Monday, August 24, 2020

My three-month post-surgery update

My makeup-free face tonight, slowly returning to normal. 

Hello dear ones, 

I know many of you are wondering how I'm doing on my cancer journey, so I thought I'd post a three-month post-surgery update for you. 

First up, I want to say thank you for your ongoing love, support and prayers. It is making so much difference to me and my outlook on things. 

Right now I'm sitting in my living room, which is filled with the beautiful fragrance of lilies that my friend, Geraldine, dropped off for us along with a delicious meal a couple of weeks ago. The flowers have been slowly opening up and releasing their sweet smell ever since. I love them. (Thanks Geraldine!)

Another amazing thing that has helped me on my journey all the way through is a weekly prayer Zoom call with my extended family. It's something my wonderful cousin, Rachel, organises every week and I can't even express how much it helps me mentally and spiritually. I bring my worries and fears to the group and, together, we pray the peace back into me. It's also lovely seeing everyone's faces each week, since we all live in different parts of New Zealand. 

Now for all my treatment updates...

This week I'm booked in for a CT scan with contrast. I will be having these every three months to keep an eye on things internally and see if there is any sign of new tumours forming. I have my doubts about the accuracy of these scans, since my PET CT scan only showed three tumours, but in fact 11 were removed during surgery. Still, it's better than nothing. 

Melanoma is a sneaky disease. There's currently no way to find it through a blood test, although I'm part of a University of Auckland research study that is hoping to change that. 

Unfortunately, I had to miss my last physiotherapy appointment because of the Level 3 lockdown in Auckland, but my neck and shoulder are much improved and I continue to do my exercises at home. I'll be able to see my physiotherapist again when we move to Level 2. I actually see two different physiotherapists, and they both spend time massaging my scars and doing lymph node drainage, since I had 71 lymph nodes removed during surgery. 

Here's how my scars were looking after my last massage and laser treatment. Can you see that tendon pulling tight on the side of my neck? It wasn't there before my surgery. I have to keep doing stretches to try and loosen it, because it is constantly shortening and trying to pull my shoulder out of alignment.

I hardly have any pain now and I'm getting more range of motion and strength every week. I noticed a huge improvement when I started eating a plant-based diet. I think it reduced the inflammation in my shoulder dramatically. I can even lie on my left side to sleep sometimes, which is amazing. It feels a bit strange because my surgical site is largely numb, so I feel like I'm floating, but at least it gives me a break from sleeping on my back and on my right. 

I'm enjoying eating plant-based. There are lots of lovely vegan foods available at the supermarket these days, which make it easy to whip up quick lunches and dinners. It's also nice making the most of my vegetable garden. 

I'm actually in the process of building a new potager garden directly out the door from my kitchen, to give me even easier access to salad greens and herbs. I like having a project to tackle. It gives me a sense of purpose and I love spending time in my garden. I think it's good for my mental health. 

I seem to be regaining nerve function in my face every day. I posted this side-by-side on Instagram, a couple of weeks ago, and I think my smile is even more even now. (The photo at the top of this post was taken tonight.)

My Keytruda immunotherapy treatments continue every three weeks. So far I haven't noticed any side effects to these treatments, apart from a slightly elevated liver enzyme level. (I have blood tests every three weeks to keep an eye on all sorts of things.) Please pray I will continue to be free from negative side effects and that my liver will return to normal. 

One good thing about my cancer journey is that I haven't had to do radiation or chemotherapy, so I haven't had to suffer the horrible pain and nausea that people on those treatments suffer. 

I had the option of doing radiation on my neck, but chose not to as it has awful side effects and only a very small chance of helping. Because we were able to fund the more-effective Keytruda immunotherapy (thanks to my husband's generous bosses and our insurance policy), my surgeon and oncologist were both happy for me to forego the radiation. 

Not being obviously sick also means that my kids aren't too worried about me, which is nice. I would hate for them to worry. The cancer they're familiar with is the one they've seen on TV, where people lose their hair and throw up way too much. 

I actually have lost a lot of hair since having my surgery. I lose handfuls every day and estimate that I've lost about a third of my hair so far. Since I'm not doing chemotherapy, I can only assume it's because of all the stress and trauma my body went through with surgery and healing from that. Fortunately I started out with a thick head of hair, so it's not too noticeable. 

And I think that's everything I have to update you on at this stage. Please feel free to ask any questions you may have in the comments below or over on Facebook. 

I chose to make my journey as open and transparent as possible because, in the past, cancer seemed like this scary and mysterious thing to me and I didn't know how to help people who were going through it. My hope is that my openness will eliminate some of that mystery for you and and make it easier for you to support others battling cancer. 

God bless you,

Emma xx


  1. Thanks for the update Emma. It's great to hear and see your progress and the LBC love and care happening

  2. Thank you Emma for writing to honestly but with so much gratitude.

  3. Glad you are on the mend and you have support from family and 72 nodes that is a lot, my sister had 23 out....stay safe and enjoy planning your new garden. Kathy, Brisbane, Australia


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