us give a little background. In January of 2011, Cassie called to tell us that she had found a lump under her arm which seemed suspicious. The doctor’s first thought was breast cancer. After a biopsy, the diagnosis was melanoma.  A surgery date was set for March 7, 2011 where thirty-six lymph nodes were removed, three of which were found to be cancerous.   

At that time there were not many treatments for melanoma after surgery. Cassie’s doctor suggested that a yearlong, monthly intravenous treatment of Interferon A was the only treatment available to her, but would at least give her a better, about 15 percent, chance of her melanoma not returning.  Since we had learned that melanoma can be the deadliest type of skin cancer, we all concluded that Interferon was Cassie’s only option. There were several promising treatments in the pipeline, but none were yet approved. 

That year was very difficult for Cassie.  The monthly treatments were debilitating.  Her appetite was diminished and she could barely eat. She often had terrible headaches. As Cassie’s parents and caregivers, we did what we could to help her navigate through this long, hard year. As her mom, I took Cassie to her treatments and helped with everyday errands which seemed to become more difficult for her as treatment went onHer Dad took care of all health insurance inquiries and payments, which can be a minefield! 

Cassie made it through her year-long treatment plan with humor, determination and a willingness to never give up!  As a family we always looked on the brighter side and tried to find joy and laughter each and every day. She made it easy for us, not that there weren’t lots of tears and difficult days, but Cassie always tried to stay positive and show how much she appreciated her family and friends. She never said, “why me”. Cassie was and is an inspiration to everyone she encounters.   

Fast forward and after a year and no evidence of melanoma, Cassie was diagnosed with leukemia. After a year of chemotherapy, her doctors decided she needed a bone marrow transplant. 

In 2014, Cassie resigned her position with Marriott and went to work for the Melanoma Research Foundation (MRF). During the early days of Cassie’s diagnosis of melanoma, we reached out to the MRF and they were extremely helpful to us as caregivers, providing educational and moral support. They invited Cassie to participate in foundation events and educational forums. By this time, after surviving melanoma and leukemia, Cassie was more than ready to give back and assist others as they tried to navigate the difficult course of their personal experience with melanoma. 

Cassie is presently Senior Advocacy Officer for the MRF, which allows her to realize her vision of trying to assist and advocate for others that have received a melanoma diagnosis. We couldn’t be prouder of our daughter and her work in helping others. 

We started this writing with a quote from Leo Buscaglia, which became a mantra for us during Cassie’s long journey with cancer. We’ve learned that we were not able to move forward and be the caregivers that we wanted to be if we were consumed with worry and despair of what tomorrow might bring. We only had time and energy to take care of Cassie’s needs of the day.   

Now that Cassie has been cancer free for several years, we still try to follow those wise words and find joy in each day and each other. 

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