The diagnosis came as a complete shock to Michelle Kitcheman.
Aged just 34, with her third child just months old, she had felt something at the back of her neck which was irritated by the pressure of her shirt collar.
She had it removed and “didn’t think anything of it”, she said.
Then the pathology results came back and her world was turned upside-down.
She had to have surgery to remove the growth, where it was found in one of her lymph nodes.
So a second operation removed 36 nodes down the left side of her neck.
Then followed 12 months of interferon medication, including a month of intravenous treatment at Westmead Hospital.
Since the treatment, she has had to undergo four-monthly scans of her brain, lungs and abdomen to see if it has recurred.
When the Gazette spoke to Ms Kitcheman, she had just received the good news of another “all clear”, which means the scans will now be reduced to six-monthly intervals.
Ms Kitcheman, who lives in Springwood with husband, Lee, and Sienna (7), Jayden (5) and Lyla (2), said she was diagnosed with stage 3 cancer (the worst is stage 4).
“There’s a lot they can do now with stage three, but people are still dying from it,” she said.
While never really a sun worshipper, she now takes enormous care to minimise exposure. She also gets skin checks every six months.
“If I’d done that, then they would have found it at a much earlier stage,” she said.
To help raise awareness of the disease and to fund the trial of a new treatment, Ms Kitcheman is joining Jay’s Longest Melanoma March.
The brainchild of Jay Allen, who himself survived a cancer diagnosis at 32, the longest march starts in Adelaide at the end of March, and continues through Victoria to Sydney, finishing there on May 19, 50 days and 2,000 kilometres later.
To date, he has raised nearly $50,000 to help raise awareness and find a cure for melanoma.
Mr Allen is joined on various legs of the march by supporters and fellow fundraisers. Ms Kitcheman, and her mother-in-law, will join him on his penultimate day, from Kogarah to St Peters.
“It’s only an eight kilometre walk … but we have raised $6,000 so far, my husband and I.”
The Kitchemans have a sign-writing business in Penrith and their clients have been the source of most of their funds so far.
To support Ms Kitcheman, see https://www.tourdecure.com.au/profile/?memberId=90195&tourId=1025.
“You don’t expect to be told you’ve got cancer at 34 when you’ve had a new baby,” she said.
“I used to think I was unlucky but now I think, if this is it, if this is all I have to go through, I’m pretty fortunate.”