April 2010 changed my life in a way I never thought possible. I, as many others, have spent a good deal of time in the sun. I have always kept up with my dermatology appointments as my mother was diagnosed with melanoma 15 years earlier. During a regular checkup, upon the urging of my Melanoma Angel Rosalie Seigel, who was dealing with Stage 4 Melanoma and encouraged me to go, the doctor removed a few moles for biopsy. He called the very next day after my appointment, I had Stage 3 malignant melanoma.
I saw the surgeon within the week. The first surgery that followed removed the cancerous lesion plus several lymph nodes under my arm. When 2 of the lymph nodes were positive for cancer, a second surgery of a radical lymphadenectomy was done to remove all the lymph nodes on my right side. The follow-up treatment required having a port surgically implanted and chemotherapy for a year after surgery. The chemo includes Interferon, one of the most difficult chemo drugs to tolerate.
I finished my long and difficult journey of the interferon treatment in August. Despite some crazy side effects as a result of an allergy to the chemo drug, I was doing very well. Life without taking that drug every 3 days had brought me to a whole new level of appreciation for living. I cherished feeling well and spending time with my family doing all of the things that I missed out on in the past 16 months. Then December 28, 2011 changed my life yet again. I had been having chest pains and the doctors were considering doing an open chest surgery to remove the lymph nodes in my chest cavity. I was scheduled for a routine brain scan and CT scan to get a baseline for the surgery. I went in for the brain scan on the 28th and finished at 3pm. By 3:15 I had a phone call that I needed to be in the doctors office in 30 minutes with my husband. What followed was some shocking information. We arrived and within 15 minutes I had an IV in my arm and was being treated with steroids to lower the swelling in my brain that was covering over 10 tumors. I was then sent to a radiation center where I was fitted for a mask that I would wear when I started radiation the following day. I have since also had liver biopsies which all came back positive and the CT showed spots in my lungs as well. I have since completed 20 treatments of radiation and will start my new chemo within a few weeks. We are in a battle for my life once again. I am now considered late Stage IV Metastatic Melanoma to the brain, liver and lung. We know that the statistics are grim but we are very upbeat about the recent advances in Melanoma medications and hopeful that the radiation has eradicated as many tumors as possible.
I still stay very focused on prevention—to do all I can to raise awareness. Through my disease, The Passion Foundation was born. Our goal is to raise funds to cover playgrounds with shade tents to help decrease the sun exposure of our children. These structures can block out 96% of harmful UV rays and lower the temperature 15-20 degrees underneath. We can help mitigate melanoma by providing shade for our children. While melanoma accounts for about 3%of all cancers, it accounts for 75% of all cancer deaths. 23% of their sun damage is done by the time they are 18 and I want to bring that number down in Florida.
The first school that we did was Pinewoods Elementary in Estero. Since then we have completed structures at Three Oaks Elementary, Rayma C. Page Elementary, Our Mothers Home, Osceola Elementary, San Carlos Elementary and now we are working on Living Waters Academy. Covering these playgrounds gives these kids an extra 45 minutes of coverage from the sun while they enjoy their time outside during P.E. or recess. We are proud to be working with a local company, Shades Abound to put up the structures and Riverchase Dermatology has also joined the fight and become the official sponsor of The Passion Foundation. Both are great partnerships that we are very excited about.
I know I have to stay on top of my health but I learned that each day is a gift and I plan to make as many changes in the lives of children as I can. I don’t want another person to have to go through what I have gone through. Prevention can save your life. Please come out and join our fight.
Earlier this summer we found out that the tumors in Tara’s brain had spread and she would require some new treatments. Unfortunately, on Thursday, September 6th around 8:30pm Tara lost her battle with this horrible disease. She was in the comfort of her home surrounded by her loving family as she went into gods arms.
Tara is missed everyday by her family, friends and people that never even met her, but have been touched by her fight!
It is our goal to carry on Tara’s dream and cover as many school playgrounds as possible and to educate our children about proper sun exposure.
View Tara’s obituary here and share your thoughts and prayers.