Amie was a confident, strong willed, talented and popular sportswoman with a positive attitude. Born and bred in Wagga she loved all sport but had a real passion and talent for softball – playing in many representative sides. Amie was not a girly girl, she was never seen lying around the pool in a bikini, her mother Annette recalls. She was always in board shorts, T-shirt and a cap, but she was in the sun a lot playing sport. She seemed to be always putting on sunscreen – but maybe not.
Amie was just 20 years old when she was first diagnosed with melanoma. A concerning and painful lump in her groin led Amie to see her GP. The first doctor told her it was a haematoma but unsatisfied with the diagnosis a couple of days later she returned to her normal GP who ordered an ultrasound. It was to be the start of a roller coaster journey in which Amie fought for life. Supported by her parents, Peter and Annette and younger brother Tim, within just two weeks Amie had consulted her GP, had an ultrasound and biopsy, had been seen by local surgeon Dr Richard Harrison, had a PET scan ordered and a date for surgery booked in with the top surgeon in Australia –Professor John Thompson.
“Everything was well organised and we could not have asked for anything else except a different diagnosis”, Annette says. The biopsy result came back as melanoma. The main cause of melanoma is exposure to UV radiation from the sun and other sources, such as tanning machines in solariums. Each time your unprotected skin is exposed to UV radiation, it changes the structure of the cells and what they do. Melanoma is usually associated with the resulting moles and visible skin changes but in Amie’s case no primary skin lesion was ever found.
For Amie, treatment would have to be a lot more radical than an excision of a mole. The melanoma had already spread to the lymph nodes in her right groin. So, in September 2007 Amie underwent surgery, a radical right groin dissection where they removed all the lymph nodes. She recovered quickly from this surgery. Amie remained well until February 2008, when the melanoma reappeared in the thigh of her right leg, this was also removed and so her story goes on. During the coming months Amie was always either having surgery or treatment. The melanoma was spreading at a rapid rate. Whenever she found a lump Dr Richard Harrison would say “what do you want me to do with this one Aimz”? Her response was always “just chop it out”. Initially the melanoma presented as superficial lumps about the size of golf balls, and then they started spreading to her internal organs. She recovered quickly from the removal of brain tumours and her right ovary but surgeons could not remove the melanoma from the other major organs. Eventually the melanoma was spreading faster than doctors could remove it so she tried a new tactic and had chemotherapy and radiotherapy to slow it down. However there was no stopping the rapidly spreading and unpredictable cancer.
Amie’s will to live led her to alternative treatments, whatever it would take to survive. Armed with her trademark attitude she was prepared to try any form of treatment to fight for the life she relished with her family and friends. She drank xango juice, visited a naturopath, took herbs and even took two trips to Perth where she endured radiowave treatment. Amie described this particularly unpleasant treatment as “microwaving your body”. Throughout all her operations and treatment Amie remained positive that she was going to beat it. To this end many attempts were made to have her accepted into a clinical trial but no one would accept her. There was nothing else left to try.
Amie’s condition was deteriorating and she was becoming weaker. Amie’s friends organised a vintage softball carnival to mark her 23rd birthday. Living opposite the softball diamonds meant that Amie’s view from her lounge room window was a mass of pink – Amie’s favourite colour. She was too weak to walk across so one of the local ambulance officers drove her the short distance to see all her friends and allow them to wish her a happy birthday. Amie passed away the following day, 9 November 2009. She was aged 23 and one day. Amie passed away in the home she loved across the road from the softball diamonds she treasured. Her family is proud to have nursed Amie at home as she hated hospitals. On the day she passed away the amount of family and friends that came to visit and say their goodbyes showed just how many hearts Amie had touched in her short but very full life.
The softball carnival is now an annual event and allows all family and friends to come and be together on Amie’s anniversary. Many people would feel that this is a very personal story, but Amie’s journey with melanoma has been publicised widely through the Wagga community and media. Amie wanted people to know about melanoma and most importantly to prevent it. In Amie’s honour the Amie St Clair Melanoma Trust has been registered as a not-for-profit charity, with a board of directors and a dynamic fundraising committee. It has a strong vision to increase the awareness of melanoma, educate the young school community and workplaces on the prevention of melanoma and support those with melanoma and their families.
The trust has a very close relationship with the Melanoma Institute of Australia, formerly known as the Sydney Melanoma Institute, but all funds raised stay local to the Riverina region. It hopes to have its own data collection and eventually start some local research and clinical trials. The trust has become a positive force in preventing melanoma. “Amie’s death has left a void in our life, and the Amie St Clair Melanoma Trust will not fill the void, or replace Amie” Annette says. “However we can spread the word; educate young people about this deadly disease. We can spread the word that it’s no longer cool to have a tan, that white is in fashion so cover up. If we can save others lives then it is worth it, because other families will not have to go through the pain that we have”.