Alicia Mitchell, Melanoma Survivor

by Andrew Laker | Aug 01, 2017

Cancer survivor Alicia Mitchell and family
(Andrew Laker/CRH)
Alicia Mitchell and her family during a recent off-road adventure at Redbird State Recreation Area in Linton, Indiana.

“They took everything off my shoulders.”

— Cancer survivor Alicia Mitchell

Alicia Mitchell has hills to climb. Some are figurative – given her battle with melanoma – and others are literal. The hills that really matter to the young wife, mom and registered nurse are covered in dirt and rock.

In their free time, the Mitchell family often can be found conquering the undulating country side of southern Indiana in their open-air Jeeps, surrounded by relatives and friends.

“You can’t do that and not laugh,” said Alicia. “You can’t go off-roading and not have a blast all day.

“I love it, our daughter loves it and my husband loves it, maybe a little too much.”

Quality family time, filled with laughter and memory making is important to Alicia. Perhaps the most important. When cancer invaded her life, she knew right away she wouldn’t allow it to take over. Alicia noticed a mole that began changing appearance, and after her physician suggested a biopsy, that c-word – cancer – reared its ugly head; however, Alicia wasted no time developing her plan. She was diagnosed with stage 3 melanoma in 2015. Survival was the only option she considered from day one.

“I started research and I knew what I wanted to do,” she said. “Immunotherapy just started taking the front line and I knew it had worked for others and I knew I wanted to try it.”

Immunotherapy is treatment that uses certain parts of a person’s immune system to fight diseases such as cancer by stimulating the body’s immune system to work harder or smarter to attack cancer cells.

Alicia chose the Cancer Center of Columbus Regional Health because of the praise medical oncologist Dr. Stephanie Wagner has been receiving for years.

“From the first day I met Dr. Wager she listened to what I wanted and my course of action and she offered me exactly what I wanted to do,” Alicia said. “It was exciting to know I was in a place that would listen to me and take risks and stay ahead of the game on new research, and they were right in my backyard.

“They took everything off my shoulders.”

Alicia maintains an overwhelmingly positive outlook, despite an unforeseen side effect of the immunotherapy – Alicia’s hair loss is the first documented immunotherapy side effect of its kind. The hair loss, typically associated with chemotherapy but not immunotherapy treatments, is a result of how the medication interacted with Alicia’s immune system, similar to an autoimmune response, according to Mitchell. Colorful scarfs that reflect her affable personality often adorn her head, and the hair loss has even become a point of amusement with her 4-year-old.

“(My daughter’s) friends like to remind her that her mom’s bald all the time, and each time she has a different funny reaction. I think last time she told them her mommy ate too much medicine and all her hair fell out,” Alicia recalled with laughter.

Throughout her battle, Alicia has made it a priority to maintain a semblance of normalcy.

“I had cancer, but I wasn’t going to let cancer take over my life because then it would take over my family’s life,” Alicia said. “Especially having a (then) 2-year-old little girl at home, you’ve just got to pull yourself together and get through it. It was important for me not to put my goals aside.”

Alicia  graduated from nursing school and currently thrives as a registered nurse on the Critical Care Unit at Columbus Regional Hospital, where she hails her experience as a cancer patient as the driving factor in her compassion for her patients.

“I think it’s easier for me to put myself in the shoes of a patient,” she said. “I know what it’s like to be a patient and lay in a bed and have people do things for you that you’d normally do yourself. It can be degrading.”

Alicia now takes the opportunity to spread her story when possible, in the hopes of helping others.

“If there ever comes a time when I’m not here, I feel like enough people have heard my story and enough people learned from it that it might save one person,” Alicia said. “If my diagnosis touches one person, then I’m ok with it.”

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