Immunotherapy Patient Stories

Fiona Rawlinson

Area of Research: Skin Cancer

Skin Cancer

Fiona’s Story

In June 2017, I was diagnosed with stage 4 squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) of unknown origin. There were 10 metastases spread in groin lymph nodes and lungs. After hysterectomy in November 2016 and an omentectomy in February 2017 for early stage ovarian grandulosa cell tumor, doctors were unable to test and ascertain if SCC originated from the cervix. The numerous SCC tumors that have been removed surgically from my skin had clear margins.

My initial treatment started with 26 weekly infusions of a combination of chemotherapy and cetuximab (Erbitux). When 5 mets were left, one in groin began growing and started to fungate. After two weeks of radiation, the tumors mutated and in March 2018 they started growing rapidly. In the three weeks while I waited for surgery, the fungated tumor grew so rapidly it ruptured through the skin, leaking fluids and awful smell. In April 2018, they surgically removed a 1.8lb tumor. A few weeks later, a new rapidly growing tumor was surgically removed from my thigh.

In May 2018, I started pembrolizumab (Keytruda). I was able to feel another rapidly growing tumor in my groin start to shrink. Now, May 2019, after one year of Keytruda, I have no new tumors and the remaining are under control. I plan to continue treatment for another year, since all is going well.

Questions and Answers

CRI: How and when did you first learn you had cancer?
Fiona: In June 2017 after a minor car accident, I felt a painful lump and went to see the doctor. I was referred to local hospital, had MRI, and the oncologist delivered the news.

CRI: How did you learn about immunotherapy and why did you decide to do it?
FionaI searched online when targeted chemotherapy was no longer working. I was desperate to try anything that would buy me time. Getting financial help from family meant I could try immunotherapy.

CRI: What was treatment like? Did you have any side effects?
FionaI felt a huge relief to start immunotherapy treatment. I saw how the immunotherapy was shrinking the tumors by drawing a circle on the skin above the largest remaining tumor and watching it shrink after the first two immunotherapy infusions.

I had some minor side effects initially, which have increased slightly as treatment has progressed.

CRI: How did immunotherapy compare to other treatments you may have received, if any?
FionaImmunotherapy treatment is much easier than chemo or radiation.

CRI: Are there things that surprise you about the cancer experience?
FionaYes, I am surprised by how wonderful some people are and also how cruel other people can be.

CRI: What would you want another patient to know about immunotherapy or about participating in a clinical trial?
FionaThere are people whose cancer is going into remission and you could be one of them!

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