The Burton-Gaudiosi Family

In December 2005 my husband Mark and I went to the skin cancer clinic in Penrith NSW for a check up. We received a call on Christmas Eve to advise that a biopsy he had taken was positive for melanoma and that we were booked in to see Professor Thompson at RPA on 02/01/06 at 9am. I was 38 weeks pregnant with our third child at the time.

We attended our appointment on the 02/01/06 and the doctor needed to remove more of the surrounding tissue ‘just to be sure’. We were assured it was a low-grade melanoma and nothing to worry about now that it had been removed. My father has had 3 grade 2 melanomas removed over the last 30 years and there have never been any issues so we weren’t too concerned.

Life went back to normal, we had our 3rd and then 4th child. Mark attended 3monthly, 6monthly and then yearly check ups with Professor Thompson. In May of 2009 we realised we had missed his yearly check up by a couple of days. Mark rang to rebook and he got a new appointment for a couple weeks time but needed to go to the GP and get a new referral as his had expired. Our GP checked his scar and didn’t like the look of it. To me it just looked like a whitehead pimple on the scar. Our GP rang the Professors office and got us in the next day.

We attended our appointment and the professor went right over Marks entire body. Aside from the ‘pimple’ on his scar he found a small lump in Marks neck and stomach. He sent us straight down the road for biopsies of all three. All three were positive for melanoma. I blindly asked ‘what does this mean’ only to be told that as the melanoma had spread there is no treatment. I asked about chemo and radiation but apparently they don’t work on melanoma. We were told on the spot that Mark only had 6weeks-3months to live and to get our affairs in order.

You can imagine our devastation. We were shocked at first, then angry, then just extremely sad. We told both our families and then had to decide how to tell our kids. Our youngest Zachary was 14 months old at the time and Tamika, our eldest, had just turned 8. We decided to tell them as little as we could but to never lie to them.

We got a call from Professor Thompson a couple of days later to advise that a colleague of his at Westmead Hospital was looking for people to participate in some studies for some new clinical trial drugs. We had nothing to lose by giving it a go. I guess you can say we were lucky. After lots of highs and lows, plus a whole host of trial drugs and testing, Mark got an extra two and a half years with us. Unfortunately he passed away 12/01/12.

While all of this was happening, we tried to keep life as normal as possible for our children. They continued to attend school and all of their extra-curricular activities. Our eldest daughter Tamika played baseball – the season goes from September to March. There was a girl in her team in the 2011/2012 season with whom she formed quite a bond. Her name is Bella and her dad died from a heart attack mid-September. Mark was quite unwell at this stage and we all knew it was only a matter of time. Tamika was a good support to Bella and vice versa when our time came the following January. The girls stayed in contact but not close contact.

On about the 5th January 2014 I received a call from a friend in the baseball club to advise that Julie, Bella’s mum, had been diagnosed with melanoma on 01/01/14 and they wondered if Tamika and Bella might like to get together. They had already dealt with the deaths of their fathers together and Tamika had plenty of experience with melanoma. We immediately phoned and Bella came out with us for the day. She didn’t want to talk about it but we let her know that we were there for her and knew exactly what she was going through. She slept over that night and the rest, you might say, is history. Other then about 3 scattered weeks here and there, Bella pretty much moved in with us. Julie hardly had any time at home after diagnosis and was quite ill.

I spoke at length with Julie about melanoma and what it meant for her. We also spoke about what would happen to her children. I told her that I couldn’t possibly take them as I had more than enough on my plate. I did however, offer to let them both stay with me while she was still alive and temporarily after. I felt they needed to be together in one place at a time like that, not jumping from house to house alone. Jonathan moved in with us early in March 2014. Julie passed away 12/04/14.

Jonny and Bella’s Uncle Ian is named their guardian in Julie’s will but moving in with him wasn’t really an option. Things had been going OK in our house with Jonny and Bella so I talked to my children about them staying here permanently. We all agreed that, with us, was where they needed to be. Besides, I had grown too attached to them both to see them have to move away from their school, friends and all that is familiar to them to live somewhere they wouldn’t be happy.

And that’s how my family came to be!!!

All 7 of us attend regular family counseling with Relationships Australia, which has been so beneficial in uniting our family and getting over some of the issues that we have. The two girls also attend counseling with Canteen. I’m very proud of the awesome people all 6 of my children are growing into. While the hand we have been dealt is pretty crappy, I think our circumstances have matured us all and made us much better people. At the end of the day, we have a very loving, kind and giving family.

We are all sooooooo excited about this wonderful opportunity Feel the Magic has given us.

It will be nice for our ‘new’ family unit to share something like this and will go a long way in cementing our bond. I personally cannot thank you enough. I am forever humbled and grateful. (And now I’m crying again)

Sonia Burton

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