MelanomaWA support group here to help: survivor

Michelle Slabbert. Picture: Martin Kennealey                 d444717       
Michelle Slabbert. Picture: Martin Kennealey d444717       

IT was Michelle Slabbert’s son who first noticed a “blood blister-looking mole” on her head when getting rid of a bug that had flown into her hair.

The Butler grandmother-of-four was diagnosed with metastatic melanoma about 13 years ago at the age of 41.

Her mole was removed at a skin cancer clinic and she was sent to Sir Charles Gairdener Hospital for further testing before an oncologist checked her body for any further signs.

“Following the initial excision of the metastatic melanoma lesion, I received no further treatment or follow up,” she said.

“It was only once the first tumour returned as a subcutaneous lump in my breast in 2008 that treatment began in earnest.”

She was put on an immunotherapy clinical trial after two lesions were removed from her lung.

“Things were going well with the trial until two brain lesions were discovered in 2009, a week before my husband (Martin) and I were to leave on a 10-day holiday to the Greek Isles,” she said.

Mrs Slabbert had eight operations to remove 10 tumours and underwent whole brain radiation.

She has been tumour-free for four years.

“All of my tumours have been removed surgically as they have been operable. Every melanoma case is different but not unusual… it depends on what stage the melanoma is at,” she said.

“Stage four is the final stage (where I am). Stage four melanoma can be any thickness and has spread to distant lymph nodes and organs like the lungs, liver, brain or bone.”

She said at this stage her health was “great” but she would be on medication and monitoring for the rest of her life.

“I have definitely got a different perspective of life and appreciate every thing and everyone each day,” she said. “I enjoy life to the fullest and recently completed my first City to Surf half marathon.”

A northern suburbs support group for those touched by melanoma will be launched in Joondalup to help people cope with diagnosis and treatment.

Mrs Slabbert, who has taken on a mentoring role with melanomaWA, said access to support during diagnosis and treatment was vital.

“We have new members coming to our groups just like I did when I was first diagnosed and I would love to be able to show them that not all is doom and gloom,” Mrs Slabbert said.

“We can inspire each other and we learn so much from each others’ experiences.

“We become a big family, so to say.”

MelanomaWA support services co-ordinator Clare Moynihan said 1200 people were diagnosed with melanoma in WA each year, with the majority living in the metropolitan area.

“Perth’s northern suburbs have greatly expanded in recent years and melanomaWA thinks it is time to establish a support group meeting in the north,” she said.

Mrs Slabbert will share her story at an information session with other guest speakers being held from 6.30-7.30pm at Joondalup’s Genesis CancerCare at Shenton House on Thursday, October 22.

The first support meeting will be held on Thursday, November 26, with regular meetings on the fourth Thursday of each month from January.

Call Clare Moynihan on 9322 1908 or email support@melanomawa.org.au.