Support for Vicki

My journey began two years ago when a mole on my left shoulder blade was diagnosed as melanoma.  I went to Duke to have the spot and the lymph node under my left arm pit removed.  After two very long weeks of waiting we found out that they had taken wide margins near the initial melanoma site and the lymph node -- both came back clean.  The cancer had not spread.

I was so excited to hear the news.  I was not afraid of dying but the thought of leaving my two children behind,  a son (then 8) and daughter (then 6) was devastating.  My father died of lung cancer five days before my sixteenth birthday and I remember how difficult of a time that was for me and my younger brother.  I was also worried about all the work it would be for my husband to raise the two kids alone.  My daughter has special needs and is medically fragile and requires assistance for all parts of her daily living.  She was born at 31 weeks E-coli-septic, and many of her organs were impacted. She is a happy girl but requires full-time care for all aspects of her life (feeding, diapering, etc.).  Nurses go to school with her daily and stay with her afterschool until we can get home from work.  Her medical needs have absorbed nearly all of our disposable income.

For the past two years I have been going to regular follow-ups with the dermatologist (for skin checks) and oncologist and nothing was found.  I was not feeling sick or different in any way; even with the daily pressures of life with our fragile daughter, life was good.  By August of 2014, we had bought a new house and were excited at moving into a new phase of family life.   The mounting medical bills after our daughter's birth caused us to lose our first home and destroyed our credit.  After many years, we were finally starting to get back on our feet financially.  

During the move, my back hurt a lot but I assumed I had just pulled a muscle from all the lugging of boxes and furniture.  I didn't think anything of it, and we finally closed on the house on Sept. 30th.   As we began settling in to the new house, my back (lower left) progressively hurt more and more.  I went to a chiropractor who thought I had possibly broken a lower floating rib.  X-rays were taken but nothing was found.  He thought by the physical exam that there might be a hairline fracture so he didn't want to do any adjustments and referred me to a physical therapist to try to stop the muscles from spasming and give comfort while waiting for it to heal.  After three visits I stopped going to the physical therapist as it was making the pain worse.  I then follow-up with my primary doctor in November who did a larger set of xrays.  A large amount of fluid was found around my left lung.  A CT-Scan with contrast  was done and that is when I found out that I had eight tumors in my chest and abdominal area.  

My life was forever changed on November 10, 2014 getting this news -- the news I had thought I had escaped two years ago.  "The cancer has spread and now it is in your organs."  At this point, I prayed that it was some type of cancer other than melanoma, which is highly aggressive.  After three MRIs and a liver biopsy it was confirmed the worst -- it was melanoma.

For two weeks we waited (again) to find out the genetic marker for the melanoma so we could determine how to best treat the cancer.  During these two weeks I went from working full time as a high school math teacher to barely being able to get out of bed due to the pain.  I could not believe how quickly the pain increased and my ability to be a mother, wife, and professional teacher deteriorated.   After what seemed like an interminable time, I finally found out that my melanoma is BRAF positive.  I was admitted into UNC to begin treatment and get control of the debilitating pain.  As of today, the pain is under control and I feel that the medicine that is attacking the melanoma is doing its job.  Many nights I cannot sleep, and many days I cannot even get out of bed to walk to the kitchen.  The side effects can make the days tough sometimes, but if the medicine is doing its job then its my job to get through the side effects. 

I am nearing my sixtieth consecutive day of being out of work and will have to go out on short -term disability which will drop my salary to 50% of my regular full-time salary.  I am thankful that I have disability at all but going from full time pay to part-time pay -- on a school teacher's salary -- is going to make it difficult to pay the mortgage.  My husband got laid off 6 months ago and for the past two months has done nothing but take care of me, the kids, the house and manage all of me and my daughter's medical care and bills.  We are hoping to use any funds raised to help pay for our mortgage payments and help defray the cost of all medical bills.  It had taken us eight years to get out of most of our daughter's medical debt from her birth and build our credit back up to be able to own a home again.  We would like to be able to keep the new home we just purchased while fighting melanoma this second time.

Thank you for all your positive thoughts and prayers you have been sending me.   I know that together we will get through this.
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Vicki Stohl 
Wilmington, NC
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