By Molly Maher
Linda Parmiter imagines different cartoon for each stage of her melanoma treatment. She said she could visualize the drug as a character, battling her cancer.
One drug caused her skin to flake, so she imagined it as Pig Pen from Peanuts.
Another, very powerful chemotherapy drug started with the letter T, and so she saw a cartoon capital T with muscled arms fighting. Unfortunately, it ended up fighting her healthy side a bit in the meantime.
Lastly came the combination treatments that finally shrunk her cancer. That was a Pac Man, munching the tumors away as it circled her body, where the stage IV melanoma had metastasized.
Finally, after a diagnosis in June 2006, this Pac Man allowed her to celebrate her 57th birthday. This after having been given a year to live at diagnosis.
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Though she said that, as a survivor, each day is a reason to celebrate, this milestone meant something more. Its important to me because its one step closer to living as long as my mother.
Her mother is 78 years old and can run circles around [her], she said.
After the initial surprise of diagnosis, then three surgeries in three months followed by a series of chemotherapy drugs and trials, Parmiter is now looking for resources to help her continual survival economically, physically and mentally.
Part of her post-treatment transition was finding a support network. Stage IV melanoma survivors are rare, and she felt alienated from some cancer programs.
Her perseverance led her to her counselor at the University of Colorado Hospital, where she had been treated.
When I crashed, I was desperate, she said. He made me functional again.
The counselor helped her face issues including her cancer transition and her relationship with her son, who refused to acknowledge her disease.
But finding a counselor took more work than she had been told to expect.
Its so destructive that you have all these hurdles you need to jump, she said.
This is why Parmiter has gone back to college to study health care information technology, hoping she can help solve some of the problems she faced as a survivor. She believes a better system could be developed for advocacy and access to information.
She sees her education and future employment as the next step in her survivorship, the next step toward living as long as her mother, to fulfilling her sons idea that she may have never been sick and to proving statistics wrong.
If you dont take a step forward, you wont go anywhere, she said.