Daniel MorrisseyMelanoma |  Diagnosed 2002

When the doctor called, he said, 'Daniel, are you sitting down or standing up?'

Daniel's Story

Daniel Morrissey was a long way from home when he arrived in Australia in 1959. Born and raised in Ireland, the fair-skinned, blue-eyed 24-year-old was drawn to a life spent working outdoors in the sunshine and open air. He got just what he wanted, eventually starting his own business as a gardener in Melbourne. “I’ve always had an outside job,” he says.

All that sunshine may have come with a cost. In 2002, Daniel was diagnosed with melanoma, a type of skin cancer. A mole on his right temple changed color and shape, and a biopsy showed it was malignant.

Fortunately, Australia is one of the best places in the world to be treated for melanoma. CRI Scientific Advisory Council member Jonathan Cebon, Ph.D., FRACP, runs a premiere melanoma treatment center, Ludwig Cancer Research, affiliated with the Olivia Newton-John Cancer & Wellness Centre at Austin Hospital in Melbourne. Dr. Cebon and his team are conducting numerous clinical trials that are improving the lives of patients like Daniel.

In January 2014, TheAnswertoCancer (TheA2C) spoke to the 78-year-old husband and father of two about his experience receiving the anti-CTLA-4 drug ipilimumab (Yervoy®) as part of a clinical trial.

Question and Answers

How and when did you first learn you had cancer?

About 10 years ago, I had a mole on my right temple. One day, I noticed a pimple had grown out of the mole. I'm looking at it in the mirror and I said, “That doesn't look too good.” I went to the doctor and he sent me to a specialist. They eventually operated and took it out and classified it as melanoma.

Two years ago, all of a sudden, I started coughing a lot and I couldn't catch my breath. My doctor said I probably just had a cold. But then I started coughing up blood. I had an X-ray and they said I had a spot on my lung. They found I actually had two tumors: one in the left lung and one in the right.
The prognosis at the start was that it’s inoperable, incurable. They classified it as a grade 4 melanoma. This was in May 2012. They more or less said that if I didn't have treatment, I'd be dead by Christmas 2012. That's how bad it was.
How did you learn about immunotherapy and why did you decide to do it?

They gave me booklets to read on melanoma, and what really worried me was that they had no real treatment out here. You could go on chemotherapy or radiation, but they were only about 5% effective. They had nothing else. But then this trial [with ipilimumab] came up, so I applied. The next thing I knew, a doctor from the Austin Hospital rang me up and said I was a good candidate for the trial. What they liked about me was the fact that, because I worked outside, I was pretty fit. I never smoked and didn't drink too much. I wasn't overweight, wasn’t on any medications. I think that's what won the day.

He explained to me that my immune system would kinda be revved up, and that this would allow my immune system to attack the tumors and destroy them. They said that I would have four infusions spread over three weekly intervals.
What was treatment like? Did you have any side effects?

The first infusion was all right. The second one was okay. When I went back for the third, they had to stop the treatment because they discovered I had hepatitis in the liver. So they hospitalized me for a week and then they gave me drugs to cure the liver. After about five or six weeks, they said my liver was much better, so they decided to look at my lungs. Nothing had been done for the cancer since I got the hepatitis.

I got a CT scan on a Wednesday and the doctor said he’d ring me back tomorrow with the results. He didn't ring back that day, or the next day, or the day after that. By this time I was really upset and worried. I said, "I'll have to ring him up." Before I could, he rang me back and said, “Daniel, are you sitting down or standing up?” I said, “Oh no.” And he said, “Your results are this: the tumor on the left lung, we can't find it. It's completely disappeared. The tumor on the right lung has decreased by 80%.” Now that was fantastic news to hear!

Are there things that surprise you about the cancer experience?

You read a lot about cancer, and you see it, but you think it’s never going to happen to you. Then it did. I can remember the exact day I was diagnosed: May 17, 2012. I've never forgotten that. I was terribly lucky that when I got diagnosed I had that window to get in on the treatment. If it was a couple of months later, I wouldn't have gotten in. It's a marvelous, miraculous story. I thank my family, friends, and the wider Christian community for their love, prayers, and moral support they gave me through this journey. I stand in awe of the researchers who developed cancer immunology, which has given hope to all cancer sufferers worldwide. Finally, I express my deep gratitude to Professor Cebon and his team at the Austin Hospital. I am alive because of him.

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Patient education information supported by a charitable donation from Bristol-Myers Squibb Company.