Photo of Melissa Denby

‘You realise that family is so important and that actually, you can get through it.’

Melissa lives in Woodley, Berkshire with her husband Steve, their children Ciara and Logan, and the family's three King Charles Cavaliers. She loves cooking, reading, listening to music (especially Celine Dion - she's a massive fan), and walking her dogs. 'I’ve always been an active person, on the go all the time', says Melissa.

Melissa was diagnosed with undifferentiated pleomorphic sarcoma (a type of soft tissue sarcoma) in 2019. She first noticed something wasn’t right in January 2019, after attending a few personal training sessions. A pain in her left calf was initially diagnosed by her GP as a pulled muscle or strain, which would get better in time. 

Whilst on holiday, the pain in her leg started to become worse and she returned to the GP, however she was given the same diagnosis. By May, after a few visits, Melissa decided to go private through her husband’s work insurance. Once seen by a private healthcare professional, things started to move quicker, and within a week she was being seen by the Oxford Sarcoma Service

Whilst there, Melissa received radiotherapy for 5 weeks on a tumour between her tabular and fibular bones, around her knee. This was followed by surgery in August to remove the remainder of the tumour. A follow up scan in October showed that her sarcoma had spread to her lungs and was growing extremely quickly. She began a strong course of chemotherapy in November, and during her treatment she developed sepsis. As well as this, a hole in her heart was discovered. ‘It was chaos, the darkest point of it all’ says Melissa. 

The dose of chemotherapy was reduced for the second round, and thankfully, a scan at the end of January 2020 revealed that the tumours in her lungs had successfully been repressed. ‘My oncologist apologised for nearly killing me with the first round, but what we realised was that we had a weapon against my specific sarcoma, so it wasn’t all bad’. 

In October 2020, Melissa noticed a spot on her toe, this time on her right foot. Feeling that something wasn’t right, she spoke to her treating team. The spot grew quickly into a tumour, so her toe was amputated in December 2020 to help stop the sarcoma spreading again. A scan in January 2021 showed her right foot and leg were clear of sarcoma, however, another had developed in her right foot. ‘The tumour in my foot was growing at a rate of knots. In 10 days, it was the size of a plum’. Her right leg was then amputated below the knee in March 2021. 

Due to her left leg being weakened by surgery and radiotherapy, Melissa is currently using a wheelchair to help her mobility. Recently, she’s been fitted for her first prosthetic leg and is attending physiotherapy to help her with walking again. ‘This is not going to beat me. You have to stay positive, and keep looking for the light at the end of the tunnel.’ 

By July 2021, Melissa was back with her personal trainer, the same one she started with in January 2019, when she first noticed something wasn’t quite right. This time, instead of getting a bit fitter, she has been focusing her energy on regaining her walking strength. Melissa says she’s still the same person, and still just as keen to walk her dogs again. Her husband and two adult children have supported her from the beginning. ‘You realise that family is so important and that actually, you can get through it.’ 

Melissa says her prosthetic didn’t feel like it was part of her to start with. She came home from her first session with it to some wonderful advice from her son – ‘You’ve got to think of it as a skateboard, you’ve just got to learn how to use it’. Now, she can only see things getting better, thinking of her new leg as a new tool to help her get back to the life she wants to live, and being able to walk her dogs again. 

Unfortunately, Melissa’s cancer did come back. In August 2021, she had further surgery to amputate more of her right leg, and will soon be receiving intensive radiotherapy at the sight of surgery. There’s a possibility that Melissa will receive further preventative chemotherapy or immunotherapy, and her doctors are currently discussing the best way to prevent her cancer from recurring again.

We’re sharing your stories all through the year. Do you have a sarcoma story to share? Get in touch on tenyears@sarcoma.org.uk.