The day Emily was born it felt like someone very special had come into our lives. This little bundle of joy was perfect in every way. Her father Geoff was the first to bathe her. Later that night Geoff brought a big bunch of beautiful pink roses to celebrate Emily’s arrival. The next day Grandpa White took some cuttings, and after all these years this big rose bush still produces beautiful pink flowers throughout summer.
In her teenage years, Emily was very active in both sport and dance, she represented Billanook College in hockey, soccer, dance and aerobics with great success. Emily completed a Business Degree that found her working for Expo Group, where she was much loved and an important team member. Her sports interests changed to bike riding and she would ride up to 40km to work from time to time. She even joined the Brunswick Cycling Club where both her grandfather and father were once members.
As an active young woman, Emily lived life to the fullest, and was very conscious of her inherited pale skin. I remember when she attended an outdoor concert early one January on a cloudy day and came home sun burnt and was very upset. Two years later Emily was diagnosed with a Nodular Melanoma at the age of 25.
Nodular melanoma is the most aggressive form of melanoma. It tends to grow more rapidly in thickness (penetrate the skin) than in diameter and is raised like a pimple. Instead of arising from a pre-existing mole, it may appear in a spot where a lesion did not previously exist . Since NM tends to grow in depth more quickly than it does in width, and can occur in a place that did not have a previous lesion, the prognosis is often worse because it takes longer for a person to be aware of the changes. NM is most often darkly pigmented; however, some NM lesions can be light brown, multicolored or even colourless (non-pigmented). A light-coloured or non-pigmented NM lesion may escape detection because the appearance is not alarming; however, an ulcerated and/or bleeding lesion is common.
Nodular Melanoma Superficial spreading Melanoma
(Images courtesy of the Melanoma Diagnostic Centre)
In early 2005 Emily was a vibrant young woman enjoying life and living in the heart of Richmond Victoria with her partner Aaron Tapp. She enjoyed her job, loved to socialize with their wide circle of friends and treasured her family. However, most of all she adored her time with Aaron.
It was Aaron who pointed out the unusual mole on the back of Emily’s upper arm and urged her to get it checked out, which she did immediately. As Emily had no moles on her body, she did not have regular skin checks. Unfortunately, she thought it was a strange pimple on the back of her arm as she could not see it. The news that it was a melanoma was devastating. Doctors worked quickly to remove the mole, and a number of lymph nodes under her arm. The scar was over 15cm long. The lymph nodes came back negative. The relief was overwhelming when she was given the all clear. She felt grateful – she had a second chance.
Over the next twelve months, Emily and Aaron made plans to move to Brisbane for a couple of years to be closer to Aaron’s son, Ryley. Although her family and close friends were happy for her, it was with great sadness that we said goodbye. She headed to Brisbane in February 2006. Whilst there were plenty of plans to visit, one thing was clear – Emily would be greatly missed.
We decided to visit Emily and Aaron a week before Easter to see how they had settled in. Emily was very keen to show us their new house and we were excited to share her happiness. Unfortunately, just a day before we arrived she found a small pea-sized lump under her armpit while taking a shower. Immediately, panic set in. Emily already had a referral from her Melbourne doctors for regular check-ups while in Brisbane, so she quickly made contact with the local doctors.
As it turned out, Emily did not have a second chance after all.
Waiting for the ultrasound, then the CT scan and PET scan results meant that it was over three weeks before Emily underwent surgery at the Mater Private Hospital in Brisbane. After the operation, the doctor confirmed why Emily was in so much pain leading up to the surgery. The tumor had grown to the size of an orange and had started spreading in that short time. A week after her operation Emily was able to go home with medication.
We returned to the hospital a few days later only to receive the worst possible results; the cancer had spread into a number of organs including her lungs. It was the continuation of a nightmare. I saw the heart-felt emotion on the doctor’s face, as Emily, Aaron and I were struck speechless, with tears rolling down our checks. We left the room and waited for instructions on what was to happen next. We hugged and cried, but few words were said.. This was the only time I ever saw Emily cry. She showed so much strength and dignity throughout her journey with melanoma cancer.
What followed included radiotherapy and the introduction of an organic diet with freshly squeezed juice daily. This only lasted two weeks as the pain was unbearable, and resulted in a return trip to hospital that never ended. Emily celebrated her 27th birthday in her hospital bed with over 20 close friends and family squeezed into her private room.
We were fortunate to have the Sisters of Mercy to help Emily with both meditation and Reiki. This was helping Emily to cope with the pain and we arranged extra Reiki sessions from a family friend who would travel for over two hours on her days off to with Reiki treatments. We were very grateful as this helped Emily to cope with both the pain and her emotional state. Aaron and I would take turns sleeping and staying with her so she was never alone.
It was eight weeks exactly from when Emily found the pea size lump to when the palliative nurse gave her the devastating news that she had only two weeks to live (8/6/06). As I walked into her room with the nurse still by her side Emily asked, “What is heaven like mum?”I answered with a broken voice,” I don’t know, but I’m sure it’s a beautiful place”. As a mother, this is not a question you ever want to answer. It felt like a dagger went into my heart and now our vivacious, kind hearted, selfless, loyal and loving daughter was about to be taken from us. Her dream of a long life with her partner Aaron and one day of being a mother would never be fulfilled.
Emily’s father and brother Andrew traveled back and forth from Melbourne every few days. Her girlfriend Bianca also made frequent trips to be with her. A close group of girlfriends planned to visit that weekend not knowing the devastating news that would confront them when they arrived from Melbourne. Other family members were planning a visit that month, but quickly rearranged their travel dates to be there for Emily’s special Baptism.
It was suggested she use a wheelchair with an oxygen bottle on standby and a nurse would be close by to administer medication if needed. Emily had commented that it was like breathing through a straw with the cancer closing in. Both her father and I escorted her to the Chapel wearing the new dress that Aaron had bought. He has great taste. When she entered the intimate Chapel, there was an amazing stillness in the room,
Emily was shocked but showed great dignity as she entered and saw so many friends that made the trip. She was overjoyed at seeing her Grandparents and close relatives who came for this special day.
On June 11, Emily was baptized and at the same time, Aaron proposed with the most beautiful engagement ring; their love for each other was incredible to see. The hospital arranged the decorations and catering for over 50 guests. We were all very grateful, especially Emily, who for the last time was able to have a party with all the people that mattered in her life.
Her dream of being Mrs. Tapp was about to come true. Within five days, a celebrant and the paperwork were arranged, with the wedding to be held on the hospital’s rooftop veranda, on June 16 she became Emily Tapp. Unfortunately, she was getting weaker and needed to be wheeled up in her bed. Emily was a glowing bride, but without all the trimmings. Her brother even commented, “She just looks like an angel”. The wedding was a close family affair attended by her brother Andrew, Aaron’s two brothers and their wives, and some of the hospital staff who were very touched by the ceremony. Just days later, on the 22 June 2006, Emily was taken from us.
Doctors had said, she was the unlucky 1% because Nodular melanomas are not as common. If you have a family history of Skin Cancer, melanoma or fair skin it is imperative that you have regular skin checks and look for any signs of changing moles and especially if new ones appear see your doctor as soon as you can. Since February 2007, the Emily Tapp Melanoma Foundation has worked tirelessly to inform and educate the public especially that early detection is vital. Emily’s father was checked after her diagnosis and two melanomas were found and removed early.
Since Emily’s passing we have learnt so much about this insidious disease, especially that it takes so many young lives. Please take the time to get your skin checked and pass on what you have learnt to family and friends.
As Gandhi said – “The future depends on what we do in the present”.
Emily Vesna Tapp
30/05/1979 – 22/06/2006
Much loved wife, daughter, sister, stepmother and amazing friend
Every now and then we come across a special person
who touches the heart and warms the soul and all at once
we realise we are in the presence of an wingless angel.
- Adele Basheer
Inaugural MARCH for MELANOMA AWARENESS – 4th March 2007
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