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Six-Time Cancer Survivor Feels 'Damn Lucky'


As a six-time cancer survivor, who has never needed chemotherapy or any other type of post-operative treatment, I feel that I have had far more luck than my fair share.

I've been an active martial artist since 1951, in excellent physical shape and with no major medical problems, except all-too-frequent oxalate kidney stones since I was in my 40's. In early 2009, I was plagued with yet another kidney stone that refused to pass, and my primary care provider suggested a CT scan. The stone passed that night, but the scan showed an unexpected, symptom-free renal papilloma that had already invaded my left kidney and adrenal gland. It was diagnosed as stage 1A, and laparoscopic surgery removed the intact carcinoma.

Then, in mid-2012, I had a small sore on my shin and set up an appointment with my dermatologist. The sore was easily treatable, but my physician also discovered stage 1B melanoma on my upper back. Again, surgery removed it, and, since my margins were clear, and my lymph glands were clear, once again I needed no further treatment.

In early 2017, my new dermatologist discovered two more melanomata, both Stage 1, on my chest and mid-back. My luck continued, as I had no further problems with them. When she found a squamous-cell carcinoma on my forehead, I almost considered myself lucky, as she was able to remove it in the office. But I changed my mind when a biopsy in 2019 showed yet another melanoma, just under the hairline on my left temple. That one required Mohs surgery, and a trip to a plastic surgeon.

I'm a retired professional engineer, and decided to get my exome sequenced, figuring that there had to be SOME genetic factor involved. But, being unable to decipher my exomic data, I started working with a geneticist. To be on the "safe side," she ran a panel of genomic tests for 38 cancers, in hope of finding out why I have had so many carcinomas. However, all the testing has showed that there is no genetic component to my cancers, and that they are random occurrences. A second, different genomic panel was run by my latest oncologic surgeon, but again, those data came back showing nothing of any use.

My dermatologist says that I "give her nightmares," and my oncologist recognizes me in a crowded mall, but my medical team is determined to ensure that my "luck" continues!

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