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Thoughts from a Metastatic Melanoma Warrior

Guest blog post by Gail Terrell, melanoma survivor, advocate and MRF supporter:

My name is Gail Terrell and at 57, I was diagnosed with Stage 3C metastatic melanoma of “unknown” origin. I am currently winning my battle as I am 30 months in remission.

I discovered my first tumor following a strenuous weightlifting workout. As I was leaving the gym, I was experiencing flank pain in the pelvis which I assumed was a hernia. I had an initial surgery with a tumor removal and a Stage 3B diagnosis, and I transitioned my care to Emory University/Winship Cancer Center where I was able to put together an exemplary oncology care team for a second surgery which removed a second tumor as well as 13 lymph nodes.

Metastatic melanoma is a cancer requiring a significant amount of both CAT scans and brain MRIs. I have completed 13 CAT scans and 6 brain MRIs and my course of care dictates a total of 20 CAT scans and 12 brain MRIs over a 60 month period. The scans are tough on me mentally as they always seem to be just around the corner, so I must remind myself that the scans are a necessary part of staying proactive. In addition to seeing my oncologist every three months, I have regular full-body skin checks by my dermatologist to monitor for any new or changing spots.

I took Tafinlar/Mekinist targeted therapy for 365 days and my advice for surviving the effects of the drug therapy was consuming a gallon of water each day as the drugs were very dehydrating. I experienced jaundice twice from the drug intake at which time I was at risk of having to stop the drug therapy. I went back to the basics of being a health nut my whole life, and I started incorporating drinking warm water with lemon first thing in the morning on an empty stomach to alkalize my system which successfully helped me to manage my liver enzymes while avoiding an interruption in my drug therapy.

My advice is to stay proactive all along the way, and to give yourself grace on tough days. I also learned that I was stronger than I knew as once I made the decision to get my feet out of what felt like quicksand and dig in to get my game on, I knew I could win and beat the odds I was given. In my case, my gym workouts helped to save my life as they tremendously helped me both emotionally and physically even if it was just me conditioning my brain that I was in fact taking some sort of control over my cancer…strong mind and strong body is my motto!

Finally, with over 26 years of my career working in the medical industry, I hope to share my determination, perseverance, and never give up attitude to help others battling cancer to provide the necessary encouragement and support to them to be able to get their winning game on too!

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