My Story

3rd August 2021
My Story

This article was originally published in The Geelong Edition by Abbey King. Reprinted with permission from author.

Psychologist and meditation guide Kelley Reynard was 11 weeks pregnant when she was diagnosed with melanoma. In her own words, she tells how it was misdiagnosed until her beloved pet dog, Coco, alerted her to the fact that something about the mole on her lower leg might be worth checking again.

“How did I even get here?” These words raced through my mind as I lay on the operating theatre bed awaiting surgery at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre. I was 32 years old, 16 weeks pregnant, feeling completely alone and frightened for the future. I remember saying to myself: “I’ve never used a solarium, blistered from the sun or used oil to tan – so how did I even get here?”

My skin story began when I noticed that a small mole above my right ankle had changed in colour and shape. It appeared darker, more raised, and the outside edges weren’t as round as they once were. Because I had always been careful in the sun, I didn’t take these changes too seriously and put off getting it checked.

A few months passed and in mid-July, my partner, Scott and I found out that we were going to be parents for the first time. It was a rollercoaster of emotions initially – shock, excitement, feeling overwhelmed, happiness. These feelings soon turned to pure joy at the thought of being parents and bringing a baby into the world together. Then, at the seven-week mark in the first trimester of my pregnancy, I noticed the mole on my lower leg was standing out even more. I remember feeling concerned which prompted me to take action in getting it looked at.

Unfortunately, upon having it assessed, the GP was not concerned and I wasn’t referred to a specialist. So I let it go and didn’t think much more of it. Thankfully, a few weeks later, I was sitting outside with my dog, Coco, enjoying the beautiful winter sun in late August. Coco nestled in next to me and then suddenly became curious about this mole that she noticed above my ankle. She walked over to my leg and started inspecting the mole – sniffing, licking and then trying to bite it off. That is the moment I knew it was something sinister.

After having a proper skin check with a dermatologist for the first time in many years, the mole was taken out and sent off for testing. A few days later I received the call that rocked my world. The dermatologist explained to me that it was a 1.1 millimetre melanoma and anything above 0.8mm needs further review. I was referred to Peter Mac Cancer Centre and, due to being pregnant, my case was deemed high-risk given the unknown impact on the baby.

Surgery involved a large skin flap at the mole site and a lymph node biopsy of the groin to determine if it had spread, I opted for a spinal block over a general anaesthetic as it was less impact on the baby. Unfortunately for me, the spinal block gave me some pretty nasty headaches for up to four days post-surgery.

While I was numb to the pain, my other senses ran at a million miles an hour. As I lay there, the ‘what ifs’ were always in the back of my mind: “What if it had spread? What decision would I then have to make regarding treatment?’. “What if I didn’t sit outside with Coco that day?”. “What if something has happened to the baby?”. Despite the anxiety, fear, ‘what ifs’ and uncomfortable emotions, I did remain optimistic throughout the whole process. My meditation and journaling practice had a very positive influence. The support of my family, partner, and closest friends was also integral to my positive mindset and recovery.

Upon hearing the news a week post-surgery that it hadn’t spread and that I wouldn’t require any further treatment, I was so relieved and filled with joy. I experienced a real sense of freedom for the first time in seven weeks and was able to enjoy the remainder of my pregnancy and impending motherhood. My English Staffordshire Terrier, Coco, is my spoilt little spirit angel who I will never be able to thank and praise enough for what she did for me.

Although it was tough emotionally to go through it, I don’t feel it was for nothing and, in some ways, I am actually grateful for the experience. Even now I am shocked that I was diagnosed with a melanoma. I always took care of my skin in the ways we are taught from a young age; covering up and applying sunscreen on sunny days.

The melanoma diagnosis even came as a surprise to many of the health professionals who treated me, with some admitting it was more unusual for someone like me to go through such a thing. Although it was tough emotionally to go through it, I don’t feel it was for nothing and, in some ways, I am actually grateful for the experience. It taught me a lot about myself and my resilience.

It also taught me about the importance of regular skin checks and sun safety. I truly believe that an annual skin check with a specialist may have prevented this mole from becoming a melanoma. The stress and anxiety I experienced – which added another layer of worry to my first pregnancy – is why I am now so passionate about encouraging people to look after their skin through regular skin checks and to follow those three simple words of advice from the 80s campaign of “slip, slop, slap”.

I no longer ask myself “how did I get here?”. Instead, I tell myself how grateful I am to be here and to be able to share my cancer story in the hope it might help others.