Jackie Bullard, our mother, was diagnosed with stage 4 melanoma in February 2011 after going to the hospital because of an unstoppable headache. We were informed that the headache was caused by 4 large brain tumors. It is unusual that cancer starts in the brain so they began testing to see where the cancer started. It had started at the skin and sunk into the skin to become melanoma, forming the first tumor on her adrenal gland.  In some cases, they are never able to find an entry point of the melanoma; this was true in her case.  A few of the doctors told us to go home and live out 8 more weeks and make her comfortable as she passed. Those doctors apparently did not know my mother or our family.  She began to fight for her life.

Almost one month after the initial diagnosis, she started her first of 3 brain surgeries to remove the tumors. The first surgery revealed that one of the tumors began in her optic nerve and that they would not be able to remove it due to the risk of blindness. While we began to feel like our only hope was gone they closed her up, and we waited in the intensive care unit for her to wake up. When she woke up she was devastated to hear that they were not able to remove the tumor. She was determined to fight through this and scheduled a second brain surgery to remove the other 3 tumors that were not in nerves.

Days before the second surgery the surgeon called my dad and told him that he had a feeling that he knew how he could get the larger tumor out without completely taking her vision. Of course my mom was up for trying again. They were able to remove all 3 of the smaller tumors and the majority of the largest tumor and we would later do radiation surgery (gamma knife) to attempt to remove the remaining portion. She fought through recovery and was able to do so much more then the doctors imagined.  She helped me make my niece’s birthday cake in August, took a road trip to Michigan to visit family and continued to inspire every one around her.  During this time she was exhausted and sick, but she tried her best to not let anyone know.

She was trying different trial drugs because other FDA approved treatments had not worked. She has also had many trips to the doctors and hospitals, but she has never once given up. Throughout this diagnoses and battle, my mother has shown nothing but strength and courage that has inspired the entire community which surrounds her.  However, she does have moments of extreme guilt which lead her to blame herself for making herself susceptible to this disease.  While our family reassures her that this is not her fault, we also have had to recognize that our entire family could fall victim to this monster.

Our family has always loved being outdoors and loved the sun. My mom was always darker skinned due to some native American heritage, so she didn’t think a sunburn that turned into a tan was a bad thing. Like many people, she liked getting sun. It made her feel good, look good, and was a great way to relax. When winter was amongst us, we often visited tanning beds to make our summer tans last all year long. We were amongst the population that knows the risks but either believes that: it will not happen to us, or if it does, it can be easily removed. We learned the hard way that this is not the case.

I feel like it is our obligation to let other people know that this does happen and being tan is not worth the price you will pay. Our whole family has had to change by applying sunscreen, doing weekly skin checks, and never tanning. I am determined to take the fight my mother has and apply it to educate and prevent as many families as I can from having to go through what our family has.

The thing that often goes unmentioned where cancer is concerned, is the effect that it has not only on the patient, but on the whole family.  Of course it has been a devastating event that has effected each of us 4 children, but even more so, for my father.  My mom is putting up a hard fight and throughout the entire battle, my father has been right there by her side her fighting just as hard for her. She has not been able to drive for over a year due to the poor vision. She was recently pronounced legaly blind and is unable to really go out on her own at all. My dad has never given up the fight for her. If there is an example of love, courage and strength it is seen everyday in my parents. My father has spent countless hours on the phone with insurance companies, doctors, pharmacies and setting in waiting rooms of doctors offices. This is truly an example of how marriage and support should be and it is obvious that my mom and the whole family is held together by the glue that is my fathers determination, love and fight.

There are ways to prevent other families from going through this and The FAM hopes to provide education and awareness so others don’t have to fight. We hope to provide first hand education based on personal experience and other research.  We also knew the dangers of sun exposure but did not understand the deadly effects of skin cancer. It is not as simple as removing one spot in a few years and it being gone or as easy as removing a mole once every 5 years. Melanoma is a serious, fast growing and under researched cancer that kills one person every hour. It is my hope that The FAM will help people realize that living a long healthy life is better then having a tan or is worth taking the time to apply sunscreen.

Jackie lost her battle with melanoma on November 24, 2012. She left the world too soon and life will never be the same without her. Through her battle she never gave up and The FAM is determined to not give up on helping others and educating others about melanoma. 

We were blessed to have a great support system through this experience and all the doctors have told us that the families support is one of the main reasons cancer patients fight so hard to beat cancer and live as long as they do after diagnose.  Not all people are that lucky so we have decided to provide them with The FAM. We will support education as well as medical research and eventually hope to be able to help individual families.