Like any mother, Karine Tobin was looking forward to the birth of her child.
But when Karine Tobin was just 22-weeks pregnant with her second baby she was diagnosed with melanoma and faced the terrifying prospect that she might die within a year.
Mrs Tobin, 36, first came to Australia from France as a backpacker in 2010, seeking a fresh start. She used the money earned picking fruit to travel and enjoy time relaxing at the pristine beaches.
Five years later, she had met and married her partner Justin, had her first child Jack, and was living life in Sydney.
Karine and her husband Justin Tobin with their two children Jack and Elyze
Then, when Mrs Tobin was in her second trimester, she noticed a pea-sized lump in her armpit.
‘I freaked out,’ she told FEMAIL. ‘I was very concerned.’
Within eight weeks it grew – and became so painful that she couldn’t sleep. Mrs Tobin went to have it checked and after an appointment with her GP and obstetrician, had a biopsy. It revealed a 5cm melanoma.
‘I just wanted to escape,’ recalled Mrs Tobin. ‘It was the worse day of my life. I was very emotional.’
When Mrs Tobin (pictured with her husband) was in her second trimester, she noticed a pea-sized lump in her armpit
‘It was the worse day of my life. I was very emotional,’ said Karine Tobin (pictured with her son Jack), recalling the moment she was diagnosed with melanoma
From that moment on, things began to move very quickly.
She was advised to deliver her baby early so she could commence treatment, as her life was in danger.
At 36 weeks’ pregnant, Mrs Tobin was induced and gave birth to her baby girl Elyze.
Although she overjoyed with a new baby, Mrs Tobin was at the same time terrified she might die and miss out on raising her children.
‘I was devastated looking at my daughter after she was born and thinking “I’m not going to make it”,” she said.
Mrs Tobin (pictured with her husband) was induced and gave birth to her baby girl Elyze at 36 weeks
A week later, with tiny Elyze in her arms, Mrs Tobin met with Melanoma Institute Australia’s Conjoint Medical Director and medical oncologist Professor Georgina Long to discuss her illness and treatment options.
But the news was worse than previously thought. Professor Long explained that Mrs Tobin’s cancer had advanced further than expected to Stage IV, which is often considered incurable. It had spread to both her armpits, spine and pelvic bones.
‘I told Professor Long I couldn’t die because I could not leave my baby,’ Mrs Tobin said.
‘She told me: ‘We are going to try to help you’. I have held onto that.’
Just 10 years ago, Mrs Tobin’s cancer would have been a certain death sentence – there were simply no treatments for advanced melanoma.
Mrs Tobin (pictured with son, Jack) carries the BRAF gene, which can mutate and signal the body to grow abnormal cells
Mrs Tobin carries the BRAF gene, which can mutate and signal the body to grow abnormal cells.
Luckily, she was eligible to take BRAF inhibitor medication that can ‘switch off’ the gene, to stop the production of the cancerous cells.
Mrs Tobin endured side effects – very high fevers, shivers, and flu symptoms.
One of the toughest parts was the regular scans to see if her tumours had shrunk.
And because Mrs Tobin didn’t know how much time she has left, she constantly worried about how her young children would cope if she died – even buying birthday cards for them up until their 20th birthdays.
Elyze’s first Christmas came two months after the diagnosis. It should have been the happiest of times, but Mrs Tobin couldn’t bear the thought of not being with her family the next year.
‘I had just been told that the treatment wasn’t working yet. That was so hard. I was very scared I would not have another Christmas with my kids. We bought a real tree because we didn’t know if it was going to be my last.’
Despite a slow response to the medication, Mrs Tobin is now beating melanoma against all the odds.
Almost 14,000 Australians are expected to be diagnosed with melanoma this year
In fact, after 10 months of treatment, her tumours had reduced dramatically in size and intensity. And, two years after her diagnosis, Mrs Tobin’s body now shows no evidence of disease, which is remarkable as her melanoma was initially considered incurable.
The question now is whether the melanoma will come back, as the long-term success of this treatment is still unknown. But Mrs Tobin, who now back at working in the marketing industry, is taking one day at a time.
‘It feels like I have finally woken up from a terrible nightmare,’ she told FEMAIL.
‘Research is so important. I wouldn’t be here.’
Almost 14,000 Australians are expected to be diagnosed with melanoma in 2017. It represents two per cent of all skin cancers, but causes 75 per cent of skin cancer deaths.
The Melanoma Institute Australia are appealing for donations this Christmas to help fund life-saving research. You can donate here.