Colette was the finishing touch who completed the circle of her Irish-Catholic family. She had three brothers and a sister who was the closest in age to her. Being the youngest wasn’t always easy, especially as a teenager. Often there were too many “fathers” in the picture. The passing of years highlighted the treasure they found in each other. We took our daughter to Florida when she was nine years of age. Although she wore a tee-shirt while bathing, I do recall her getting severe sunburn. She also remembered a sunburn as a teenager. Subsequent years were spent being cautious since her auburn hair and fair skin would not permit unprotected sun exposure. Her busy work schedule prevented “much fun in the sun.” As her sister would say, when she did go to the beach, “She was like an old lady, all covered up.
At 22 years old, she had part of a mole, a birthmark removed. No cause for concern, or so she thought. Four years later, she noticed the remaining portion had changed, and brought it to the attention of her dermatologist. She had mild acne and attended dermatologists on a regular basis. She was then referred to a plastic surgeon whose surgery left a three-inch scar, quite wide and noticeable. Melanoma was not diagnosed. Again the thought was, she was “lucky.” Although she attended several doctors, including different dermatologists in the subsequent years, no one ever questioned her scar, nor did anyone do a body examine. Apparently, if you go in for “your face” they do your “face”.
In April, four years after surgery, Colette complained of soreness under her arm. Since she was in production work, she remarked, “Mom, I must have pulled something on the shoot”. After a week of increased discomfort, she brought it to the attention of her GYN with who she was due a check-up. She was a responsible young woman who went to preventative check-ups and followed recommended advice. Her GYN on April 28th assured her it was probably just a pulled muscle, not to worry. She, however, insisted on a sonogram, remarking she knew her own body and something was not right. A sonogram and a biopsy which were performed on May 4th and 5th, revealed four tumors. May 8th she was told she had cancer, the type had not been defined until her appointment May 11th with the breast surgeon, at which time we heard the word MELANOMA.
May 12th the surgeon at Sloan Kettering-Memorial Hospital indicated her tumors were inoperable. May 13th, the Oncologist at Sloan told us it was “very bad” and made arrangements for outpatient chemotherapy. Two treatments of outpatient chemotherapy had no effect. Colette, our beautiful, courageous daughter, determined to fight this battle no matter what, chose the most aggressive of the two protocols for inpatient care. She was aware that they were only clinical trials, but they were the only available recourse for her advanced stage of cancer. In spite of horrific side affects, she was prepared to go the third round of five continuous days of inpatient treatment only to be told that they had been ineffective. Although the huge swelling on her arm had decreased after the second round, the cells had reached out like a vicious monster determined to devour her precious body. A body she had never abused by alcohol or nicotine but rather had fed with vegetables, humus, fruits and an occasional tasty sweet. This horrible Melanoma Monster was now in her liver, bones and lungs. It was August 10th and she was told there just wasn’t any further treatment for her.
After her initial shock, she spent a brief period of grieving for the life she would never have. A new apartment on Central Park West; the day she was to move in was the day of her first appointment at Sloan Kettering. A position with Cablevision’s Metro Channel with people she loved. A summer share in the Hamptons. No longer being an independent contractor in production work, she planned to take time for herself on weekends. All of this was part of a dream that now had ended.
She was determined not to be a cancer victim, and never for a moment did she allow herself to be. She faced her death and spent her remaining days gifting her friends with her love and presents that were picked especially for them. She planned her funeral, and made her last wishes clearly known. She ministered to her family enabling them to share her pain along with her laughter. She prepared them for what had to be. Far more precious than the material gifts she chose for them, she enriched each person by enabling them to bring their unique specialness to her in her time of need. All adjusted work schedules, taking leave to be with her so that she would never be alone for a moment. Her 30th birthday was spent as planned in Cape Cod. How wise she was suggesting a RV enabling the family of seven to travel together. “It will be fun,” said she! In spite of weakness, pain and nausea at times, fun it was.
She chose to die two weeks later when her brother returned again from Missouri. All went through those last days and nights with her and all are awed by her strength, her wisdom and her courage. Truly the last became first. From the youngest, the wisdom of what life should be about, unfolded. While we can no longer have the joy of putting our arms around her, as her eldest brother said to her, “You will never leave me” and so she hasn’t. We feel her presence; we pray for her strength and know she will support us now as she did then.
It is in her name we have formed a foundation with the hopes of preventing someone else from experiencing the awful pain of losing a loved one to MELANOMA.
Her tragic ending brought us to the beginning of Colette Coyne Melanoma Awareness Campaign. Through us her voice will echo. Colette would want people to be aware of this disease. Being knowledgeable, knowing your own body, recognizing changes in moles or birthmarks, and insisting on regular follow-ups after removal of same, is the best precaution one can take.
Those who have had Melanoma in the family are at risk. Fair-skinned individuals who burn easily are prime candidates. Not enough is known about this disease, however, we do know the sun and widespread use of tanning beds are a factor in the recent increase of cases.
We hope to change attitudes and behaviors. The warming rays of the sun are, in fact, dangerous and deadly. It is our hope that other people will be spared the pain of this deadly disease. Tanned Skin Is Damaged Skin!