Melissa Sheldon is a VCCC Alliance consumer representative who has lived with melanoma for 13 years. She was first diagnosed at 29 and has survived, even when the cancer progressed to Stage 4.
This is her incredible story.
I’ve had two craniotomies, whole brain radiation, stereotactic radiation. I have had to learn to walk and talk again. When I was first diagnosed, they said I was lucky to live two years, let alone five. It (melanoma) was initially found in my belly button, then spread to my lungs, pelvis and brain.
I rode the wave of the new treatments, and luckily, with an amazing multidisciplinary team of specialists, I am still here.
Professor Grant McArthur, the VCCC Alliance Executive Director, was my oncologist through Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre. Before joining the alliance as a consumer, I advocated with him and others including the late Clare Oliver and Ron Walker, on several campaigns, including to ban sunbeds and to get new melanoma drugs added to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.
I had great support from my family. My parents took care of different parts of my life so that I could fully concentrate on giving myself every chance. That’s how we approached this. It was like a business.
So how am I today? I have epilepsy. I’m very fatigued. I live a different lifestyle. I used to be a bull at a gate. Now, I’m the turtle rather than the hare. Life hasn’t turned out the way I thought it would, but I have more empathy and my family are closer for the experience. I feel fortunate to now work with the VCCC Alliance to help others who are affected by cancer, and their families, and be a part of change that helps to improve the system for all.
In five years’ time I’d like to see funding to the VCCC Alliance continue so we can build on the successful work we have already done. I would love to see SKILLED (Clinical Trial Internship Program) go national, and to see more involvement from Indigenous and culturally diverse consumers to build on our network. I can see the VCCC Alliance – the comprehensive cancer centre – model going national and I hope it can be done collaboratively, with states working together. I believe the consumer voice would be integral to this.
Melissa is a consumer representative Steering Group Member, Health Equity and Personalised Cancer Care; Co-Chair of the Consumer Reference Group, Personalised Cancer Care; and SKILLED program.