Immunotherapy Patient Stories

Dale B

Area of Research: Skin Cancer

Skin Cancer

Dale’s Story

When Dale was a kid growing up, he was always out in the sun. He worked outside and didn’t protect his skin from harmful UV radiation.

Years later, Dale developed scaly patches on his head that later progressed to cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma, the second most common type of skin cancer. Surgeries, skin grafts, and chemotherapy failed to prevent his tumors from spreading. Concerned about his future and having exhausted standard treatment options, Dale enrolled in a clinical trial testing a PD-1 blocking antibody called cemiplimab. The drug eliminated all the tumors on the outside of his head in about six weeks.

Today, Dale has no evidence of cancer and is able to enjoy his life with his wife, Donna, and their two children.

Questions and Answers

CRI: How and when did you first learn you had cancer?
Dale: In 1985, I started getting scaly patches on my head (actinic keratosis). I went to the dermatologist who would freeze those away. Years later, cancerous cells started appearing. In December 2015, after surgery, I was diagnosed with cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma and the cancer exploded across my head. 

CRI: How did you learn about immunotherapy and why did you decide to do it?
DaleAfter surgery and chemotherapy failed, I was referred to a drug trial at the START Center for Cancer Care in San Antonio. That’s how I learned about this type of treatment. My education began there with Dr. Drew Rasco. He told me upfront this new drug (cemiplimab) only works on 30% of the people they use it on. I decided to do it because I had no other choices.

CRI: What was treatment like? Did you have any side effects?
DaleImmunotherapy treatment was great. I had none of the side effects of chemo; in fact, no side effects at all. Everything returned to normal. My appetite came back. 

CRI: How did immunotherapy compare to other treatments you may have received, if any?
DaleMy first treatment after diagnosis was surgery. After surgery, I couldn’t have any chemotherapy or radiation for a month, and in that time tumors began growing up around the surgical site. 

The first two weeks of chemo, the tumors went down, and then the next two weeks, the tumors came back. My oncologist said he didn’t want to give me drugs that didn’t work, so we needed to find a clinical trial. 

Compared to chemo, immunotherapy was great. I didn’t have any side effects.

CRI: Are there things that surprise you about the cancer experience?
DaleThe treatment regimen was surprising. In chemo, you have four bags hung and it takes all day for the drugs to get in. In immunotherapy, they walked in with this little eight ounce bag and I thought you’ve got to be kidding me! We were in and out in about four hours. Also, I didn’t need to use the chemo port in my chest because the new immunotherapy drugs are not damaging to veins and arteries. 

The time it took to respond was also surprising after my previous experiences. We noticed visible changes in the tumors after four weeks. The drug eliminated all the tumors on the outside of my head in about six weeks.

CRI: What would you want another patient to know about immunotherapy or about participating in a clinical trial?
DaleIf immunotherapy is an option DO IT! My only concern is the cost unless it’s through a drug trial. In a drug trial, the patient does not pay for the drug.

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