Editor’s Note: This piece was submitted by a contributing writer and does not represent the views of CURE Media Group.
It was Dec. 15th, 2012, and I was right in the middle of my practical final exams to become a physician assistant when I got a call from my dermatologist about the pathology results of a suspicious mole I recently had removed from my chest. Little did I know at the time, while I was preparing to become a health care provider, I was also about to become a lifelong cancer patient. That little mole was about to take me for a wild journey that would forever change me.
I grew up in sunny southern California and was always outdoors with my shirt off and only put sunscreen on after I got burned. My dermatologist referred me to a surgical oncologist who removed a golf ball-sized biopsy from my left pectoral muscle and two lymph node biopsies. The result: no evidence of disease. Nine months later, I was graduating from PA school and ready to start working in my new career. I noticed around that time that I was growing a lump in my left armpit that was getting bigger each day. I had this biopsied and the results were positive for melanoma. I had 33 lymph nodes removed and only one had cancer. I was literally in my first week at my new job in orthopedics when all this was going on. I then started six weeks of radiation and chemo. About six months after that, I had a PET/CT that showed a new tumor on my hip. I once again had the baton handed to my surgeon who gutted me like a fish and removed a tennis ball-sized biopsy tissue sample. I then had another six weeks of radiation to my hip area and continued chemo.
All was good until my next scan, which showed three small tumors in both my lungs. Things were about to get real! I was now officially a stage 4 melanoma patient. My chemo oncologist decided to hit me with the big guns: interleukin-2. This therapy is so toxic that it requires administration in the ICU for a week. I never knew what “sick” was until I had this medication. First came the nausea, then vomiting, then fevers, chills, hot flashes, diarrhea and of course the rigors! I had uncontrollable rigors and shakes, and even thinking about it a year later gives me a little PTSD.
After four rounds of IL2, things were starting to look better, until I started noticing a small lump on my back that was very superficial. At this point, I was in denial and wanted to just ignore it, but I was reminded by my wife that I was being stupid and needed to have it looked at. A biopsy was done again and the results came back positive for melanoma. By this time, I have become a great researcher and advocate for my own treatment. I decided to not have it surgically removed and to try a new chemo that was recently FDA approved and was getting incredible reviews. So my oncologist started me on Opdivo. After just two infusions, my lump on my back was literally shrinking everyday. My last CT scan showed no evidence of disease.
So here I am today, still kickin’, still fighting, still able to have an enjoyable life with my family. Sure there have been absolute meltdowns and fears of impending doom, but I made it through all that. My oncologist told me I may never “be cured,” but that’s OK and I will take "no evidence of disease" with the biggest smile on my face.