Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Don't Stop Believin'!

I love to share stories of melanoma survivors on my blog because it's my way of bringing hope to the other melanoma warriors out there, amidst their fight.  I connect with so many fellow survivors, mostly on Facebook, and the story below written by Mark Williams, is just further proof that there are other "melanoma miracles" out there! 

Don't Stop Believin'!
In Sept. of 07, I was feeling great and enjoying life to the fullest.  I had just sent my oldest daughter off to Europe for a term of school in France.  One morning, I looked in the mirror and thought, “Well, that’s strange.  It looks like a lump!”  It wasn’t a mole or a rash and it wasn’t discolored.  It was just a lump that appeared out of nowhere.  Fortunately, I didn’t waste time and quickly went to my GP who then sent me for a CAT scan within a week.  The day after the scan, my doctor called to tell me that they would need to biopsy the lump ASAP.  The following week, and 5 days after the biopsy, I went back for the results and didn’t anticipate what I would hear.  The results were DEVASTATING, to say the least.  I was told that I had Stage 4 Metastatic Melanoma.

The doctor was sure that the cancer had spread, as he had detected a tumor on my lung in the scan report.  He then told me that NO ONE lives more than a year or two because melanoma is very aggressive and ruthless.  I was frightened beyond belief.  It was then that I met with my first oncologist who ordered a PET scan.  I foolishly told him to call me Monday with the results, which was my 50th birthday.  He did and then told me that he had some  VERY bad news.  I now had 14 tumors!  Nine in my lungs, one LARGE one on my esophagus and 4 more in my chest cavity.  I couldn’t believe it!

The oncologist then told me that he couldn't do anything for me.  Fortunately, he referred me to a GREAT melanoma specialist, Dr. Curti, that was practically in our own backyard in Portland, OR.  Upon receiving the specialists contact information, I immediately called his office to schedule an appointment, to which they told me that was all booked for two months!  I then told them that I wasn’t sure I even have two months and sent my info over, pleading them to do their best to schedule me in as soon as possible.  The very next day, they called me to inform me that Dr. Curti would come in on his day OFF to see me.  I was so relieved and happy.  During our appointment, he explained that he wanted to do the therapy or treatment called High Dose IL-2.  IL-2 works by revving up your OWN immune system by putting your T-cells in hyper drive to hopefully attract the melanoma cells and kill them.  It took all of 10 seconds to say that I was in.

From there, I passed all the stress tests and was slated to start treatment on November 5th, 2007. Now we had to call my daughter in France and tell her what was going on.  Luckily, my wife did a great job convincing her to stay and that we would communicate via Skype.  On Nov 5th, I started my IL-2 therapy.  It was a super tough therapy.  What helped though was that I had been exercising for the previous 10 years, so I felt healthy going into treatment.  The first week, I was able to take 8 doses and probably would have taken more, but I hallucinated after that 8th dose, ripped the port out of my neck and tried to walk out. (Not a good thing and I DON'T recommend this.)  I then returned 2 weeks later & completed my second week to finish what they call the first cycle.  The second week, I was able to take 10 doses.  On New Years Eve, my doctor came in to read me my scan results.  Miraculously, most of my tumors had SHRUNK over 50% and there were no new tumors!!!!  This was exactly the news that we had hoped and prayed for.

Having success with IL-2, meant that I qualified for another cycle in 2 weeks.  At this point, I was ready because I was on a mission to kill the "Beast"!  I completed the second 2 weeks and even re-carpeted my house, all while waiting to see if the drug was working.  It was!!  I went back in for the final cycle of 2 weeks, but wasn’t able to do as many doses this time because you start to build up toxicity.  Upon completion of IL-2 therapy, I had 6 months of clean scans.  In Dec of 2008, I had a ‘hot spot’ show up in my chest, but Dr. Curti assured me it was just a bump in the road.  I then had 50 lymph nodes removed (for clean margins) and one node had melanoma cells in it, while the rest were clear.  I then did 25 rounds of radiation as a precaution.

It has now been 4 full years since surgery and in remission!  It was over 5 years ago that I was told that I only had a year to live.  I am fortunate to have been able to see my son grow from boy to man and witness my daughter graduate from high school and college.   I was even there to witness the birth of my first grandchild, Cashton, who is my best little buddy.

There are three things I never forget that I learned throughout my experience with cancer:
1. Every day is a gift.
2. Go one day at a time

Written by:  Mark Williams, Stage 4 Melanoma survivor, Oregon

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