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Sharon BelvinMelanoma |  Diagnosed 2004

It was empowering to know that it was my immune system that did the job.

Sharon's Story

Sharon B. was shocked when she was diagnosed with stage 4 melanoma at age 22. She joined a clinical trial of the immunotherapy ipilimumab (Yervoy®), and has been in remission ever since.

To celebrate her survivorship, and spread the word about life-saving immunotherapies, Sharon proudly participates in CRI's Answer to Cancer cycling event and 5K family fun run/walk, and is raising funds to support the Cancer Research Institute.

Watch her story here.

 

Question and Answers

How and when did you first learn you had cancer?

In 2004, I was finishing up my Master’s in Elementary Education, and my fiancé Rob, now my husband, and I were planning out our lives together. He had accepted a job in Washington, D.C., and I was going to teach there in the fall. We rented an apartment and moved in. Then, after going to the doctor for what I thought was a bad case of bronchitis, we got the news that changed everything: I had stage 4 melanoma. I was 22. It seemed like my life was over.

They started me on high dose chemotherapy just a few days before the wedding.  Chemo was horrific. I was sick day in and day out. I spent that entire first year of marriage in a haze. The chemo made me unable to function and gave me crippling neuropathy. But even worse, the chemo didn’t work. So after that, I was given interleukin-2, which didn’t work for me either. The tumors continued to grow and the drug made my skin peel off. Both treatments left me feeling broken.

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

When my oncologist, Dr. Jedd Wolchok, told me about a new type of therapy that was currently in the trial phases, it sounded like it could be the light at the end of the tunnel that we had been searching for.  I just said “Sign me up!” I didn’t need time to think about it. Nothing up until this point had worked.

I started receiving ipilimumab (Yervoy®), an immunotherapy that “takes the brakes off” the immune system. After four rounds of treatment, Dr. Wolchok told me that the drug was working. I was dumbstruck. I had become so used to the treatments failing, that I expected more of the same.  But this time, my tumors had shrunk by 60%. He said that the radiologist called up to make sure that he had the correct patient because he had never seen a response like this.

I have been in remission for eight years now.

 
How did immunotherapy compare to other treatments you may have received, if any?
During treatment, I was just so thrilled that immunotherapy had worked that I had little room for any other emotion. But upon reflection, I realized that with immunotherapy, I felt that I played a part in my remission. I felt totally out of control during chemo. I was depending on the meds to heal me. It was empowering to know that it was my immune system that did the job.
Are there things that surprise you about the cancer experience?

After all my treatments were said and done, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the cancer was going to come back, so I continued with my poor eating habits. I knew that in order to lose the weight it was going to take time and effort. I didn’t think I had either. That was until I had my kids. They deserved a healthy mom. A mom that could run and play. But most importantly, one that would live long enough to see them grow up. So I changed. It’s as simple as that. I completely changed what I ate, and I started to exercise. Over the course of a year and a half, I lost over 160 lbs. I’m now a personal trainer/fitness instructor and strive to help others in their health and fitness journeys. 

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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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