Melanie Basso holds up a quilt her friends made for her when she was battling Stage 4 metastatic lung cancer. Each square represents a memory that a friend has with her. Due to cancer research

The cancer pill

Melanie Basso is walking the Relay for Life this year after recovering from Stage 4 lung cancer.

This is the second story in a series by the Northern View on those affected by cancer and who are participating in the Relay For Life walk on May 28. To add your story, email newsroom@thenorthernview.com

Two years ago, Melanie Basso quit running because of a persistent cough and shortness of breath.

No big deal, she thought, she always had a bit of a cough and maybe it was because she was putting more hours in as an emergency nurse. Her symptoms got worse, but she pushed on to chaperone 40 high school students on their trip to Europe.

“By the time I got back from Europe I was quite sick,” said the non-smoker. Within five days she was in Vancouver and diagnosed with Stage 4 metastatic lung cancer. Basso had tumors in both her lungs, her lower spine and her brain.

Three months of radiation and chemotherapy did nothing. Right around this time Prince Rupert hosted the Relay For Life event and some of the children and parents from the swim club entered a team in her name.

“I didn’t know they had done that. I just saw the picture once they were done. I was involved in the swim club, so that really touched me, but I was really sick at the time,” she said.

The doctor in Vancouver ran lots of tests and asked many questions. In the end he told her he didn’t know why she had gotten lung cancer.

“My diagnosis was terrible and I was going to die.”

When Basso was first diagnosed the doctors sent her biopsies down to the University of British Columbia for genetic analysis. Researchers were doing genetic testing on cancer cells looking for mutations and sometimes they can match mutations to treatments.

“When I went back down for my scans again they had the results back and I had a mutation for which a pill was available for treatment,” she said.

She started taking Crizotinib, literally a cancer pill, and within days her condition improved.

There were so many tumours in Basso’s body that she couldn’t get surgery. Instead, with the pill, the cancer cells began to die.

“(Crizotinib) hasn’t been out there for a long time and if I had cancer five or 10 years ago I would be dead right now,” Basso said. Yet, that miracle pill costs thousands of dollars a month and for the rest of her life she has to take the drug to stop the cancer cells from mutating again.

“It’s things like Relay for Life that supports research that develops things like this and supports me to be on it because the Cancer Agency pays for my medication,” Basso said.

Last year, she was invited to participate in the survivor walk at the Relay For Life event. She was just starting to feel better and still didn’t know much about the event or what to expect.

As she walked the final lap with the survivors Basso said she was tearful and emotional. She felt lucky to be there.

“At the end of the day, walking the lap it was very touching because I’m a nurse as well and I recognized lots of people. This year, I will do it and be healthy, be on a team and take part in the whole thing,” she said.

She is walking with Mario’s Angels on May 28.

Basso relays because she is a survivor.