Warrior’s brave walk to help find cancer cure

Sharon Dei Rocini, better known to many Bombala people as Skippy Peisley, is in the fight of her life.

Despite being diagnosed with melanoma in 2007, and having endured numerous operations on her brain and lungs, Ms Dei Rocini has remained positive.

She is now actively campaigning, raising awareness about melanoma and encouraging people to walk in this year’s Relay for Life.

Her sister-in-law Michelle Peisley, of Bibbenluke, is hosting a function to raise money for Relay for Life on Friday, March 14, from 9am to 2pm, 

at D and M Automotive, 175 Maybe St, Bombala.  In this special report, Ms Dei Rocini shares her journey so far.

IT all started in October 2007 when I noticed a small mole near my left shoulder.

I took myself to the doctor who couldn’t tell what it was, so he said to see the skin doctor.

The skin doctor said it was just a mole that looked aggravated and probably wasn’t anything to worry about.

He gave me some cream to put on it and said to come back a few weeks later to see if the aggravation had settled down.

In November I was due to have a general check up with my own doctor and I showed him the mole, he did not like the look of it and took a biopsy.

We booked in to remove it and the next day he called me saying it was melanoma and that I had cancer.

He wanted us to come in that afternoon to discuss it and about going to see the surgeon to have it totally removed and to see if it spread to the lymph nodes. 

Things happened very quickly. 

I had the melanoma removed in hospital with some lymph nodes and the cancer hadn’t spread so it was all good. 

It was a stage 1b cancer so I just had to keep six-monthly check-ups for the next few years. 

After five years you are meant to be in remission and the likelihood of it returning anywhere is minimal, and a good chance of no recurrences. 

I thought after five years all was clear and really didn’t think that melanoma was as serious as they said. 

But as my journey progressed I realised that melanoma does kill, or if it doesn’t kill you, it changes your whole life as you knew it. 

In April 2013 I started having dull headaches; I was not seeing very well and couldn’t read letters, emails or anything. 

I went to the optometrist who said I needed glasses, however the glasses did not help. 

I was very stressed at work and Dad had become very sick with cancer which contributed to my stress. 

Dad sadly passed away on May 5, and my symptoms got worse. 

I went to my GP who organised a CT scan on my brain. 

The scan showed three mestastic melanomas in my brain in three different areas.

I had one in left occipital lobe, one in the right occipital lobe and one in the cerebellar peduncle in brain stem. 

On May, 2013, we didn’t even leave Canberra Imaging when the radiologist advised us about the lesions and told us to go to the doctor or hospital straight away.

Thoughts went through my head. “Am I going to die? Why have they come back after five years? Why me? How are we going to get through this?”

I went to the doctor the next morning and started on steroids to control the swelling.

The next two weeks were a blur.

We saw an oncologist (Dr Yip) who referred us to the surgeon (Dr Khurana). 

He was a fantastic surgeon who also knew Dr Charlie Teo. 

We were lucky enough to have Dr Teo meet with my surgeon that same week, and was interested in meeting with us. 

We met him on Friday, May 31, 2013 at a hotel lobby in Canberra that he was staying at. 

We discussed my case and that he wanted to operate on the cancers and that it was risky but that he was confident of a good outcome. 

We were in Sydney that Sunday and ready for surgery on Monday. 

What my family and me went through that week was something I would never want to go through again or wish upon anyone else. 

We had just lost Dad and were grieving for him still, and to find out I had cancer made everything worse.

During that week I also had a CT scan on the rest of my body and to my shock and horror, when you think things couldn’t get any worse, they do.

The scan showed I also had them in both lungs. 

All I could think was “Am I going to die?” 

I decided I had to be stronger ... I am going to beat this. 

Brain Surgery on June 3, 2013, went well.

Dr Teo removed two but the one in my brainstem was inoperable - two out of three wasn’t bad. I was happy.

The week after surgery I had headaches and nausea but was feeling better in a week or so. 

The following week, I was booked in for a stereotactic radiosurgery on the brain stem.

This was a big day where a halo was screwed onto my head and an intense dose of radiotherapy was targeted at my brainstem. 

Now it was a waiting game to see if it worked and how well. 

After brain surgery was over we could now concentrate on the lungs. 

We met with the lung surgeon (Dr Tharion), and it was decided that surgery would be the best option. 

Surgery was booked in for July 16, 2013, in Canberra at John James Hospital. 

It was decided to do the right lung first. There were two in this lung in the right middle lobe. 

The surgery went for a long time and when I woke it was very painful. 

They had taken the whole middle lobe from the right lung and had removed all the lesions which was a great outcome. 

I had to get up and start physio, and this was no easy task. 

Getting out of bed alone was like doing a marathon, and oh the pain. 

But I got up every few hours to do the walk and started to get stronger so I could get home. 

Luck was not on my side though. 

I got an infection, got pneumonia and my lung had collapsed. I felt like jumping out of a window. I thought to myself “No, I can do this. I’m a fighter and this is not going to beat me”. 

So they pumped antibiotics and drugs into me and I continued to do physio. 

Very slowly, I started to recover.

I have MRI scans on the brain every eight weeks, and I was due for one. 

While this MRI showed the one in my brainstem had not grown, it showed a new one in my front left lobe. 

This was going to hold up my lung surgery as brain surgery comes before the lungs. 

After discussion with my surgeon and oncologist it was back to Sydney to have this new one removed. 

So on September 16, 2013, we went back to Sydney as this one wasn’t deep and was an easy surgery. 

I stayed in hospital for one night and was home the next day feeling fine. 

Give me brain surgery any day I told everyone. It was nowhere near as painful as lung surgery.

Now we could concentrate back on the left lung. 

So I packed up and went back in on October 1, 2013, to have the other lesions removed. 

They expected to remove all three – when I woke up the doctor advised me that he had removed five lesions, two more than was first thought.

Things went much smoother this time, no infections and I was out in just over a week. 

I now had my other “angel wing” and I have matching scars. 

These are my battle scars and they remind me how I fought and that I am a warrior.

Now it was just up to me to get stronger, get better, fight and stay alive. 

I began walking, changed my diet and was seeing naturopaths, doing whatever I could to keep strong and well. 

An MRI scan on my brain in November showed no new cancers, and showed great results with the one in the brainstem. 

The radiosurgery was working.

It had shrunk and my body was cancer free nearly ... I was winning!

Life was good. Christmas came and went, and I was feeling well. 

Not the same well as I felt before, and I will never have the same energy I had, or be the same person I was. 

But I was alive and well. 

I am now a stage 4 melanoma fighter. 

I was winning with having all lesions removed and the only one left in my brain had shrunk or died.

I was feeling positive and looking forward to 2014.

But 2014 didn’t started as I had hoped. 

My eight-weekly brain MRI scan on January 15 didn’t show good results. 

The one in my brainstem had started growing again, and we needed to see what could be done immediately. 

Disappointment went through my body again, and the questions came back. “Why me?”

After meeting with the surgeon, it was decided that they could operate now. 

Apparently, the radiosurgery had it now growing outwards instead of inwards. 

They told me it would be a high risk surgery - there was a chance that I could have a permanent disability or a stroke. 

This was a risk I had to take. My only other choice was to leave it, and die. 

So back to Sydney it was for us.

The surgery went well and they removed the one in my brainstem, removing another small lesion that they found along the way.

Balancing was hard, and to even walk I struggled. 

This one is going to take longer to get over. I had no permanent disability which was great. 

Now I have to get strong again and I know I will. 

I am determined to be here for the next 30-40 years. 

Having now had five major surgeries in nine  months and one lot of radiotherapy and removing a total of 12 mestastic melanoma lesions, I’m hoping they stay away for a while. They say they will keep coming back because that’s what melanoma does, but I am hoping with my change in lifestyle I can keep them at bay. 

My journey so far has changed my life in so many ways and I can no longer work full-time. I do however do casual work for the real estate I still have shares in. 

Cancer has affected me and my family emotionally, physically and financially. All tests, treatments, surgeries and medications come with a high cost. I went from having shares, being a director and running a busy real-estate agency, to planting an organic vegetable garden in a few months. 

I look at life differently and I thank God that I wake up everyday. 

I no longer take life for granted, this has shown me you can’t. 

The last nine months been hard for my family especially my beautiful husband Dino and my beautiful children. 

Dino is my rock, he is my carer and he goes through and endures my pain ever day, I couldn’t go through this without him. 

They keep me focused, grounded and give me my will to survive.  

My journey so far has been scary and painful but Without my family and friends’ support, love and prayers, I would not be as positive as I am.

My saying is “With pain comes strength”, and my strength has grown so much over the last nine months. 

For now I am cancer free but I will continue to have brain MRI scans every eight weeks, and a whole body scan every 12. 

I am hoping to stay cancer free for a very long time, but you just don’t know with melanoma. 

I stay positive, and I believe I will see my kids grow up and their kids grow up.

Skin cancer kills. So slip, slop and slap and don’t think it can’t happen to you because it can. 

I didn’t think it could happen to me but it has. 

It’s made me a stronger person and I don’t know where I will go from here, how long I will be here but I’m hoping for a long time. 

In March this year my family and I are doing the relay for life.

I am relaying for my Dad and I. 

I walk in honour of Dad as he wasn’t strong enough to survive. 

I walk for me as I am a survivor and a warrior. 

I walk in hope that one day they will find a cure for cancer.

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