Immune to Cancer: The CRI Blog




David’s Immunotherapy Story

Melanoma |  Diagnosed 2014

I am not a statistic.

David’s Story

Melanoma, that word had always been terrifying to me. For 15-20 years before my diagnosis I had been dealing with skin cancer. Fortunately, they were always Basal and Squameous Cell but lurking in the background was that dreaded word, “melanoma.” I had always been told that once you had melanoma it would never go away. That if melanoma was found on your skin it was 95% curable, if it wasn’t discovered until it metasticized it was 95% incurable. So, I was no stranger to skin cancer but having melanoma is not just a different world, it’s a whole new universe.

Questions and Answers

How and when did you first learn you had cancer?

In January, 2014 I felt a lump deep under my skin on my left cheek. After the initial discovery I gave it a couple of days, then set an appointment with my G.P.. After a course of antibiotics I was referred to an ENT. Prior to seeing him I had an ultrasound and blood work. During our first meeting he confirmed a tumor on/in my Parotid Gland. He said “don’t worry, 95% of these are benign but we still need to biopsy and remove it.” 3/19/14 I had an appointment to get the results of the biopsy and to set a surgical date. During that appointment he gave us the news. The doctor essentially told us that it had most certainly already metastasized, and when my wife asked him if he was going to remove the tumor he said, “You don’t understand, if he’s got it there, he’s got it all over the rest of his body. Taking that tumor would be a waste of time. This is what is going to kill him.”

How did you learn about immunotherapy and why did you decide to do it?

I was referred to UCLA and on 4/22/14 had surgery to remove the tumor. Following surgery I met with a melanoma specialist at UCLA and he went over our options in detail. The only open clinical trial was testing 2 doses of ipilumamab vs. interferon. We decided to go forward with the clinical trial because to my wife and I, it was obvious the trial would give me the best chance of survival. We, of course, had spent many days and hours praying for peace and guidance regarding what I should do.

What was treatment like? Did you have any side effects?

All of the scans, lab work, and waiting for results was the most difficult part. The treatments themselves were almost anticlimactic. My wife and I planned the days well and gave ourselves plenty of travel time. We had to put ourselves in the mindset that it would be a long day but we could still enjoy it. We arrived at UCLA early, had breakfast in the cafeteria, and waited for our appointment. We brought a cribbage board so we would go outside and play a game or two. After seeing the oncologist and having blood drawn we would go to the infusion center and be there for 3-3.5 hrs. I tolerated the infusions well. Side effects were fatigue, itchiness, and colitis type symptoms. All of which were tolerable and manageable. The hardest side effect to adjust to was the digestive changes.

How did immunotherapy compare to other treatments you may have received, if any?

I did not have other treatments.

Are there things that surprise you about the cancer experience?

Being told I was going to die was certainly an eye opener. It caused me to stop and assess what is true about life, death, and God. Dealing with cancer gave me a whole new perspective about what is important. I was surprised at the level of faith in God I was able to experience. I was surprised at my strength in dealing with the unknown and uncertainties.

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