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Michelle BoyerMelanoma |  Diagnosed 2010

I would rather laugh in the face of death (and cancer) than be sad about it.

Michelle's Story

Michelle Boyer should probably have an honorary degree in tumor immunology. Diagnosed with metastatic melanoma in her 20s, she has participated in five immunotherapy clinical trials, doing careful research and working closely with her oncologist to formulate and revise her treatment plan. She's determined to find a long term solution for her melanoma, and also make time for living life and having fun. Michelle works as a structural engineer, and in her free time enjoys playing video games. She also maintains a Caring Bridge page, where she posts updates on her treatment. 

Question and Answers

How and when did you first learn you had cancer?

I was diagnosed with stage 3a melanoma on July 14, 2010, when I was 23. The cancer was removed surgically, but two years later returned in my lungs. Currently I am stage 4, with the cancer spread throughout my body. Since 2012, I've participated in several immunotherapy clinical trials.

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

I believe immunotherapy is my best chance for getting rid of my cancer. The first option for melanoma is surgery, which I had, but once it metastasized it had spread to too many places for that to work. I was told that if they tried it would turn my lungs into Swiss cheese... that may seem like a horrible thing to tell a patient, but I find it an apt and amusing comparison. Do all cancer patients end up with a slightly twisted sense of humor to survive? :)

My reading of current research and my doctors recommendations both supported trying immunotherapy first, so that's where I've focused my treatment. So far I have had interleukin-2, ipilimumab (Yervoy) combined with IL-21, ipilimumab combined with radiation, IL-15, TIL therapy (chemo, followed by a TIL infusion, followed by IL-2), and currently am taking MPDL3280A (PD-L1) combined with cobimetinib (MEK inhibitor).

The exciting thing is that immunotherapy offers the possibility of a long term remission. What would you be willing to do for a chance at fifty more years of life?

Melanoma has low response rates to chemotherapy, and with so many promising new immunotherapy or targeted therapy drugs coming out I actually never gave chemotherapy a second thought. In my mind, as someone in my twenties, I have so many more years to live if one of these treatments does make my cancer disappear for the long term. I want to try whatever may have a chance of making that happen.
 

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

Although I may not be experiencing the stellar results some other patients have, I think the treatments have been worthwhile. The longer I manage to stick around the more likely it is that I may find some treatment that works. Of course, my first reason to continue trying new treatments is to try and find one that would produce a durable response. Beyond that I know so long as I'm in treatment my family and friends (and myself!) can hold on to at least a little thread of hope that the cancer will disappear. Hope makes life better.

Are there things that surprise you about the cancer experience?

But really, my cancer diagnosis hasn't changed the core of who I am, though it certainly has made me mature quickly. I take the time to appreciate all the good things in life. My family is supportive in every way possible, and I have a handful of good friends that have stuck around. The most unexpected source of support since my cancer diagnosis has been my coworkers – they organize rides to appointments for me, give gifts, and provide emotional support. I feel truly fortunate to have so many wonderful people in my life.

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*Immunotherapy results may vary from patient to patient.

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