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Shelley Belanger’s Journey with Mucosal Melanoma

My name is Shelley, a 59-year-old resident of Ontario, Canada, where I live with my loving spouse and our cherished dog. I am a proud mother to two wonderful daughters, both happily married, and a grandmother to three beautiful grandchildren, with another on the way. 

Shelley Belanger Image

My health journey began in the mid-90s when I was diagnosed with HPV in my mid-30s, which I managed with a year of medical treatment. However, my challenges didn’t end there. Over the next few years, regular checks revealed precancerous cells, but thankfully, they eventually ceased to appear. 

In 2013, what I assumed was a routine yeast infection led to a discovery that changed my life. A visit to the emergency room for a prescription uncovered a black mole on my labia, which was diagnosed as melanoma in-situ after surgical removal. The emotional toll was immense, especially keeping a brave face for my young granddaughter who was with me at the time. 

Subsequent treatments included multiple surgeries to ensure clear margins and painful applications of a topical immunomodulator, Zyclara, which caused severe discomfort and required me to use a peri bottle to mitigate the pain from urination. Despite these efforts, the melanoma would return, leading to more surgeries and constant monitoring. 

In September 2021, after being declared disease-free, a routine check-up found a suspicious spot, reigniting my battle with melanoma. Further surgeries followed, along with a diagnosis of nodular melanoma which was aggressive and rare. The emotional and physical strain led to severe weight loss and necessitated medications for anxiety and acid reflux. 

Despite all these hardships, including financial strain from medical treatments and the impact on my ability to work, I continue to fight. My treatment journey now includes Pembrolizumab, an immunotherapy drug, though I face challenges with insurance coverage. The constant re-examinations and uncertainty about my future surgeries due to medical system backlogs add to the stress and anxiety. 

Through all this, I found solace and support in the Mucosal Melanoma Warriors Facebook group, which has been instrumental in helping me navigate this challenging path. This community has been a beacon of hope and a source of valuable information, reminding me I am not alone. 

My goal now is not only to survive but to thrive and support others going through similar experiences. I am determined to raise awareness about mucosal melanoma and advocate for better medical understanding and treatment. Despite the hardships, I hold onto hope for a future where this disease can be effectively managed or even cured, and where my story can inspire and support others facing similar challenges.