Emma Abrahams was diagnosed with Stage 3C melanoma in May this year. The 38 year-old Auckland mum shares her story with us to encourage others who have been diagnosed with melanoma to keep hopeful and to ask for support.
Emma’s melanoma journey started with a small itchy spot on the side of her neck. “I didn’t even know I had a mole there as it wasn’t in a place I could easily see. I asked my husband Paul to take a look, thinking it was just a rash. He said it was a mole, and when I googled my symptoms, I read that an itchy mole can be one of the signs of a melanoma.”
That was in the middle of last year, but being busy with three young children aged 7, 9 and 11, and unsure of where to go or what to do, Emma waited to make an appointment to see her GP in January of this year. A biopsy of the mole initially revealed a melanoma in situ, so Emma wasn’t too worried at that stage.
She went for a follow up appointment at the hospital to discuss surgery just as the country was going into lockdown. Emma mentioned to the specialist that her lymph nodes were swollen, and another biopsy revealed that the melanoma had spread from her neck to her lymph nodes.
After a CT scan and extensive surgery to remove 71 lymph nodes from her face and neck, she was diagnosed with Stage 3C melanoma. “The cancer was in 11 of my lymph nodes but I feel really fortunate that it was localised, and it has not spread to other parts of my body.
“The day we found out that it hadn’t spread any further was a day for celebration, but I know that could still happen, and it is always in the back of my mind that I may have only 5-10 years to live.”
However, with a busy life, including home schooling her children, Emma tries not to dwell on the negative. “Being told that my melanoma could come back in the future was confronting and initially I was pretty emotional, but I want to be positive and to enjoy my family and friends. If the worst happens, I will deal with it then.
I would like to encourage people in my situation to ask for help. I have been overwhelmed by the incredible support I have received since I was diagnosed. People have given us meals, prayed for me, and sent messages of love; it’s been inspirational for me and the support I have received from my family, friends and community has really got me through this time.
“Recovering from the surgery was rough, as I had a significant amount cut out from my neck and shoulder, including some of the muscle. When I came out of the hospital, I couldn’t even tilt my neck or move my shoulder, I was in awful pain. I would like to pay tribute to Pinc and Steel, which supports cancer patients with their physical rehabilitation. The marvellous team there fundraises for cancer patients like me, to get us mobile again.”
Emma has always been careful in the sun, but having fair skin, admits that she certainly got sunburnt plenty of times growing up. “I’ve never had regular skin checks as it didn’t occur to me, and I also didn’t really know where to go. My message for people is to go to your doctor to get regular skin checks, and if you are worried about a change to your skin, get it checked out by your doctor immediately – don’t wait.
“It was a huge surprise to me that that I got a melanoma, but the reality is, it can happen to any of us. I’ve been really lucky, as I am able to access the immunotherapy drug Keytruda, which will hopefully increase my chances of remaining cancer free. It isn’t funded by Pharmac for surgical Stage 3 melanoma, but my husband’s work, FeeniX Communications, is paying for half of it which I am so incredibly grateful for.
“I hope that through sharing my story I can help others in the same situation to remain positive and to reach out to those around them. In today’s busy world we sometimes struggle to ask for help, and often cancer can feel lonely and doing the simple everyday things can be difficult, particularly when recovering from surgery or undergoing treatment. Through my own journey, I have discovered how wonderful people are by admitting that I can’t do it all, and asking for support,” says Emma.