Survivor Stories

Albert Stroberg, Stage III

Diagnosed 01/01/2009

In 2005 I was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma  & treated with a typical course of chemotherapy (called CHOP) plus Rituximab, a B-cell lymphocyte-specific antibody.  The treatment had a good result. In 2009 it appeared it had recurred as evidenced by a large lymph node under my right jaw (pic 1).  A biopsy for staging gave all of us a surprise as it was melanoma- plans changed dramatically.

At UCLA my Head/Neck surgeon did a seven-hour dissection and flap rotation- 23 of 27 nodes were + for melanoma.  They had found some melanoma was sensitive to high radiation doses so four weeks later a ten-week course of Rad therapy was done.   I think this was one of the two darkest moments, it really hurt.  This was followed over the next 10 months with IV treatments with interferon and other drugs.  The scans only showed progression of the melanoma- and maybe the lymphoma too.

The next 4-5 months were rather a bad patch- tumors greatly advanced, weight went down 40 pounds, and lung effusions grew, requiring 2x/week fluid removals by a radiologist, and ultimately insertion of a chest tube to manage the fluid so I could sleep at night.

Ipilimumab was released by the FDA in March (I was not eligible for clinical trials because of the concomitant lymphoma).  My community oncologist got me the first dose available & the insurance company needed an explanation before they authorized a $30,000/dose medicine for a dying man.  The first dose was done with no problem & no effect.  Three weeks later the second dose also did nothing.  However just after #3 the large tumor on my shoulder became less shiny & began shrinking, but my eyesight suddenly went very bad on that Sunday afternoon.  The ophthalmologist noted dramatic tissue loss in the retina of both eyes in the area for central vision.  I could not read, but I could breathe.  The surgeon took out my chest tube a few weeks later as it was not used.  He had never taken out one of these tubes as everybody else died.

A PET scan four weeks late showed dramatic clearing of the melanoma.  We had a very special 60th birthday party.  Both tumors have made mild comebacks, but I am now on Keytruda (again the 1st in my county!) and I feel great!