We all need hope!
Here is Christie’s inspirational story…
Q: When were you first diagnosed with melanoma? How was it discovered?
A: The melanoma was first discovered in July of 2004. I had an irregular spot on my neck that I had checked out with the dermatologist and I subsequently was diagnosed with melanoma.
Q: What kind of treatment did you go through? What was that like?
A: Once diagnosed, we went immediately to a surgeon and within weeks, the melanoma was removed. When they removed it, I was under anesthesia. Once in recovery, the doctor said he had to go deep to get clear margins, and no lymph nodes tested positive. I went to a general surgeon to remove the melanoma, which as I look back, was a mistake. I have since heard from various doctors that an oncology surgeon would have been a much better choice.
Q: Did you tan as a child or young adult? What was your “relationship” with the sun in your youth?
A: I loved the sun as a child and young adult. I am the typical melanoma candidate, with strawberry colored hair and light skin with freckles. As a child, we spent time at the lake and the beach as much as we could. I can remember a few severe sunburns before the age of 13. Looking back at pictures of me on vacations, I would usually have a sunburn. I wanted to have a tan, as I thought I looked better with tanned skin, which seems insane as I look back. I went to the tanning bed off and on, all the way until my early thirties. I remember thinking casually, what are the odds that I would get skin cancer? As it turns out, 100%.
Q: How many years after your first melanoma diagnosis, were you diagnosed with your second melanoma? Tell us about this part of your journey
A: After the surgery to remove my melanoma on my neck, life went on. I was much more conscience of the sun and wore sunscreen while at the beach or in the sun. I never went back to a tanning bed, and then as a few years went on I did not even think about the melanoma returning. I went to the oncologist once a year for a chest scan and bloodwork. I missed my appointment in 2006 and December 26, 2007, I was scheduled to meet my oncologist. In the month of December, I was more and more tired every day. I had traveled a decent amount with my job and thought I was just ready for a vacation. On Christmas Eve, my mom and I went out for our traditional last minute shopping trip and I had to sit down a few times at the mall during our short time there. I knew at that point something was wrong. I got home, had a bit of a breakdown with my husband, and told him I knew something was wrong. I am a very high energy, a get it done person, and I could shop for an hour at the mall without needing rest. On December 26, I went to the oncologist and my bloodwork showed I was extremely anemic. I left her office for my scheduled chest scan and went home. At 4pm on December 27, my doctor called me to share the news. I had a mass in my lung that was the size of a lemon and she wanted me to have my abdomen scanned ASAP. Ultimately, I was diagnosed with stage four metastatic melanoma, located in my lung, head of my pancreas and my small intestine. My world came crashing down. My son Jake was eight years old and my daughter Jordan was seventeen, soon to graduate high school and go off to college. My Dad came in town and the family gathered trying to figure out the next step. It was almost surreal as we all tried to process the possible death sentence that I was given. We went to Emory in Atlanta and they gave me a 5% chance of survival and had one treatment available for melanoma, Interleukin and Interferon. The nurse told me to go have a glass of wine with my husband and talk about how we met. It was almost as if I was told it was over. We were in shock, and that is when my husband went to work trying to find other places for treatment. We prayed and cried often but were determined that, with God’s help, along with the best treatment we could find, we would fight and that we did. Ten days later, I was at MD Anderson in Houston. They offered the Interleukin and Interferon, but they offered several other chemotherapy options. Before we boarded the plane for Houston, I had become jaundiced and we debated for a moment going to the emergency room in Atlanta. Thank the good Lord we got on the plane. A tumor at the head of my pancreas had put pressure on my bile duct and it was causing my liver and pancreas not to function correctly. I then got pancreatitis and was in severe pain. They admitted me immediately into the hospital at MD Anderson and once they did several blood transfusions, they started the Chemotherapy two days later. My system could not handle the aggressive process so they went with the traditional chemotherapy regimen, something Emory did not consider to be worth trying. My body responded to the chemo almost immediately. I went through treatments for 6 months and there was no evidence of cancer at the end of process except a small amount in my lung. They removed my lower left lobe and I was declared in remission in August of 2008. At the end of September, after a couple of weeks of headaches, scans revealed that the cancer has metastasized to my brain. We jumped into the car and drove to MD Anderson and within five days, they removed the two lesions that were found in my brain. October 3, I was released from the hospital and was able to spend my 40th Birthday, which was October 4, with my kids. A few days later, I went through 10 days of whole brain radiation.
The melanoma did return in February of 2012 and we had another fight on our hands. Someone coined the phrase during my journey, “In His hands I will fight like Hell”, I that is what I did. They tried Interferon with me and I did not respond. They tested me to see if a new gene therapy drug, called Zelboraf would work, and I tested positive for the B gene so I started the drug. On the first scan, there was no evidence of cancer but they kept me on it for 23 months. On February 21, 2014, I took my last chemo treatment. I am currently NED (no evidence of disease).
I prayed to God every day to make it to the next milestone in my children’s life. The first milestone was the see my daughter graduation high school and college, which is did get to see. My daughter graduated high school in 2008 and UGA in 2012. Go Dawgs! Next is my son, who is now fifteen years old and I pray to see him graduate and go to college. And God willing, that is exactly what will happen!
Q: What is your life like today (as it relates to melanoma)?
A: I do not let melanoma run my life. During this whole process, I have fought to stay positive and upbeat. Sure, I have bad days and sometimes even some really big pity parties but I have control on whether or not I let cancer be who I am. I am Christie Eash, a blessed Mother, Wife, Sister, Grandmother, Daughter, and most importantly, Child of God.
Q: If you could tell the public three things about melanoma & sun safety, what would they be?
A: 1)Do not play the ‘odds game’. Melanoma is more common than people think and it can be deadly if not treated swiftly.
2) Go to the demonologist annually for body check and pay attention to your body as new spots appear on your body.
3) Respect the sun and its power. This disease is preventable so take the time to apply sunscreen when in the sun. If you have kids, ingrain it into their outdoor time.
Thank you Christie, for sharing your experience, strength and hope. You are a true inspiration.
“Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all.”
― Emily Dickinson