War Against Melanoma
Stage IV Melanoma Survivor Story
I was 26 years old in November, 2000 when I decided to have a mole located on the inner portion of my upper arm in the bicep area looked at by a dermatologist. Now I admit that I waited too long to have it checked out, because while I have a lot of freckles, I really don't have any moles and should have known something was up when a weird shaped mole just started to grow and develop on my arm. I went to the dermatologist and he assured me that it was just a form of dead skin. But just to ease my worries, he took a small biopsy of the mole and sent it off to pathology. Two weeks later, I got a call telling me that the mole was actually melanoma!

Due to the size and anticipated depth of the mole/lesion on my arm, I was diagnosed with Stage II Melanoma. The general surgeon determined that it would be best to perform a sentinel node biopsy to determine if the melanoma had spread to the lymph nodes. The mole and surrounding tissue were surgically removed, together with the sentinel lymph nodes. Pathology results came back negative, meaning that the melanoma had not spread to my lymph nodes. My surgeon advised me that melanoma often reoccurs and that I should routinely have my skin examined by a dermatologist. So I began to regularly see a dermatologist and keep a close eye on my skin for any abnormalities, vowing to catch any reoccurrence early. I lived a normal life for the next five years, but little did I know that the melanoma wasn't reoccurring on the outside on my skin, but (in the words of my oncologist) micro-metastasizing all the while on the inside.

On Valentine's Day 2006, I woke up and just felt kind of off-balance. I just continued on thinking maybe it was just vertigo or something else that would go away in a few days. It didn't go away and started to get worse. After being treated for an inner ear infection and a viral infection of the inner ear with no success, my condition continued to worsen and I began to even slur my speech.
So on Sunday, February 26, 2006, with my wife 8 ½ months pregnant and having some small contractions, we went to the emergency room. A CT scan revealed a brain tumor! My life stopped on a dime! 31 years old, a father of a 15-month old son and another baby ready to be born, and I had a brain tumor. My wife and I were simply devastated and could not believe this was happening! I was immediately admitted to The Ohio State Comprehensive Cancer Center - James Cancer Hospital ("The James"), and five days later on Friday, March 3, 2006, I underwent successful brain surgery to remove the tumor. (My son was born six days later).
While in the hospital, CT scans were performed on my chest, abdomen and pelvis to determine if the cancer had spread to any organs or other areas in these regions. I was referred to an oncologist at The James, Dr. Thomas Olencki, and was scheduled to meet with him later in March. At my appointment, Dr. Olencki informed us that I had a tumor the size of an orange in my lymph nodes located between my lungs, as well as two small tumors on my right lung.We never imagined that we could get worse news than the brain tumor news, but we did. Although numb from the news, my doctor advised us of our limited options, telling us that surgery to remove the tumors, at that point was not an option, but that surgery should be my goal. He said that to get to surgery (or even get a surgeon to consider surgery), my tumors would have to at a minimum been stable (preferably shrunken) and show no evidence of growth or spreading for a significant period of time.
I sought a second opinion and confirmed that my treatment options were limited. I elected to undergo high-dose Interleukin-2 ("IL-2") treatment at The James. But I could not start IL-2 treatment until after I had completed radiation treatment on my brain. So I went through 12 rounds of radiation, at first cruising through without any issues, but quickly deteriorating as I went through my final few rounds and side effects set in. I was extremely fatigued and, yes, the hair finally fell out (it did grow back!).
I then began IL-2 treatment, which required me to be admitted to the hospital for about a week, home for a week, back in the hospital for treatment for a week, and then home and off of treatment for 8 weeks. This cycle constituted 1round of treatment. During each week in the hospital, my goal was to obtain a maximum of 12 doses per week. At the end of each 8 week period, I would have CT scans of my chest, abdomen and pelvis to determine if I obtained any response to treatment.
As for IL-2 treatment, my doctor warned me of the side effects and advised me that they were going to be aggressive with my doses of IL-2 based upon my age and otherwise good health. Without fail, during every round of treatment, I experienced practically every known side effect of IL-2, including vomiting, diarrhea, extreme chills, high fevers, low blood pressure, loss of appetite, skin rashes, etc. Treatment kicked my butt, and that is putting it nicely.

After my first round of treatment, CT scans revealed that my tumors had shrunk by almost 30%! We could not believe it! It was the best possible news we could hope for at that time. I then proceeded on to my second round of IL-2 treatment, during which I again encountered all of the severe side effects described above. But also again, I responded to treatment and CT scans after my 2nd round of treatment showed that my tumors had shrunk another 10%! I then went through 3 more rounds of treatment, each wearing me down and beating me up a little more and more. CT scans after my 3rd, 4th and 5th rounds showed no significant shrinkage, but most importantly, did not reveal any growth or spreading!

After 5 rounds of treatment over approximately 13 months, I met with a thoracic surgeon to discuss the possibility of having surgery to remove any remaining tumors from my chest and lung. The surgeon was reluctant to perform surgery, and it wasn't until my oncologist walked him through my entire history and provided evidence that my tumors had been stable for over a year and had even shrunk, that he reluctantly agreed to perform surgery.
So on July 7, 2007, approximately 16 months from my initial diagnosis, I underwent successful surgery to remove the remaining tumors from my chest and lung and my tumors were sent off to pathology for analysis. On August 2, 2007, my oncologist notified me that the pathology report indicated that the remaining tumors removed from my chest and lung were 100% necrotic (dead)!!! He told me that I was officially considered to be in clinical remission with no evidence of disease! It was unbelievable! I did it! I survived! It was a true miracle!
Since then, repeated MRIs of my brain and CT scans of my chest, abdomen and pelvis continue to show no reoccurrence and no evidence of disease.

Miracles can happen. I am living proof. Stay positive, pray and always believe that you will survive! The power of prayer and positive thinking is endless. Nothing is impossible with God.
And, always remember, in the words of the late great Jim Valvano, former college basketball coach and founder of The V Foundation for Cancer Research, "DON'T GIVE UP, DON'T EVER GIVE UP!" (Click here to see Jimmy V's motivating speech announcing the formation of The V Foundation for Cancer Research)
The WAM Foundation
1478 Sunflower Street Lewis Center, OH 43035
Email: info@thewamfoundation.org
August 2012 - 5 Years Cancer Free