Our melanoma miracle
In his own words Adam Brown describes his recovery from melanoma, which had spread to his organs, as a miracle.
The 37-year-old was told he had stage 4 melanoma when his wife Kristy was 8 months pregnant with their first child.
“I thought at that point it was going to be the end,” recalls Adam. “We basically sat on the lounge for a couple of days and took turns at crying.”
Adam’s journey with melanoma began a year earlier, in mid 2013, when Kristy noticed a mole on Adam’s back had become larger.
After getting it looked at, things moved quickly. Adam underwent surgery to have the melanoma and some lymph nodes removed.
“From that point we thought the cancer had all gone and we moved on with our lives and found out we were going to have a baby,” says Kristy.
But in September 2014, when Kristy was heavily pregnant, she noticed a lump, like a tiny marble, just under the scar tissue.
The cancer was back and had spread to Adam’s organs.
“I didn’t realise the magnitude of it initially,” says Adam. “It wasn’t until the second diagnosis that it really hit home.”
“I was really angry because it should have been a really happy time for us, about to have our first bub, and we were starting to plan a wedding.”
Adam and Kristy were told there was little that could be done, the only hope was to wait for the approval of a new trial drug (called anti-PD1, a type of immunotherapy), but there was no definite timeline for approval, and no guarantee it would work.
Then, along came Harry; two weeks early, just before Christmas and in a hurry to meet his parents.
“The birth of Harry changed everything,” says Kristy. “It gave Adam the best reason there is to fight cancer.”
“It was such a special time but it was also a very nervous time because we weren’t sure what was around the corner,” she says. “It was the opportunity for us to really make the most of every single moment.”
“We all needed Harry in our life at that point, not just Kristy and I, but our whole family,” says Adam. “We almost took it as a sign that he was here to help and to distract us because it was a really difficult time and we wanted to be really happy, but it was just really hard.”
The clinical trial
Just days after Harry was born and just before Christmas, another glimmer of hope.
The Melanoma Institute of Australia called to say the clinical trial was approved and Adam was the be the very first participant. The trial drug works by boosting the immune system’s ability to fight off cancer cells.
“The great thing about this trial drug is that the side effects were very minimal,” says Kristy. “Adam was able to work, was able to play with Harry and live a normal life which was absolutely fantastic.”
“You wouldn’t have even been able to tell by talking to him that he was receiving treatment for stage 4 melanoma,” she says. “This drug really changed our lives, and it saved Adam’s life.”
Within three months all the tumors had reduced by half. Six months later they reduced by half again.
“12 months later when I got a PET scan there was no evidence of cancer whatsoever,” says Adam. “It was amazing.”
“I find it hard to believe at all that we were stage 4 and I went from there to being completely cancer free again, it’s unbelievable,” he says.
“It’s a miracle that we still have Adam here with us today,” says Kristy.
After more than ten years together, and amid Adam’s treatment, Adam and Kristy decided to get married.
It was on their wedding day at Palm Beach that Adam shared the news with Kristy and their friends and family that there was only evidence of one very small tumour.
“As part of my speech I told Kristy I had a secret to tell her and that was it, and everyone cheered and clapped,” he says. “That was the news I was able to share on my wedding day.”
A month later a PET scan confirmed what they thought was a small tumor was scar tissue.
Adam was cancer free.
How life has changed
Just over four years on from when Kristy first spotted Adam’s melanoma - and after so much heartache and joy – the couple recently welcomed a baby girl into their family: Gracie June Georgina Brown.
After all they’ve been through Adam and Kristy say the experience changed their family for the better.
“The one thing that it has taught me is don’t take life for granted and do what you want because life can be pretty short and ultimately you don’t know what s around the corner,” says Adam.
“Everyday I’m so much more grateful for everything we have in our life and so is Adam,” says Kristy. “Life is very precious, it’s a gift and we’re very, very aware of that after this experience.”
“Sometimes I have to pinch myself to be honest because I think we are just so, so lucky,” she says. “And even though we were unlucky for this to happen to us in the first place, I think we’ve come out the other end of it as more positive people who have a lot more perspective on life and realise that each day really does count.”
The Brown family’s attitude to sun protection has completely changed.
“Before this experience I was pretty casual about how careful I was with sunscreen,” says Adam. “Now we make sure everyone in the family has sunscreen and hats on.”
Matthew Browne from the Melanoma Institute of Australia says around 14,000 Australians are diagnosed with melanoma every year and more than 1,800 of them don’t survive.
“It’s the most common cancer for 15-39-year-olds, and the most common cause of cancer deaths for 20-39-year-olds - so it’s a cancer that affects the young,” says Browne.
The best way to protect yourself is be safe in the sun. It’s also important to get to know your skin, check moles and freckles regularly, and check your partner, particularly in areas they can’t see themselves.
“What you’re looking for is any change in pattern, colour, shape, or if it becomes itchy or starts to bleed,” says Browne. “If you notice any of these changes see your GP or dermatologist as soon as possible.”
90 per cent of melanomas can be cured with surgery if detected early enough. But prevention is better than a cure.
Stay sun safe by:
- Wearing a broad brimmed hat
- Using an SPF 50 sunscreen and reapplying every two hours
- Seeking shade (particularly from 11am-3pm when UV rays are intense)
- Wearing sun protective clothing
- Wearing sunglasses which meet that meet the Australian Standard AS 1067
“You’re gambling with your life at the end of that day,” says Adam. “Regardless of what your complexion is like it takes 5 minutes to put sunscreen on, it takes 5 minutes to reapply in a couple of hours so it’s pretty easy to give yourself peace of mind that you don’t have to go through the battle that we went through.”
To support vital melanoma research, register for a Melanoma March event near you www.melanomamarch.org.au