In May 2016, I received a stunning diagnosis of metastatic melanoma from UCLA’s Dr. Bartosz Chmielowski and my oncologist in Santa Barbara, Dr. Mark Abate. These two amazing doctors agreed that I was a good candidate for the new immunotherapy drugs, which activate one’s immune system to fight cancer.
At the time, cancer permeated my body. It was found in my lymph nodes and on virtually every organ in my body. I received four treatments of combination drugs (Yervoy and Opdivo), and my side effects were primarily an itchy rash and severe nausea. I was given prednisone and started acupuncture, which both helped me to eat again. A single drug treatment (Opdivo) was started in October 2016.
By April 2017, I have gained my weight back and am living almost normally with minimal side effects. My story is told in “Melanoma without a Cause,: How the New Miracle Immunotherapy Drugs and My Own Immune System Helped Me Fight Stage Four Cancer.” By sharing my experience, I hope to bring understanding of the immunotherapy process to cancer patients and their families. Immunotherapy drugs are a huge breakthrough in cancer treatment, and many people are still alive because of them, including me.
I am still taking one of the drugs, Opdivo, and my oncologist won’t give me an end date. “Until progression or full remission” is his constant refrain, meaning until the disease starts spreading again or goes away completely for an extended period. My next CT scan, PET scans, and MRI are scheduled in June. While I hope the fact I’m feeling much better means the cancer continues to retreat, there is no guarantee. It’s an insidious and sneaky disease, and cautious optimism is the best I can do, even with the power of the immunotherapy drugs behind me.