Is there such a thing as a normal life after beating cancer? Today, local Georgia resident Julia Norton is finding out for herself.
Just four years ago, Julia discovered what seemed to be a mole behind her right knee. After a consultation with her family dermatologist, Julia went to see Dr. Jonathan Lee, an oncologist at Northside Hospital. She would soon learn it was more than a peculiar mole.
Just two days after her visit with Dr. Lee, Julia received the results from her mole biopsy, revealing she had melanoma. Known as the most dangerous form of skin cancer, melanoma often develops from mutations to damaged skin cells. The initial damage is usually a result of overexposure to ultraviolet rays through sunlight or tanning, although any exposure carries a risk.
After the shock of this news dissipated, Julia brushed her fear aside and outlined a path forward. Working in sync, Dr. Lee and Julia began to put together a surgical plan – he would first remove the mole, then the sentinel lymph node to prevent the cancer from spreading further. And due to the particularly tricky location behind her knee, Dr. Lee’s surgical team would require a plastic surgeon to assist in the operating room.
After the successful removal of the mole and lymph node, Norton had eighty stitches placed from mid-thigh to mid-calf.
One year had passed since Julia’s initial surgery and treatment, when she discovered a lump near her groin. She immediately scheduled an appointment with Dr. Lee and learned the cancer had returned and progressed to stage three melanoma.
Determined to push ahead, Dr. Lee and Julia sat down and formulated another surgical plan. Soon after, Dr. Lee performed another successful surgery to remove the cancer, and Julia began radiation immediately following.
Once her radiation treatment was complete, Julia underwent a new 18-month clinical trial at Northside Hospital Cancer Institute created for stage three melanoma treatments. In the trial, the oncology team used her personalized cells to create a vaccine, which was then injected as an incremental booster to fight off the melanoma.
In June 2017, Julia completed her final set of injections and today she is cancer free. While her oncology team will continue to monitor for any suspicious symptoms or developments, Julia is back to tackling life as a healthy mother of three, a successful business women, and a victor over cancer.
*The health story shared here may portray atypical results of survival for this type of cancer, given its severity and stage. Atypical results are considered surviving a cancer that has less than a 50 percent five-year survival rate. Patients should consult an expert to discuss specific treatment plans and the possible outcomes before making medical decisions.