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The Dunning Family

Diane Dunning

Age 29, of Granite City, Illinois, formerly Spencer, passed away peacefully on Friday, August 17, 2018, at IU Hospice House in Bloomington.

May she rest in peace.

“My name is Ashley Dunning and I live in Granite City, Illinois. Currently I receive treatment in Houston, Texas at MD Anderson Cancer Center. I finally agreed to a clinical trial which involves an investigational chemo. We are also gearing up to do a T-cell transplant after extracting and growing billions of my own cells. So far, we’re gaining ground as my previous doctor said I wouldn’t survive to see August. I’m so thankful for Blackout Melanoma and Beca’s Care supporters because I would otherwise not be able to travel back and forth for the 30 hour round trip. This year I’ve been blessed to see my family on Thanksgiving and look forward to Christmas with them as well. Heading into the new year I’m excited about my options and what new treatments may become available to me.”

Meet Ashley and Xavier!

On May 26th, 2006 I was diagnosed with choroidal melanoma in my left eye. At the time I was 17 and this was a rather new diagnosis. The ophthalmologist said the tumor was too large to attempt radiation treatments and that I would have to have my eye removed. On June 22nd, 2006 my left eye was removed in an outpatient surgery. Prior to the surgery I had a chest x-ray as well as liver function tests run on my blood. The ophthalmologist was checking for metastases but found none.

I returned to normal life and finished high school. I went on to college, gave birth to a healthy baby boy in 2009, and found work after school. I took my job at Missouri Baptist Medical Center as a pharmacy technician in November 2016. Because of this change in location (I was born and raised near Bloomington, Indiana) I accepted new insurance and therefore had to change providers for my continuing care. After a brief visit with a local ophthalmologist, Dr. Kumar Rao, I was referred to Leonel Hernandez Aya for continuing care. Dr. Hernandez is an oncologist and ordered a liver ultrasound and lab work to establish a baseline for my care. I went to have these procedures done alone because I believed they were routine. On February 14th, Valentine’s Day, I was told they found four lesions on my liver.

Dr. Hernandez then ordered more CT scans as well as a biopsy. The biopsy confirmed my worst fear: stage IV metastatic liver melanoma. So here I am with a relatively new job, away from my family and with a new melanoma diagnosis. I immediately had a port placed in my chest as I was gearing up to undergo a clinical trial with a new chemotherapy drug. However, the day of my first infusion I called and cancelled. Something was wrong. I cannot explain it but I could not justify making my body horribly ill in order to make some attempt at achieving health. My oncologist, Dr. Hernandez, got upset with me and canceled all of my prescriptions, scans and labs. I begged him to help me try any treatment option besides chemo or radiation and he refused and continued to remind me I would die in 6 months if I did not receive standard treatment immediately. I did not want to be with a care team that did not believe in me or my battle.

I sought out a nurse practitioner, Pat Bauer, who is now my cheerleader. Pat offers nutritional counseling to me as well as high dose vitamin c and curcumin infusions. Pat has me following a ketogenic diet to starve the melanoma cells from their sugar-rich diet. Pat also has me flushing toxins with coffee enemas (weird, I know). Along with this I am testing my glucose to monitor my ketosis as well as monitoring my pH to achieve alkalinity. Pat truly believes we can fight this without making me ill. Naturally, my insurance will not pay a dime towards my holistic care. Though I had been working nearly 60 hours per week, my body can no longer keep up with that type of schedule. My son is caught in the middle of trying to comprehend everything at the age of 7. I reached out after speaking with Bette Cataldo, a pharmacist that I work alongside. Just last year I was celebrating being a decade melanoma free to have that dream crushed. I also foster for my local animal shelter and love all of my fur babies. Since my diagnosis I have tried tirelessly to find permanent homes for them as I am financially strained. Though times have turned gray, I still cannot put these animals back in the shelter. I am simply trying to maintain as much normality in my life as possible. My son, my foster dogs, and my job are what keep me sane.

I do not feel any symptoms currently and the melanoma is localized to the liver. I truly feel I have a chance at beating melanoma a second time. I know what the studies suggest and what the odds are but I am not ready to give up. I refuse to let my son see me struggle. He is my reason and until another scan has the chance to say any different, I AM BEATING THIS.

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