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Deborah WassertzugMelanoma |  Diagnosed April 2013 - melanoma September 2014 - metastatic melanoma

No one is cowering under a blanket.

Deborah's Story

I'm Deborah, and my melanoma journey began in 2013. In 2014, a scan found spots on my lungs. I began immunotherapy treatment with ipilimumab in combination with radiation, but my treatment was halted because it induced colitis. Even though I couldn't complete the course, my smallest tumors had disappeared, and the larger ones shrank by almost a whole centimeter. I am currently receiving a targeted therapy and as of early 2017, my condition is stable.

Question and Answers

How and when did you first learn you had cancer?

I was diagnosed with melanoma in April 2013. I had surgery and luckily, my lymph nodes were not involved. They did find evidence of “melanoma in transit,” so I had a short, intense course of radiation. I was then monitored with CT scans every six months.

I'm the first in my family to develop a malignant cancer. I hadn't been very close to anyone with cancer before (at least not during their treatment) so I was really baffled to find myself in this unfamiliar place.

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

I was offered a chance to take part in a research study which combined radiation and and the immunotherapy ipilimumab (Yervoy®) to see whether the radiation would boost the effectiveness of the drug. I was randomly selected to receive both, and began treatment in late September, with five consecutive days of radiation, as well as one dose of ipilimumab. I was to receive four doses, one every three weeks.

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

After the second dose, I began suffering from digestive issues and my treatment came to a halt. I had colitis for three agonizing weeks, and started on steroids to stop the immune response that had made me so sick. This meant an end to my treatment with ipilimumab.

Even though I couldn't complete the course, my latest scan showed some of the smallest tumors had disappeared, and the larger ones shrank by almost a whole centimeter and are now just a couple millimeters. I have another scan in three months' time.

Are there things that surprise you about the cancer experience?

In my blog, I say I don’t have a road map for cancer. I’m the first in my family to develop a malignant one, so I didn’t know going in how I might be expected to act, and I’ve been learning that others have their own expectations of how cancer goes, and how the cancer patient is.

For now, I continue to take the targeted therapy. Sometimes my journey has felt like Alice in Wonderland meets science fiction.

The science around treatment for metastatic melanoma is exploding and has allowed me to lead a pretty normal life.

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