- BBC newsreader, radio journalist, and podcast host Clare Runacres recently celebrated her 20th wedding anniversary, something she never expected as she was told leading up to her wedding that she had only six months to live due to an aggressive skin cancer diagnosis.
- Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that starts in the same cells that give your skin, hair and eyes their color.
- There are treatments for all stages of melanoma, although the cure rate is highest for those in the earlier stages. Treatment options may include: surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, and targeted therapy.
- Once your cancer spreads, treatment gets a little more complicated, but there are still ways to stop it. New treatments have vastly improved the outlook for people with metastatic, or stage IV, melanoma.
- Targeted drugs block proteins and other substances the cancer needs to grow, while immunotherapy boosts your body’s own response to help it fight the cancer better. With so many more choices available, treatment can be tailored to you.
Now she’s sharing her story of hope to inspire others dealing with adversity and disease, showing that anything is possible with optimism and faith.
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Alongside the informative caption, Runacres and her husband are seen smiling side-by-side on their beautiful wedding day.
“It was a beautiful day. Full of love and tears. Surrounded by our closest friends and family,” Runacres continued.
“We put our fears aside and danced til dawn. Even now I can’t look at the photos without feeling that raw emotion.”
Runacres, who took her husband’s hand in marriage on September 13, 2003, concluded, “Today is our 20th wedding anniversary. It feels like a miracle to write those words.”
Runacres concluded in her caption, “Mikey, thank you for taking a chance on me. You’re the best person I know. You are my miracle.
“For those living with cancer – keep hoping, believing, dreaming.”
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After sharing her wedding photos and miraculous story, which prompted praise and gratitude from many of her fans, Runacres wrote for The Mail On Sunday about what followed.
She wrote, “I thought I’d get a few ‘likes’ from friends and colleagues. But the response was simply overwhelming. The posts have now been seen by more than three million people.
“Before this, I’d never considered writing in detail about what happened to me. Of course, the experience has shaped the person that I am. As a newsreader on BBC radio, my job is to handle bad news with sensitivity and compassion – I think I’ve learnt to do this, partly, from what I have been through.”
“However, after that post, so many people commented, shared their experiences and asked questions, it made me realize there’s a discussion to be had about the long shadow of cancer,” she explained. “Everyone rightly focuses on diagnosis and treatment. But there are profound and lasting effects if you are lucky enough to survive.”
Runacres explained how she was 20 year’s old, studying at the University of Oxford, when she was first diagnosed with a type of skin cancer called melanoma. Prior to her diagnosis, she had dealt with back issues which led her doctor to spot an “unusual mole.”
She added, “I was told it was stage two, which meant it hadn’t spread beyond the skin. This meant surgery to remove it had a good chance of success. The operation left me with a 20 cm scar down the middle of my back.”
No further treatment was needed after her surgery, however, she did have checkups every six months, and then every year for about seven years to check for recurrence.
However, cancer returned when she was 29, in the spring of 2003. Doctors found a “large mass” under her left arm, prompting her to get another biopsy.
She was then diagnosed with stage 3b melanoma that had spread to her lymph nodes, and told “it was likely that tumors would begin to appear in my brain, lungs or liver next. And once that happened, I could have just months to live.”
However, the cancer never spread any further. Fast forward to today, Runacres explained via the Daily Mail, “Over the past few weeks, many people have asked me what I did to stay alive so long. The thing is, I haven’t done anything remarkable. I have tried to live a healthy life and to stay positive. And I recognize that I have been lucky.
“Cancer has taught me to let go of anger and look for the positive – to live my life moment to moment. I can’t change what will happen. I can only manage where I am now. I live in the long shadow of cancer, but I try to fill my life with sunlight.”
Reaching Milestones as a Cancer Survivor
Reaching milestones during or after a cancer battle is huge. These events like getting engaged, reaching another birthday, a wedding anniversary, a high school reunion, or a “cancerversary” may mean even more than they did previously, so it’s important to take them all in and celebrate all that you’ve overcome.
Chrissy Degennaro is also a cancer warrior determined to keep enjoying these precious milestones. She has been battling a rare blood cancer called multiple myeloma for 14 years, and was first diagnosed when she was just 36 years old with a 2-year-old son.
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When she was given her diagnosis, she almost expected to not be able to see him enter kindergarten. But thanks to 27 rounds of chemotherapy, two stem cell transplants, a CAR-T cell trial and two CAR-T cell transplants over following 14 years, she’s able to keep making memories with her family.
“You know, I do live one day at a time,” Chrissy previously told SurvivorNet.
“Now, maybe I can go a week, a month, but things are looking pretty good. I’m able to be here for more milestones for my son, for more holidays, more birthdays. I do feel like I have had another chance at life.”
Life After a Diagnosis
Dr. Siddhartha Ganguly, of the University of Kansas, stresses how important mindset and lifestyle are for individuals diagnosed with cancer.
“Although diet, exercise, and a positive attitude can never replace the interventional cancer treatment that you and your oncologist decide on, these factors can absolutely help patients tolerate these treatments,” he previously told SurvivorNet.
In addition to the psychological benefits of a positive attitude, studies suggest that an optimistic attitude can directly support the immune system.
“Research has actually proven that depression can result in a decreased immune system and increased chance of infection,” Dr. Ganguly says.
People who approach treatment with an upbeat outlook and healthy habits will have “a better chance of coming out of the treatment with less complications, and probably will be able to tolerate it better,” he explained.
Supporting a Family Member Through Cancer
People like Clare Runacres can feel a wide range of emotions when confronted with a cancer diagnosis. Many may feel depressed, anxious, worried, overwhelmed, and even full of grief. Support your loved one as best you can by being a loving, listening ear and lending support.
Dr. Scott Irwin, director of supportive care service at Cedars-Sinai, explains in an earlier interview the grief that may accompany a cancer diagnosis. “Grief comes in waves,” he says.
“It often gets better over time, but at certain days, it can look like depression. And other days, people look perfectly normal and can function.”
“They’re grieving the change in their life, the future they had imagined is now different,” says Dr. Irwin, of how a person may feel after getting a cancer diagnosis.
“In cancer care, sometimes, we’re actually forcing some body changes that are beyond what would be normal aging, and that can be even harder for people to deal with where they don’t feel like themselves.”
Finding the Support You Need
During or after a cancer battle, it’s important to know that you are not alone. And you don’t need a large family or a significant other to get the support you need during your fight with a disease.
There’s always people out there for you to be vulnerable with, if you’d like, and connecting with others as you battle the disease can make a world of difference. Another cancer warrior named Kate Hervey knows this all too well. A young college girl, she was shocked to be diagnosed with synovial sarcoma, a rare type of cancer that tends to form near large joints in young adults, after seeing her doctor for tenderness and lumps in one of her legs.
Hervey, a nursing student at Michigan State, had to handle her cancer battle during the COVID-19 pandemic and scale back on her social activities as a high-risk patient. That’s when she turned to TikTok as a creative outlet and inspired thousands.
“One thing that was nice about TikTok that I loved and why I started posting more and more videos is how many people I was able to meet through TikTok and social media that are going through the same things,” she says.
“I still text with this one girl who is 22. If I’m having a hard time, I will text her because she will understand. As much as my family and friends are supportive, it’s hard to vent to someone who doesn’t know what it’s really like.”
Hervey is now cancer-free and says she couldn’t have done it without the love and support of her TikTok followers.
“I feel like I’ve made an impact on other people and they have made an impact on me through TikTok, which is crazy to say. I can help people go through what I’ve been going through as well.”
So while sharing your story to a vast Tik Tok audience might not be your thing, it’s important to consider opening up to others during your cancer battle. Even if it’s with a smaller group, you never know how much the support can help you, or help those you share with, unless you try.
Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that starts in the same cells that give your skin, hair and eyes their color. The disease can develop from an existing mole or appear as a dark or pink growth on the skin even in places on the body that never see the sun. It’s also known to be the deadliest form of skin cancer, SurvivorNet experts explain.
“Melanomas are the deadliest type of skin cancer because they have a tendency to spread to other parts of the body,” explains Dr. Anna Pavlick, a medical oncologist with Weill Cornell Medicine who specializes in treating skin cancer.
Once you’ve been diagnosed with melanoma, your doctor will typically tell you the stage of your melanoma based on how far the cancer has spread. The way that melanoma spreads is a bit different from other cancers. The higher the stage of melanoma, the deeper it has spread into the layers of your skin, and the more serious your cancer is.
Melanoma is known mostly as a cancer of the skin. Melanocytes are the cells of the skin that produce the pigment melanin that colors the skin, hair, and eyes. They can also form moles, which is typically the origin of a melanoma diagnosis.
Melanoma is staged based on how deep the cancer has infiltrated the skin.
- Stage 1: less than 1 mm in depth and easily removed by a dermatologist
- Stage 2: greater than 1mm in depth and removed by a surgical oncologist
- Stage 3: greater than 2 mm or 3 mm in depth and has spread into the lymph nodes
- Stage 4: most advanced stage representing cancer that has spread to other parts of the body
There are treatments for all stages of melanoma, although the cure rate is highest for those in the earlier stages. Treatment options may include: surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, and targeted therapy.
Later-Stage Melanoma Treatment
Once your cancer spreads, treatment gets a little more complicated, but there are still ways to stop it. New treatments have vastly improved the outlook for people with metastatic, or stage IV, melanoma.
Targeted drugs block proteins and other substances the cancer needs to grow, while immunotherapy boosts your body’s own response to help it fight the cancer better. With so many more choices available, treatment can be tailored to you. These therapies are more likely than chemotherapy to control your cancer, but like any treatment they can cause side effects.
Immunotherapy drugs like pembrolizumab (Keytruda) and nivolumab (Opdivo) can help some people with this cancer live longer. Whether these drugs are right for you depends on a number of factors, including where the melanoma is and how fast it’s spreading. Combining immunotherapy drugs might also extend survival. But again, these treatments have risks that are important to discuss with your doctor.
There’s also a vaccine that has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for people whose melanoma has spread and can’t be removed with surgery. Talimogene laherparepvec (T-VEC) is a modified herpes virus that kills cancer cells when doctors inject it directly into the cancer.
Researchers, including some of SurvivorNet’s own experts, are studying other groundbreaking melanoma treatments in clinical trials. Enrolling in one of these studies might give you access to a new treatment before it’s available to everyone else.
Once you’ve finished treatment for melanoma, it can come with a huge sense of relief.
Celebrate your successes, but stay vigilant. It is possible for this cancer to come back in the future, like in the case of Clare Runacres. Whether your cancer is likely to return may depend on your stage, so screening recommendations vary. If you had early-stage melanoma, you should have a skin exam once every three to six months.
If you had late-stage melanoma, in addition to regular skin exams every three to six months, you may also need imaging scans or blood tests to monitor for signs of recurrence. You should also report any symptoms such as a headache, changes in vision, cough, fatigue, or weight loss to your doctor.
Contributing: SurvivorNet Staff