In 1990, Cathy was diagnosed with metastatic melanoma and was told she had less than two years to live. Chemotherapy and radiotherapy were not an option, so she had to find another way to heal, since her children were only six and eight years old. Today, Cathy is cancer free.
This is her story in her own words:
It is hard to imagine that in 1989, a tiny red dot on my arm could have changed my life so dramatically. I had always been very careful with my skin and very aware of melanoma. Over the years I had several dark moles removed from my body…just in case.
When a small pimple-like spot appeared on my arm, initially I was not worried. It didn’t look anything like the typical warning photos in skin cancer brochures. I knocked it a couple of times and it really stung, so I went to the doctor and showed it to him. His comment was “No, that’s alright, don’t worry about it.” For some unknown reason, I insisted on having the spot removed. I’m not sure why, but I just knew I would be happier without it. His comment to this was “Oh alright, if it will keep you happy.”
The following day the doctor rang me to ask if I could come in to see him in his surgery, as he had just been contacted by the laboratory saying that the biopsy was malignant. What a shock! When I saw him, he had already made an appointment with a plastic surgeon for the following day to remove a greater excision, just to make sure that they had got it all. After visiting the surgeon, the results confirmed, that as far as the doctors were concerned, they had removed all of the offending melanoma.
Life went on pretty normally for another six months until I had an uncomfortable feeling under my arm. After getting this examined by the doctor, I was assured that there were no lumps and that it might have been a pinched nerve reacting from my previous operation. I accepted this and carried on quite happily for a further four months until I broke out in the most disturbing blisters, all over my legs.
Back to the doctors, I was placed on antibiotics on one visit, steroid cream on another and finally on the third visit, two other doctors were called in to inspect the blisters. They hadn’t seen anything like it before, so they suggested that I should visit a dermatologist. The following day, I went to the dermatologist and questioned whether this problem may be linked to the melanoma which was the same question I had previously posed to all of the previous doctors. The dermatologist assured me that there was no connection. Although he wasn’t sure what they were, he cut one out and sent it to be examined.
When I was phoned with the results, I was told “It is a condition called Bullis Pemphigoid, but don’t worry, it won’t kill you.” It is extremely rare, although normally it is only seen in very old people.” Why I might have this condition at the age of 33 could not be explained.
After a couple of weeks the spots started to disappear and I was glad to see the end of them. I was told if they reappeared, that steroids would be used for treatment. About the same time that the spots disappeared, I noticed that the tightness under my arm was getting worse and I wasn’t sure whether or not I could feel some swelling or not. Within a week or so I was certain that it was not my imagination. When I lifted up my arm, a golf ball size lump would appear. When I put my arm down, it would disappear.
I was having another small skin cancer removed by the same plastic surgeon, so I asked him about the lump. He suggested that I return to my GP who examined me and referred me to a surgeon. After the surgeon examined me, he confirmed that I did have a large mass under my right arm and that it must be removed immediately. He spoke to another surgeon who informed him that the operating list was full. He replied, “Get rid of someone!”
It gives you the mostly sinking, horrible feeling to look down at your file and see a big red URGENT sticker on it. This is when I knew things were starting to go very wrong for me. I mentioned the Bullis Pemphigoid and asked for his opinion. He told me that my immune system was so locked into fighting the tumours that it had broken down. The Bullis Pemphigoid was a reflection of this. At least I had an answer now, although I was certainly not thrilled with the reason.
On the 3rd May 1990 I had the operation and I was in hospital for the 5 days. It was very challenging to stay optimistic during these days, but always in the back of my mind I was waiting for someone to walk in and say, “Sorry, this has all been a big mistake and there is nothing wrong with you.” Unfortunately, that person never turned up.
When I went back, the following Friday, for the official results, it was like being sent before a judge to hear the verdict; Guilty or not guilty? What had I done wrong in my life to deserve this treatment? Why me? The anger was starting to surface at the injustice of it all. My children were only six and eight years old. It just wasn’t fair. After waiting for the doctor, for over two hours, my nerves were shot. Finally, the results were delivered.
The report stated that, from the group of lymph nodes removed from my right axillary, metastatic tumour was present extensively in two of them. The largest mass was five centimetres in diameter. A third node was having mild reactive changes only. Most of the following conversation was a blur. The few words that registered became etched into my mind.
My first question was – “How long do I have to live?” He replied, “I’m not sure, maybe a couple of months, perhaps a couple of years.” Then I asked, “What would finally finish me off?” He said, “It will go to either your lungs, liver or brain. You will be referred to an Oncologist. They will monitor your progress. In your situation chemotherapy is unlikely to help. Since you are young, with a young family, you would be better off going home and enjoying whatever time you have left”.
Two days later it was Mothers Day and one of the hardest days of my life. Facing my children and not knowing whether this was my last Mothers Day with them. What would they do next year when everyone at school was preparing gifts for their mothers? The pain in my heart was incredible.
I woke up during the night shaking. The images flashing through my mind can only be understood by someone who has been in this situation. No words can accurately describe what I went through. I went to see my GP for help. He prescribed me Serapax, a sedative for my nerves, and told me to send in the rest of the family to see him if they needed anything to help them cope.
When I went to see the Oncologist, he looked at my file, shook his head, clicked his tongue in a disapproving manner and simply said, “You’re in the hands of fate.” As fate would have it, I am thankful to those doctors for being so blunt with me and triggering off something inside of me that said “If fate has anything to do with this, I’m going to give it all the help it needs!” I had to find my own answer to cancer.
I received a wonderful letter from a lady who had heard of my story from my aunty. Her husband was given a 50/50 chance of surviving melanoma 2 ½ years previously and after taking responsibility for the management of his own illness, he was now happy and well. She advised me to contact the Cancer Support WA where she assured me that I would find the most loving and wonderful group of people who would be able to understand what I was going through. She also suggested that I see a Naturopath, and read Ian Gawler’s book “You Can Conquer Cancer”, and Louise Hay’s book “You Can Heal Your Life”. This is exactly what I needed. I rang Cancer Support WA immediately and was invited to attend their group. My next phone call was to the naturopath and I managed to get an appointment for the following week.
I was willing to eat cabbage leaves for the rest on my life, or stand on my head three times a day, if that was deemed necessary. I was greatly relieved when I met the Naturopath. He gave me a wonderful array of foods from which I could choose. Body brushing, castor oil packs, magnetic treatment and vitamin therapy were the order of the day. His accuracy with iridology was incredible. It was almost as though he had read my medical history from when I was a baby. I was so encouraged by his incredible understanding that I was determined to follow his instructions exactly and without any deviations. For the first twelve months of my recovery, not one thing passed my lips that weren’t on my food list. It really wasn’t that hard because my desire to live was far greater than my desire for anything else.
I attended Cancer Support WA with a friend and received some counseling. Although I had originally felt that I wouldn’t need it, the counseling gave me an incredible insight. It revealed to me, my emotions had suppressed my immune system and allowed the cancer to develop inside of me. This revelation was tremendously beneficial. During meetings with other cancer clients, it was wonderful to be able to relate to people who knew exactly how I was feeling. They could give me empathy, instead of sympathy. The mediation was fantastic, and to find a library full of books about healing was like finding a gold mine. I meditated every day and will do so for the rest of my life.
Through Cancer Support WA and also the Naturopath, I was informed about a Cancer Patients Retreat to be held. This was also a very large aspect of my recovery process. We were taught the Silva Method of Mind Control and in between sessions, we learnt about other methods of complementary medicine. This I found very interesting. There were guest speakers about Bach Flowers, allergy testing, diet and also a Reiki practitioner.
Reiki is hands-on healing and when the practitioner gave me a session, I felt as though she had touched more than just my arm, I felt so at peace. I had seven more Reiki sessions and finally decided to become a Reiki Channel myself. I find this to be a very important part of my life now and it helps me continue to be positive about all aspects of my life.
I felt like a sponge, willing to read everything and anything which could help me. There was a mountain of books by my bed. After reading several of these books I said to my husband, “I could be doing some pretty weird things in the next twelve months” to which he replied “I don’t care what you do, as long as you get well”. Not necessarily understanding what I was doing, but giving me the freedom to try anything without criticism, was the perfect support. Another piece of my recovery puzzle was my attitude. I wouldn’t have succeeded if I had merely just tried. I viewed it as a challenge and I was 110% committed to conquering the cancer. It became my reason to make all of those changes in my life that I had always “been going to do.” I became open to new things that I had never been willing to explore previously.
Several check-ups later, 22 months after having the secondary tumors removed from under my arm, the Oncologist informed me that he didn’t need to see me anymore. At every opportunity I told him of the complementary therapies I was exploring. As I left his office he said to me, “Don’t think that it’s because of anything you’ve done. There is such a thing as spontaneous remission.” I was highly offended. He was not interested in anything that I had explored and was completely oblivious of the dedication and commitment I had made towards my own recovery.
The last two and a half decades have been exciting years in my life and I find it hard to believe it all happened because of a little red dot on my arm. I felt that because I had received so much from Cancer Support WA, it was time for me to give back to the organization and to the amazing people I had met on my healing journey. In 1991 I completed a course as a Volunteer Carer and spent considerable time in providing telephone support, making visits to clients in hospitals, supporting group participants and I also giving Reiki regularly on a one to one basis to clients.
I attended the support group for five years as both a participant and a carer, so in 1995, when the Group Facilitator went on long service leave, I was asked to stand-in for her during this time. At first I was very apprehensive but during the three months she was away, I gained confidence and absolutely loved it. The original facilitator decided to resign and not return from long service leave, so I was employed by Cancer Support WA to work as a Group Facilitator.
This was a huge opportunity for me and I knew I needed further education and professional development. I approached the Wasley Institute and was fortunate to be accepted into their two year training course as a Groupwork Leader. This course was fantastic and explored many aspects of the responsibility of being a group facilitator. It gave me to confidence to know that whatever happened in a group, I was capable of handling it. I also went to the Gawler Foundation in the Yarra Valley and trained as a Cancer Support Leader. This training enabled me to facilitate weekly Cancer Support Groups, Wellness Courses, and a Women’s Support Group. In 1996 I started the Rockingham Cancer Support Group. I facilitated this group for the following five years.
In 1996 I initiated the development of Reiki clinics. I had found Reiki to be an integral part of my healing and felt that a clinic would be appreciated by members of the group if it were made available. I spoke to Cancer Support WA Director and was given approval to buy several massage tables so that we could help as many people as possible in a short time. These clinics were very well received and expanded rapidly. With the support of an average of ten Reiki practitioners, we were able to help many people relax and allow them to enjoy some very peaceful and healing time after the support meetings.
I enjoyed representing Cancer Support WA as a Speaker, and gave many presentations at a variety of different forums including conferences, schools, Rotary Clubs, health centres, as well as to hospital and allied health professionals. I was always pleased when people came up to me at the end of the presentations and shared their personal experiences with cancer, either as someone who had experienced it themselves or as a close family member or friend. This reinforced the value of having someone to listen to their story – everyone has a story.
In 1999, it became apparent for the need of a one day seminar for people newly diagnosed with cancer. I specifically designed the inaugural “Meeting the Challenge” seminars to introduce various holistic options, to better manage treatment and the recovery phase, and also sustain an improved sense of health and well-being.
After leaving Cancer Support WA, I decided that I wanted to reach people earlier with this message about health and well-being, so I created and presented corporate wellness programs for the following four years. I have always had a fascination for the power of the mind. In 2005 I decided to nourish this fascination and I commenced training as a Clinical Hypnotherapist. It seemed to be a natural extension of my previous work, only now, purposefully utilising the power of the subconscious mind. I use Hypnotherapy for healing, as well as for the many other physical and emotional challenges in life.
In 2010, I returned to Cancer Support WA for two days a week, where I continued my role as a Wellness Facilitator alongside my private practice at Life XL. In 2017 I published my full story of healing in a book – My Answer to Cancer. My wish for this book is that it gives hope and inspiration to many people.
EDITOR'S NOTE: As of April 2022 Cathy is thriving post-diagnosis.
All is well for me – I am still healthy!!
On 3rd May 2020 it has been 30 years since I was diagnosed with Metastatic Melanoma and given two months to two years to live. I was going to be in Bhutan, leading a group of people but unfortunately with what is happening in the world, this was cancelled – hopefully postponed to next year.
I am still working in my own business LifeXL, promoting my book My Answer to Cancer and also doing Clinical Hypnotherapy. I also work two days a week at Solaris Cancer Care as a Support Group Facilitator and also run wellness courses.
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