At left, Angela Walker, 31, with her family. Earlier this year Walker was diagnosed with stage 3 melanoma.
“Dear Mom… I hope your arm fills so much better…I can’t wait until you get feeling better. I hope you have a wapid wecovery mommy. I love you mommy.”
That’s part of a letter Angie Walker’s daughter Madysen (age 8) wrote for her mother back in April, just a few months after Walker was diagnosed with a stage 3 malignant melanoma.
Now, six months and three surgeries later, the Pickens mom has been forced to quit her job waiting tables, because five days a week she travels to Kennesaw for treatment of the skin cancer that can be deadly if not detected early.
“In the beginning it was extreme shock,” said Walker’s mother Kathy Teague, who waited tables with her daughter at 61 Main before Angela’s health would no longer allow her to work. “And it was so life altering, because she’s got her older daughter and a new baby, who was seven or eight months old when she was first diagnosed. It was total and complete shock.”
Melanoma is a skin cancer that, while much less common than basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers, is much more dangerous. According to The American Cancer Society, there are 76,250 new cases of melanoma each year, and nearly 10,000 deaths from it.
Melanomas can be deadly, but if detected early enough, experts say chances of survival are good. According to ACS statistics, survival rates for patients with early-stage melanoma exceed 90 to 95 percent. As the skin cancer progresses, it becomes increasingly more deadly.
The ACS also says that while the cancer often begins in a mole, it can also begin in other pigmented tissues, such as in the eye or in the intestines.
Walker’s mother recalls her daughter asking about a mole on her arm before she decided to consult a dermatologist.
“She had it for quite sometime on her right arm,” Teague said. “She’d ask on and off for sometime, ‘Mom does this mole look okay?’ and I didn’t see anything different. Then it changed, and everyone was fussing at her to see the dermatologist, so she went to Dr. Faulk at Georgia Mountain Dermatology. He sent if off and it came back melanoma, stage 3.”
Walker had a large area around the mole removed and, after the biopsy returned positive, she had two lymph nodes removed from her underarm area.
“If the doctors had found no melanoma in those two [lymph nodes] they said that would have been it,” Teague said, “but one came back positive, so the next step was to have all of them taken out and thankfully none of those had melanoma. They removed over 30 all together, but the doctor keeps reminding us this is not a death sentence, and it can be treated.”
Teague said her daughter, age 31, is at the tail-end of a month’s worth of five-day-a-week Interferon treatments, which take two-and-a-half-hours each and cost about $3,000 a piece, she said. Walker also has treatments on the weekends to increase her white blood cell count when it gets too low.
“From now on she will give herself shots in her stomach three days a week for 11 months,” Teague said, explaining that Interferon is a form of chemotherapy but not the type that causes your hair fall out.
“It will give you flu symptoms,” Teague said, listing off reactions her daughter has experienced; aching bones, fever and vomiting. “Last night she was throwing up. She can’t eat much. She’s tired and drained. This has been a rough month. I can’t imagine the next 11. The only good part is at least Madysen will be in school, and Angela won’t have to go back and forth to Kennesaw.”
Teague said doctors encouraged her daughter to have the full Interferon treatment regimen because, “they told me over 75 percent of melanoma patients will have the cancer return if that method is not used. That’s why the doctors said please do the treatments,” she said. “It’s like your immune system on steroids. It bombards the cancer.”
With Walker out of work and with no insurance, her and her husband’s families have been juggling their two children while she travels to get treatments and while he works more than 12-hour days pouring concrete to pay the bills.
“She has to be with [extended] family everyday, because she can’t take care of Brody and Madysen, Brody being a toddler and running,” Teague said. “She went to bed last night, and me and my husband took care of Brody.”
Teague said that, for her daughter, the most emotional part of the treatments was weaning her youngest before she felt it was time.
“The biggest thing she had to overcome was the fact that she had to stop breastfeeding,” Teague said. “They had Brody, so they got their boy and planned on him being the last child, so his nursing was going to be whenever he was done. But she was told when she started Interferon that he had to be weaned, right at 12 months old. She couldn’t hold her baby. She had to put him in her left arm.”
Now that Walker has no lymph nodes under her right arm, doctors tell her she will have to be extremely careful with her diet.
“We can’t live without lymph nodes,” Teague explained. “Without the lymph notes, you can’t filter the poisons out, so she has to eat as much organic as she can, and cut out processed food.”
Walker has also been seeing a massage therapist once a week to push the toxins from the side of the body without lymph nodes under the arm to the side of the body with lymph nodes still in place. Walker can also never get an IV or other injection in the affected arm for the rest of her life.
“If she gets a sting on that side, it could even be serious,” Teague said.
Because melanoma can be hereditary, Walker’s doctor encouraged her entire family do be checked, and Teague herself said she had a small pinpoint mole removed after it was found to be a melanoma.
“We all got to checking ourselves,” Teague said, “and I had got to looking, and I had this tiny little mole that you could hardly see, but it had a little tail and it came back melanoma. If it hadn’t been for Angela, I would have never known that. The way I look at it, she may have saved my life.”
Teague’s oldest daughter had four moles removed, and her son had one removed.
Teague said because melanomas can be hereditary, her daughter and her husband are worried about their children.
“That kind of stress, it’s going to last a lifetime,” she said. “The stress of children having to be super sun-blocked with hats, and Angela can’t get overheated. She can’t even take kids to Six Flags.”
Teague said after a month of intense treatments her daughter’s bills are starting to pour, and her son-in-law is feeling the effects of managing the daily stress.
“To be honest, we’re afraid he’s getting an ulcer from the all the stress,” she said. “He’s been miserable. This heat’s horrible to work in. It’s been stress to the third degree, for him and Angela. I’ve been amazed from all the help they have been getting from all the family and friends. Everyone has been so wonderful. God is good. He has answered our prayers time and time again.”
To help support the Walker family, a childhood friend of Angela’s has created an online journal called “Team Angela: Angela’s Cancer Journey.” You can visit the journal to track Angela’s progress or to make a donation to support the Walker family.
For more information, check the following website: angelastreatment.chipin.com/angelas-cancer-treatment