Survivor Stories

Cheryl Caffee, Stage III

Date of Diagnosis:12/03/2020

My story begins in August of 2020 with finding a lump and a bruise in my right inner thigh area. I visited several local doctors one thinking it was a lymph node and another thinking I was just too active and pulled something. By November the lump was still the same and nerve pain had started. The bruise would come and go. I needed more answers. Finally, an MRI was ordered and I was thought to have a Schwannoma, which is a rare benign nerve tumor. My local surgeon did not want to operate as he said I am “young and active” and wanted me to see a specialist. He gave us 3 options and my husband and I unanimously decided on Mayo Clinic (7 hours away). We thought we were just heading for a single surgery.

It was a whirlwind and life-changing experience the week of Dec 3, 2020. We went from a planned surgery to learning I had stage 3 metastatic BRAF mutant melanoma and presented with treatment options in 5 days. One of the hardest parts was traveling home to tell our 3 teen-aged children. Something that brings me tears every time I think about that morning. On top of telling them Mom had cancer, we had to tell them we would be traveling to Mayo every 2 weeks for treatment, tests, and appointments. My course of treatment included a clinical trial of two target therapy medications – vemurafenib and cobimetinib and immunotherapy, atezolizumab. This would be for 3 months, followed by surgery and then 6 more months of immunotherapy.

The targeted therapy medications were very hard on me – from nausea, diarrhea, and fatigue to a rash covering my body and high fevers. During month 2 – I ended up hospitalized and extremely sick and my husband feared he was losing me. By the Grace of God, my fevers subsided and my body and brain started to function again. We had to dose reduce my meds each month but I successfully made it to surgery in March 2021. They removed 9 lymph nodes from my groin/femoral area as well as a wide local incision on my left foot. I had a JP drain for 30 days following surgery. I can’t tell you how happy I was when that was removed.

I spent 6 weeks rebuilding my strength and then started back on treatment of IV immunotherapy every 3 weeks. Aside from an allergic reaction to the first infusion, I handled the immunotherapy very well. I fought the fatigue with exercise and managed constipation with increased fluids and fiber. I completed my last round of treatment in Sept 2021 and have pet scans and oncology appointments every 3 months for the next 3 years.

Today I continue to deal with the “after effects” or trauma as you will of the diagnosis and helping the family move forward. My husband was a total rock. He drove me for treatment every single time and watched me go through 2 rapid responses while in the hospital. Cancer survivorship is a real thing. I am learning it to be harder and more emotional than I could have imagined.

I have a new love for life and living in the moment. The blue sky is more vibrant and life moments bring me to tears quicker than ever before. I do not take my health for granted and am so thankful to be back on my bike, playing pickleball, and doing the day-to-day duties of a mom and wife. I wear my leg compression daily and look at it as a device that keeps me moving.

I am so thankful for my faith and my family and friends who have surrounded me with love, prayers, cards, and support. One of the best pieces of advice I learned early in my diagnosis was to allow people to help and just say “Thank you”. It was very humbling.

The fight isn’t over – keep going and don’t forget the sunscreen!!

Cheryl Caffee
Age 46
Stage III Melanoma Survivor
Middlebury, Indiana