#MelanomaHeroes: The Patient
59-year-old Anders was told he had Stage II melanoma in 1995. He has been living with the disease ever since and has received two further diagnoses: Stage III in 2002; and Stage IV in 2009. He has retained a positive attitude throughout his experience, turning each challenge into an opportunity, and even managing to start his own business. With the strong support of family and friends, he is determined not to let his condition hold him back. Here he talks about the journey that has led him to become one of our Melanoma Heroes.
How did you first find out you had melanoma?
I visited my doctor for a general check-up in 1995 and he advised me to get a spot on my back examined. I went to a dermatologist who diagnosed me with Stage II melanoma. He said there was only a 10% chance the cancer would come back, so at first, I continued living life as normal. But then things changed quickly when in 2002, I discovered the cancer had advanced to Stage III and spread to my lymph nodes.
How did you feel when you found out the cancer had spread?
Very scared. Very grey. It was like I was in limbo because the doctor couldn’t give me a black and white solution. All he could say was ‘come back and see me in six months’. But throughout everything, my attitude has been to not let cancer be a limitation for me, and to deal with it as I would any of life’s challenges.
How did this impact your life and how did you deal with it?
At the time, my job involved frequent travel, which became impossible to fit around my treatment. For the first time in my life, I had to spend significant time in hospital – firstly for surgery, and then for radiation therapy – which also impacted my mobility. It took a lot out of me and I was forced to quit my job. But I decided that if I couldn’t go to work, I would bring work to me, so I took the opportunity to start my own company. It allows me to work from home on my own terms and my wife joined me in the business after having taken early retirement from a corporate job. The diagnosis has also made me more open and able to talk about my health in a natural way. And it helps when you realise other people have overcome similar obstacles.
And what about when the cancer returned for the third time? What impact did this have on you and those around you?
I was diagnosed with Stage IV melanoma in 2009 and it was then that I entered a clinical trial for a new drug. I experienced some minor side effects, including sensitivity to the sun, but I didn’t really change my lifestyle at all. I’m lucky to have a large support system, especially my wife who has been indescribably strong and supportive. Since the beginning, all my family and friends have surprised me with how great they’ve been. It’s like everyone is out there cheering for me.
What have been the biggest obstacles since your diagnosis?
The whole disease is a challenge. You have to accept that it’s there but approach it with the attitude ‘I can deal with this’. Your life is never going to be like it was before but that doesn’t mean it has to grind to a halt. It’s helped me a lot to participate in a clinical trial too. At the start, I didn’t ask enough questions about the treatments I received and their side effects. Now, I feel like I have a better understanding of everything and am able to be my own advocate. I also push myself to do things because you don’t know what the next tests will show. No matter who you are, life is short.
What are your hopes for the melanoma community in the future?
There are lots of exciting new technologies and medicines, so I really hope they can make a difference for everyone who suffers with this disease. But people need to be more aware of the dangers of exposure to the sun and lead a healthier life. When I was a kid, people died of heart attacks so my generation grew up eating better and exercising more than our parents. While I have avoided heart attacks so far I didn’t avoid melanoma. If I had had more awareness of the danger of sun exposure it is possible that I would be in a better situation today.