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Your Journey

Celeste Antonucci

Both my sons have melanoma. My 31 yr old is now 2 years NED after a stage 3 diagnosis/surgery 3 lymph nodes removed all clear. My 23 yr old was just diagnosed and had removal 3 weeks ago stage 0. A world I never wanted to be part of. I’m a very scared mom!!! 

Olivia Wallace

My daughter Shayna was a healthy young mother. But at 21 she was diagnosed with cervical melanoma. Her whole world changed with those words. Shayna had treatment at some of the biggest melanoma centers throughout the United States, but even that never stopped her cancer after each surgery it didn’t take long to hear it was back again. So after fighting and induring the horror of chemo therapy and everything else, the cancer won. Shayna died at home at the age of 24. Since this was twenty years ago there is more treatments and more support on line. We didn’t even have a computer when she was sick.

Stephanie Bowen

I grew up on the beaches of SoCal. I spent LOTS of time laying out and burning through my childhood, teens, and twenties. That is a lot of sun damage to my skin. When I turned 30 I was diagnosed with stage 1 melanoma. I had a lymph node biopsy and basically went on my way with annual x-rays and blood work. 10 years later the melanoma returned as stage 4. I began 2011 with a 16 cm tumor in my left armpit and mets in my lungs and bones. I was dying. Thanks for Dr. Hamid at the Angeles Clinic and Dr. Morton at the John Wayne Cancer Center, I was saved by 5 rounds of biochemotherapy. This brutal treatment combines 5 drugs at the same time, 3 chemo drugs and 2 immunotherapy drugs. I received 2 years of treatments in 5 months and by May of 2011 I was declared NED. I am currently 7 years NED. Life has blessed me and one of my passions is to spread a message of HOPE to others.

Joseph S

I was 27yo in 2007. I was laid off and had no insurance. I went to the doctor to have a weird looking mole looked at. After a biopsy, I quickly learned I had stage 2 melanoma. It was excised and I had a sentinel node biopsy which came back clear. I then had many appointments with an oncologist for blood work and to determine my plan for treatment. By this time I was broke and ended up having to file bankruptcy. I couldn’t get assistance and couldn’t afford care so I stopped getting care. In 2011, still w/o insurance but financially getting back on my feet, I went back to the oncologist for a check-up. He pointed out some suspicious moles and sent me back to my dermatologist. I had some biopsies done and one came back as stage 1 melanoma. My dermatologist said I only needed to have it excised and I should be fine. So that’s what we did. I followed up for a couple years, getting biopsy after biopsy and several excisions on abnormal spots. Then money got tight again and I stopped getting check-ups. Now this year, while visiting a friend in another state, I found a great dermatologist at a good price. I went in and had some biopsies done. One was stage 1b melanoma. I couldn’t afford another node biopsy so decided to just have it excised. Since then I’ve made several trips there and have had enough biopsies and excisions that I don’t even try to count them anymore. I’m now trying to figure out how I’m going to move and find a better job with benefits simply so I can keep fighting.

Staci Hotujec

This is my wife’s story (Staci Hotujec) - My journey started back in August 2018 when I had a large mole on my leg removed and it came back positive for Melanoma. In September we learned that I have a particularly aggressive type of Melanoma and my diagnosis was Stage 2C. I had surgery to remove the tissue around where my mole had been removed, which left me with a hole in my leg about the size of a hockey puck, the surgeon also removed a lymph node in my groin to see if the cancer had spread. The lymph node came back positive for Melanoma, which means the cancer had spread up to the lymph nodes in my groin. This now put my diagnosis at Stage 3C. In October I had another surgery to remove the rest of the lymph nodes in my groin, those were all tested and the cancer spread to three out of nine lymph nodes. At this point I was 20 weeks pregnant with Boone, we were presented with three different options to treat the cancer moving forward; terminate the pregnancy and begin treatment immediately, wait to start any treatment until after I have the baby between 32-34 weeks, or start a form of treatment that has been used for decades and is mostly safe with pregnancy but will make me feel really crummy and it isn’t very effective. With these options my Oncologist recommended we get a second opinion from a doctor/professor at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago who specializes in Melanoma. So we made the trip to Chicago and talked with him, we decided to wait on any treatment and have the baby early. After this I had one more surgery to have a skin graft over the area the mole and tissue was removed on my leg. After healing from the last surgery it was almost like life was getting back to normal. I was able to go back to work and even start driving after not being able to for over three months. My belly was growing and the baby was healthy after all of that. There still was a chance that the Melanoma could spread to the baby through my placenta, so we had to make sure to get that tested after I gave birth. Fast forward to this year, I was induced on January 30 and gave birth to a perfectly healthy baby Boone on February 1st! He was in the NICU for two weeks until he figured out how to take all of his bottles, my placenta came back negative for Melanoma so it did not spread to Boone (which was a huge relief).  On February 5th, I had another PET/CT Scan to get a baseline of the cancer in my body. The next day we learned the worst news, in the last few months the cancer spread into the bones in my back, lungs, liver, and spleen. This brought my diagnosis to Stage 4, which means the cancer in my body is no longer curable, it will always be with me. The last few weeks have really taken a toll on me emotionally and physically. My entire abdominal area is swollen and very painful, it’s hard to eat because of my enlarged organs pushing on my stomach, I’m weak and get short of breath when walking small distances, and my back is starting to hurt. I have been accepted into a clinical trial and I started an immunotherapy treatment on Thursday this past week. I will continue to go in every three weeks for about three to four hours until the medicine is no longer working, then I will switch to a different type of treatment. My hope is that the medicine starts working quickly and shrinks the cancer spots so I can start feeling more like myself. The support of my family, friends, and coworkers has been absolutely incredible; you all mean so much to me! Dustin has been a rock throughout this whole journey and has stepped up to do everything around the house that I’m not able to, especially now that Boone is home. He’s such a great dad to our precious little boy! I want to get better and live a long life for them. I’m finally telling my story because this is a part of my life and will always be. There will be good days and there will be bad days, but I’m doing my best to stay positive and get well. If you have any positive thoughts or well wishes that you’d like to send my way, either now or in the future, I’m always accepting them. They mean more to me than you might realize. Also, PSA, please remember to wear sunscreen and get any suspicious moles or marks on your body checked as soon as you notice them, don’t wait . 

A week shy of her 30th birthday, Staci’s valiant and courageous battle with Stage 4 Melanoma came to an end. Staci was surrounded by her family and an incredible amount of love. We were blessed with the opportunity to say goodbye to this wonderful wife, mother, daughter, granddaughter who meant so much to so many. Accepting this tremendous loss is certainly a difficult endeavor. Staci’s family and friends will continue to need prayers and support in the days to come as we process this immense loss.