Since her diagnosis with uveal melanoma in September 2013, life looks very different for Mary Judy French. As a former OR nurse, Mary, who goes by “Frenchie,” spent years selflessly caring for sick patients. Today, she’s traded in her alarm clock for four barking dogs, waking her promptly at 6:00 a.m. for their breakfast.
“My life is so different now,” said Frenchie, who had to quit her job because the treatment of her eye cancer—brachytherapy with radiation–drastically altered her vision. “I’m doing things I love like spending time with my husband, who has been my ‘rock,’ and my dogs.”
She recalls the life-changing phone call from her doctor. “When he told me I had uveal melanoma, I was shocked.” When later discussing treatment options, her doctor also recommended gene testing to determine the odds the cancer might spread in the future, which to Frenchie, was a no-brainer. “Genotyping is a great and important thing. I’ve lost some friends to melanoma that came back 15 to 20 years after their diagnosis. I am so grateful I was seeing a doctor smart enough and experienced enough to advocate [for] this test.”
Optimistic for the best outcome, the results of the DecisionDx-UM test hit Mary hard, revealing that her tumor was the aggressive type—a Class 2, with a 72% percent chance of spreading to distant organs within 5 years.
But eventually, knowing her prognosis became a source of empowerment. “I am determined to beat this. I truly believe this saved my life. Knowing that I’m a Class 2 has drastically changed my treatment.” Because of her Class 2 status, Frenchie has an intense monitoring plan; she sees an ophthalmologist and an oncologist on a rotating schedule every three months. She also receives regular CT scans, ultrasounds, and liver panels. So far, her lab work has been normal, and ultrasounds and CTs negative.
And she’s marking these wins in a way people might not expect: “Every time I hit a milestone, like remission, I get a tattoo,” said Frenchie. “Yes, I am 60 years old and doing all the things I was prohibited from doing because of my profession and I really don’t care what people think. For me it has been part of the acceptance process, and if [my example] helps just one person I will be thrilled.”
More energized than ever, Frenchie is still helping others by volunteering with children with special needs, who have become good friends. Another new friend she’s met along her journey is a 9-year brain cancer survivor who helped her finally understand “that unless you got it, you really don’t get it.”
When asked what’s ahead for her, Mary chuckles in the playful way you’d expect from someone with her tenacity: “I have my 5-year survival tattoo all planned out, I know exactly what I’m going to get…”