Survivor Stories

Bob Polkinghorn, Stage III

Diagnosed  04/29/2016

My world was turned upside down in April 2016. My derm in Redding, California had, for years, assured me that “that spot”on my back left shoulder was nothing more than a cherry angioma (blood red in color and non-cancerous). Many, many people have cherry angiomas “CA” and they are nothing to worry about unless…unless there’s a melanoma resting below the surface. That was the case with me, even though I’d had the CA for years. Gray tinged capillaries around the base of the CA were the tip off that something was going on. Indeed it was! Biopsy and melanoma of 1.5 mm depth, not in situ, and possible metastasis.

I was referred to UCSF and Dr. Adil Daud. That has been the greatest gift on my journey. Dr. Daud ordered a PET scan to see if indeed there was any metastasis. A sentinel node under my left arm lit up on the PET. I had a subsequent fine needle aspiration of the node and it was positive for melanoma. Scary – actually, beyond scary! Dr. Daud then had me see a surgeon, Dr. Michael Alvarado, who, together with Dr. Daud, suggested I have all nodes removed. So, June 16, 2016 I had 22 nodes removed. Biopsy revealed just the one node was positive for melanoma. A blessing.

At this point I had a choice of observation for five years, including two PET scans a year or a clinical trial. The trial was testing the preventative effects (if any) of Keytruda v. a placebo. The trial, a double blind study, would involve 18 infusions over the course of one year, plus quarterly CT scans. I chose the trial as it provided the highest level of surveillance along with regular contact with Dr. Daud and the melanoma team at UCSF.

To date, I have completed 15 infusions and all scans have been clear. I do not know, nor does UCSF, if I am on the placebo or Keytruda. I have no side effects, but that does not automatically translate into my being on the placebo, as many people have no side effects with Keytruda.

Despite my “so far, so good” status, I am not naive; I know that melanoma is a bugger and can run around and land just about wherever and whenever it wants. But, with regular scans and a pantry full of new and ever-more effective therapies, I need not live in fear. I refuse to do that. In fact, I live joyously – in love with my wife, my children, my grandchildren, great-grandchild, and dear friends. I exercise like a demon, eat right (ok, too many oatmeal cookies), I stopped drinking cold turkey, pray daily, receive weekly therapy from a psychologist, and meditate (still learning).

First and foremost, I thank the Lord and all those angels who have helped me grow and learn this past year-plus. I thought, upon diagnosis, that the days and months ahead would be the worst of my life. HA! They’ve been the best of my life! I have learned to genuinely appreciate life. We are alive today – no one…absolutely no one – is guaranteed tomorrow!

I wish all my fellow journeymen and women nothing but the very best. We are here for each other, always.