Kristina Cronopulo ~ More than a Match for Melanoma

Kristina Cronopulo ~ More than a Match for Melanoma

Originally published in November 2002 icon

NOVEMBER 2002

Kristina Cronopulo’s childhood under the Indian sun came back to haunt her.

In 1985 this exuberant interior decorator (then 52) was diagnosed with a malignant melanoma.

7 years later, secondaries appeared in her groin and liver. She was given a few months to live. 10 years on, Kristina displays the zest of a much younger woman and is still happily working.

She is not entirely in the clear - in April and August of this year she had three further melanomas removed from her right knee, which bears significant scars. But she glows with wellbeing and attributes her ongoing health to her surgeon’s skill, a healer’s art, abundant friends and her own resilient powers.

It looked like a tiny blood blister on my knee, how could something so innocuous prove so sinister?

Here Kristina tells her own story...

"I’m 69 and about to embark on a terrific new work project. I’m designing a house from scratch for a client on Zakynthos. I shall swim in the sea everyday and enjoy the island sunshine - well protected by sunscreen of course.

Life seems pretty wonderful. You wouldn’t believe that 10 years ago, I was given a few months at most to live.

Following removal of a melanoma in 985, I developed a secondary tumour in the groin and scans at the Lister Hospital showed that my liver too was affected.

Open quotesYou should avoid sunburn at all costs and confound the most gloomy medical prognosisClose quotes

 

My experience has left me with two certainties - that you should avoid sunburn at all costs and that it’s possible to confound the most gloomy medical prognosis.

 

I hadn’t seen a doctor for 20 years when I noticed this tiny mark, like a blood blister on my right knee. I always had loads of energy and I must have been pretty fit because I could heave bales of fabric up 69 steps to my flat.

I never worried about my health - there wasn’t the time. After a while it grew a little so I went to see my GP who was totally - and falsely, reassuring. I had nothing to worry about, he said, referring me to a specialist who would nip it off in 10 minutes.

The specialist - surgeon Meirion Thomas, who looked ridiculously young to me - did nothing of the sort. He said I had a melanoma, that I’d have to go into The Lister Hospital for 10 days - and at once.

The cancer was in a very awkward place. I would need a skin graft and my leg cast in plaster from top to bottom to immobilise the knee. Hearing this news I wasn’t just scared but petrified, so much so that I ran away from Mr Thomas, intending not to go back.

Then I cried for three days. I think the worst time is between diagnosis and committing to treatment. What helped most was talking to friends. Many people keep their cancer secret, but I think it’s a big mistake as friends will surround you with support.

When I told my GP how I’d fled in fear, he sent me to the Royal Marsden where a Professor Westbury confirmed all I’d already been told, adding that Mr Thomas was his protg and the best possible man. He advised me to go straight back to the Lister.

It could have been awkward encountering Mr Thomas again, just as I was going into theatre, but he was generous and made it easy. He said that I’d done absolutely the right thing, to get a second opinion. We were always friends after that.

I recovered very quickly from surgery, and despite the splint I was walking the very next day. I was such an innocent that it didn’t occur to me to dwell on any dreadful prognosis.

But after 10 days, when I had the plaster and stitches removed, Mr Thomas invited me to have a look at his handiwork and I nearly passed out. I felt I’d never be able to go on the beach again. I was told I could have a prosthesis made to cover the damage, which seemed a good idea.

But when the technician at St Mary’s Roehampton asked me what skin colour he should make it, I said "It? Colour? I’ll want about six made. I’m going sunbathing and swimming in Greece. I’m going to get browner."

Well I wore the thing twice, and it really looked Iike part of the leg. But that was it: though I’m still quite conscious of my knee, I’ve never bothered since.

Open quotesThe whole of my life changed when I found a small lump in my groinClose quotes

 

Everyone’s sure that my childhood in the sun played a big part in causing melanoma. No one then bothered with protective sun creams and I certainly got burned.

 

But Mr Thomas hasn’t ordered me to stay permanently in the shade. I love going to Zakynthos where my family once had a home and I need to swim. I love the exercise. He says I can enjoy the sun, but that I should avoid the hottest hours between 12 and four. ’Have a long liquid lunch followed by a siesta’ he advises.

In December ’92 the whole of my life changed when I found a small lump in my groin which eventually led me to Bob Clark, my healer.

At first I told myself the lump was nothing. I was looking after my mother who had heart disease at the time and I was working hard.

A combination of fear and too much to do meant I did nothing for six months, and the tumour grew to the size of an egg. It was uncomfortable and very much in the way.

So it was back to Mr Thomas, who was quite horrified when he examined me, but also kind. He simply said, ’I wish you’d come earlier.’ The growth was a secondary cancer and further scans at the Marsden showed that my liver was affected too.

Mr Thomas - who by now I called Meirion - was going to remove the lump together with a lymph gland and afterwards I would have chemotherapy for the liver.

The picture looked very bad. Much later when I changed GPs, my new doctor showed me the letter sent by Mr Thomas at the time. Looking at me in rude health he found the contents extraordinary.

The gist was I wouldn’t be lasting very long. When I went into hospital, Mr Thomas predicted that I had ’a few months’ and when I asked a favourite nurse exactly what that meant she said ’about 10 weeks.’

It might sound odd, but I never believed them for a moment, because by then I had met my healer.

Kristina with friend and neighbour Denise

It was through a neighbour, Denise, that I found Bob. I nearly missed meeting him altogether because he was off on holiday and rang to say that he couldn’t see me but recommended l000s iu of vitamin E daily, to help me through the operation.

Then he phoned back to say he had a cancellation. It was pouring with rain and I’d been crying non-stop, but I went. I walked into his tiny little room off Baker Street where the treatment couch was surrounded by coloured lights. I remember thinking: ’Wait till my friends hear about this!’ Inside, I admit, I was laughing. I was not at all convinced.

But within minutes of Bob’s gentle, hands-on treatment I felt relaxed. Something was already working for me and I felt intense relief as he felt around my liver. After 20 minutes he said that at the very least he had removed the tentacles which the tumour was putting out, which would make my surgeon’s job much easier. When I dared to ask about my liver he said: ’Oh, that’s quite all right. It’s gone.’

I’m very down to earth, but I never doubted him. He was a very normal man from the East End of London, who had been a policeman for six years. He didn’t want to charge, but I would leave him some money and later persuaded him that he must charge his clients - at least the 300 I sent him - because, like everyone else, he had to make a living.

Much later when I thanked Bob for helping me, he said ’I only did one per cent. The rest you did yourself.’ But it was he who taught me the power of thought. He told me to visualise the tumour as a black mass inside me and to see a white shaft of light going through it. The thought went over and over in my mind and I really worked at it. It’s no good being lazy and sitting back.

He also told to me to eat lots of black grapes every day, and four almonds with the brown skins still on - they are full of iron, zinc and calcium. He put me on a regime of vitamins and minerals which I still maintain. I take beta-carotene every day, my vitamin E capsule, selenium, a multi-vitamin tablet and a 75m1 aspirin.

I also take New Era minerals from Holland & Barrett -four tiny tablets each three times a day of calcium fluoride, mag phos, kali mur, silica and calc phosph. 65 pills in all sounds as if they would make you rattle, but the minerals are especially easy to take and melt in your mouth.

Open quotesIt was impossible for most people around me to accept my faith in healingClose quotes

 

When I first met Bob, it was impossible for most people around me to accept my faith in healing. My mother thought the cancer had affected my brain.

 

The oncologist I saw, to plan what chemotherapy (five days every two weeks) I’d have after surgery said my tumour was so enormous he wanted to photograph it.

He just laughed when I told him that Bob had made Mr Thomas’ job much easier and said he couldn’t wait to inform him.

That set me off, so we both laughed and enjoyed a lighter moment. I do remember though that even he said that he couldn’t understand why I was looking so well.

The following day Meirion operated and though I never did ask whether Bob Clark had made a difference, he did concede that the tumour had been very clean.’ He told me I’d have trouble climbing stairs for three weeks, but I managed it the second day and was driving 12 days after the operation. In hospital my leg was sore and swollen, but a very nice physio Frenchman helped with manual lymphatic drainage.

Although hospital staff kept warning me to take it very easy and that chemo was not going to be at all pleasant, I somehow sensed that I was going to be fine. I’d come out of hospital two days before Christmas 1992 and (against all advice) was due to move flats a few weeks later. I filled 67 packing cases myself and at the end of January went back for further scans.

Despite my confidence, I’d been getting very nervous, realising how serious my situation seemed. I kept asking the radiologist if my liver was all right but he was very po-faced, so I thought that perhaps, after all, it wasn’t.

I went straight back upstairs to see Meirion, who started complaining that the nurse with me had brought him the wrong films. ’No’ she said firmly, ’These are definitely Kristina’s. We came upstairs together.’

Meirion looked again and, grinning from ear to ear, announced ’Well, you’re fine. Cured. No need for chemo, nothing.’ We never did discuss my healer or what part he played, but I think for all my doctors, my recovery left a big question mark.

Bob and I became good friends and whenever I saw him I’d ask how the liver was and he’d say ’disgustingly healthy’. I had no further problems with melanoma for 10 years until this April, when I saw a small red spot on the site where the first one had been.

Open quotesI saw a small red spot on the site where the first one had been and cancer was diagnosed again.Close quotes

 

Yet again cancer was diagnosed, though I’d thought all melanomas were dark brown or black.

 

I went back to the Lister for the same operation as I’d had originally, but this time, despite Mr Thomas’ concern that I was feeling ’real agony’ I had no pain and he couldn’t believe how well the wound healed.

Two further red spots - both melanomas - were easily removed under local anaesthetic on my birthday - August 9th - and Mr Thomas himself drove me home.

It does seem very extraordinary that my cancer should recur this spring, when Bob Clark himself had succumbed to illness and was falling fast. He was well into his seventies. Losing him has left a big hole in my life and I’ve felt a bit insecure. I’m working to muster more confidence and the strength to look after myself.

That’s the key. But through being in hospital, I’ve also met two other people to help: Jacqueline Brett who’s a reflexologist as well as a healer, and Jenni Smith who gives cranio-sacral massage, and has taught me how to meditate. Both are brilliant at relieving stress.

Kristina still enjoying the sunshine

Looking back over the last 17 years I think it’s wonderful that I’ve come through all this. As far as healing is concerned, though my doctors mostly think it’s baloney I’ve had to conclude it’s possible.

I’ve learned that having friends or family worry about you is counterproductive.

Never tell people with cancer to slow down if they feel well and never stop them from embracing life with gusto. I would say that a positive approach is the 100 per cent key to winning the battle.

Perhaps through my experience I can also help other people. When I was in hospital in April a woman in the room opposite was having the same operation as I’d had 10 years ago.

As we both left she said: ’I can’t believe you’re always smiling and laughing and I’m just miserable.’ I said: ’Oh, you mustn’t be. Just think you’re going to get well. I’ve been through what you have and that was 10 years ago.’ She looked at me in amazement. So that was good - helping other people also helps you."

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