Mission Coun. Mark Davies has experienced some significant emotional extremes this year.
Last October, he was celebrating winning a seat at the council table, and nine months later he was preparing for the end.
Davies has been diagnosed with cancer and is currently doing everything he can to fight it. He says it’s been a strange journey.
It was May 1 when his first symptom – a lump in his armpit – was discovered. After a trip to the doctor, he was scheduled for an ultrasound in mid-June.
“That turned into a CT scan, which eventually turned into a biopsy, which resulted in the diagnosis of melanoma,” Davies said.
But the cancer didn’t have an “obvious primary source” on his body.
“Since this was in my left armpit, it should have been on my left arm. They removed what they think may have been melanoma at one point, but it’s what’s called ‘regressive melanoma’ so the body likely killed it off. But in doing so, it brings it inside and, in my case, it ended up in my lymph nodes.”
He was officially diagnosed on July 11 and the doctor was very straightforward.
“He said, ‘The diagnosis is melanoma, the outlook is not good, and you should get your affairs in order.’ ”
The news was as shocking as it was terrifying.
“Everything goes through your brain. It’s a moment like you’ve never had before. My boys were there at the time that I got the call, so they were also the recipients of it.
“You go through fear. You go through disbelief. You go through everything in a matter of seconds and then you do it all over again. It’s astonishingly painful to receive such a diagnosis,” Davies said.
With all of this information rattling around in his mind, Davies decided he had to do something and began to take immediate action to prepare for the worst.
“By the end of the second day I was done, because, you know, at that point you really don’t know how long you have. You haven’t learned anything other than this diagnosis. You don’t truly understand what this means.”
Davies began to learn as much as he could about his condition; what his options were and what treatment was available.
“That allowed me to have some in-depth conversations with my physician and the medical team.”
He saw a surgical oncologist, who wanted to see what could be surgically removed. Davies was considered to be in stage 3 cancer, and the decision was made to operate. He was told to wait for a call regarding when the surgery would take place.
“And you spend the next day sitting there, waiting for the phone to ring.”
It was just one of many waiting periods in the process.
“Every wait in this progression becomes more agonizing than the next. There’s the wait to meet the surgeon. There’s the wait between meeting the surgeon and getting the surgery booked. There’s the wait from getting the surgery booked to the actual surgery date; the waiting to recover and then the wait to begin immunotherapy treatment,” Davies said.
The surgical procedure Davies went through is called a complete lymph node dissection.
“They essentially removed everything they could from above my left elbow to up inside the armpit and over to the chest wall to take out any and all lymph nodes, and anything that didn’t need to be there to keep me alive was also gone.”
It took about six weeks for Davies to recover from the surgery, and he still experiences some issues that have forced him to wear a compression sleeve on his arm.
Several followup CT scans later, it was determined that the surgery was successful. However, that didn’t mean the news was all good.
“They got it all, as far as they can see on the scans. However, being that the cancer is already inside you, the likelihood of recurrence for my stage of cancer is around 80 per cent … It’s tough news and, if it does recur, it will be stage 4 and it could be somewhere that you really don’t want it to be.”
Melanoma tends to go for the brain and the lungs. But even without treatment, 20 per cent don’t have a recurrence. Davies said you have to focus on the positive and what you can live with.
He is hopeful that new treatments that are now available will increase the odds in his favour.
Davies said that in the last several years, treatment for melanoma has changed radically, and a new drug being used for immunotherapy, called Keytruda, is showing promising results.
“Treatment involves going every 21 days for a bloodwork/oncologist/infusion cycle. I’ll have a total of 18 treatments…You have to go through this gauntlet for a year.”
Davies just completed his third session.
There are some side effects. He is currently suffering from extreme body aches, fatigue, nausea and more.
“I walk a lot slower now and you feel like you are 30 years older.”
Davies said all of the side effects are well worth it if the therapy works. The hope is that the treatments will bring down that 80 per cent recurrence to 50 to 60 per cent within the next two years.
“It’s not a guarantee but it’s better than a 100 per cent chance… Going back to the positive, I have a 50 per cent chance of beating this, not a 50 per cent chance that I’m going to die. It’s all in the mindset of how you look at it.”
His family has been completely supportive during his health crisis, but Davies said there have been some difficult times.
“As a parent, it’s devastating. You see your kids crumple before you as the fear sets in.
“You start to learn really quick when you are going through this that it’s not the fear of dying that’s gonna get you, it’s the fear of what’s going to happen to the people you’re going to leave behind. That’s the worst part.”
Although he has the support of his wife – whom Davies calls the “most optimistic person in the world” – as well as his kids, family, friends, council and staff, there are moments when he feels alone.
“In some ways, it is very isolating. You are going through an experience that nobody else truly knows what you’re going through. Not even your spouse.”
Davies said his family is resilient, especially his sons, aged 19 and 15, who worry but have an amazing ability to bounce back. They share their father’s sense of humour, asking him if he wants a new title.
“ ‘How do you feel about Cancerlor Davies?’ they asked, and I thought it was brilliant! It was hysterically funny, and humour is a huge part of healing.”
With the surgery a success and the treatment process ongoing, there is little Davies can do except wait.
He has returned to work and is “getting his head back in the game.” Davies can now go several hours a day without thinking of the word “melanoma.”
“Living in the moment. You can’t control it so you just have to let it go. Move on with what you can control – which is what you are doing now, what you’re going to enjoy now, what your plans are for now – and live in that mentality.”
If, after trying this treatment for a year, the results aren’t what he hoped for, Davies said he will pursue other options.
“This is a fight to the end and I intend to be around to fight it for a very long time.”